Chief Concerns: Desmond Bailey – @CCWriterDez
Widespread panic best describes the reaction across Chiefs Kingdom last Thursday night as it collectively tuned in to watch the Baltimore Ravens take on the Denver Broncos in a rematch of last year’s divisional playoff.
What started as a close contest with both teams matching each other touchdown for touchdown quickly turned into a nationally broadcast tutorial conducted by Broncos QB Peyton Manning on how to surgically dissect and disembowel a defense. Manning’s record-tying seven touchdown passes sent apparent shockwaves of fear through even the most hardcore Chiefs fans:
The feeling of concern is understandable. It was a brilliant performance by a great QB armed with an offense and team that most consider the favorite to win the AFC West. But let’s put some things in perspective before we prematurely concede a pair of losses and the division to the Broncos based on one game:
Manning Played With A Sense Of Vengeance
Don’t doubt for one second that Peyton Manning – a notorious film rat and obsessively meticulous game-planner – didn’t start preparing for a rematch with the Baltimore Ravens as soon he walked off the field last January 12th – defeated and embarrassed in an overtime loss before a Denver home crowd that expected nothing short of a conference title after a 13-3 regular season finish. It’s a safe bet Manning mentally played out every snap…every possible scenario of last night’s game long before either team took the field. It was the perfect storm…a pissed-off Peyton Manning vs. a Raven defense and team that looked nothing like the one that sent him home last post-season….
Ravens Weren’t the Same Team
Manning assailed a Raven defense depleted of veteran leadership, namely his future Hall of Fame counterpart, linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis was Manning’s defensive equal – just as vocal with his teammates and just as cerebral about the game of football. Without Lewis, or his second-in-command, safety Ed Reed (now with Houston), there was no one to look to in critical situations or to hold the players accountable for mental errors last night.
Reed and Lewis were also vocal with the offense at times, particularly QB Joe Flacco during games. Both were key in urging Flacco to elevate his play last post-season. But neither was there last night as Flacco completed just 54% of his passes and threw 2 interceptions. Overall, with too many critical off-season departures due to retirement, free agency, and/or injury, the Ravens were a shell of the squad that ousted the Broncos in the 2012/2013 playoffs.
Not Much Pressure Applied
The Ravens utilized a conservative defensive approach – rarely blitzing Manning and preferring instead to keep linebackers in coverage against the Broncos’ spread attack. It was a mistake and one from which all of Denver’s remaining opponents will benefit, especially the Chiefs who will apply heavy pressure via a barrage of exotic blitzes while using press coverage and being physical with Denver’s receiver corps.
Manning has tough time against the Chiefs
When the Broncos visited the Chiefs last year, Manning was pressured/hit 8 times including 2 sacks by OLB Justin Houston. Manning was also held to just 7 points in the 1st half against a defense far less aggressive than what he’ll face this season. Manning finished the game completing 59.5% of his passes for 285 yards, 2 TD’s and 1 interception en route to an unimpressive 17-9 victory over a Chiefs team helmed by Brady Quinn at quarterback and fielding one of the most unimaginative offenses in NFL history.
When the Chiefs visited Denver in the 2012 season finale, Manning – who threw for 304 yards and 3 TD’s on 23 of 29 completions – took criminal advantage of a secondary featuring nickelback Javier Arenas and the most flammable human in the world, Jalil Brown, as the starting cornerbacks. Both are no longer with the team.
Chiefs Are A Better Team This Year
The Chiefs upgraded at all areas that caused them to struggle against Denver last season – Head Coach, Defensive/Offensive coordinators, quarterback, and secondary. Better leadership, better playcalling, better players…better team.
It’s the dawn of a new era…the Andy Reid era. Kansas City now has the coaching, veteran leadership and talent on both sides of the ball to match up with the Broncos. When the two teams face-off this season, expect it to be a highly competitive affair. For now, however, Chiefs fans should rest assured the team will be ready for Manning and Denver. No need to hit the panic button.
Talk to ya later