The Donatell Diary: Strong Defensive Performance Not Enough to Overcome KC, Own Team

Jan 23, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) looks to pass as Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (99) defends during an AFC Divisional playoff football game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Denver’s 2021 defense faced a lot of adversity. Injuries aplenty made life challenging, just as miscues from the Broncos’ own offense presented some hurdles. In Week 13, the Broncos defense did basically all they could to steal a win from KC. Unfortunately, they just didn’t get the support they needed.

Readers who haven’t been following along or who’d like a refresher can feel free to read the reports on the Broncos’ defensive performance in Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, and Week 12 (Week 11 was Denver’s bye week). It’s now time to take on Week 13.

The Positives

The game was played in Kansas City.

The Chiefs have a scary-good offense, one led by a strong front five that protects Patrick Mahomes. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are a highly-skilled trio. None of these players were dominant. Take a look at the basic stats:

  • Mahomes: 15/29, 184 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
  • Hill: 2 catches, 22 yards
  • Kelce: 3 catches, 27 yards
  • Edwards-Helaire: 14 carries, 54 yards

One has to think that Ed Donatell would have gladly accepted those statistics coming into the game. In fact, most would assume that this kind of defensive performance would lead to a win.

The Mahomes-to-Kelce connection looked off throughout the game. Denver thus had an easier time corralling the KC offense.

Denver’s corners have had their struggles, but limiting Hill’s damage is impressive. On several occasions, Patrick Surtain II was allowed to jam the speedy receiver at the line of scrimmage. Impressive stuff from the rookie corner. He’s likely to become one of the NFL’s very best corners.

One of the most fascinating parts of the game rested in Denver’s patience. Quite often, offensive coordinators treat the game like a boxing match. Just as a boxer wants to land some body shots to eventually open a path for a knockout punch, so too do OCs like to begin by exploiting short areas of the field. In so doing, they can sometimes force a defense to start creeping up to protect the flats and/or force the defense into putting another man in the box.

Denver, to their credit, was able to maintain their strong defensive play; neither Kelce nor Hill got loose later in the game, suggesting the Broncos remained committed to their overall plan.

One of the main takeaways from this game rested in the importance of the overlooked positions: DT and MLB. Being able to lean on Dalvin Tomlinson, Harrison Phillips, Eric Kendricks, and Jordan Hicks (as well as their backups) to handle runs up the middle and short passes to the flats is massively important. Doing so allows Donatell to allocate his resources elsewhere, keeping his safeties back to limit shots down the field as the corners man-up on their receivers.

The Negatives

The Broncos benefited from mistakes from Mahomes, Hill, Kelce, Byron Pringle, and other Chiefs players. We can’t fault a team for their opposition’s mistakes, but Denver ought not receive too much praise for a receiver simply dropping a ball that hits his hands.

KC did find some success throwing to their RBs, but one has to think that it was largely due to Denver’s concerted effort to slow KC’s top weapons. Donatell will gladly accept Darrel Williams turning 3 catches into 60 yards if it goes alongside Hill and Kelce struggling for the game.

Nevertheless, Vikings fans will need to hope Kendricks and Hicks are up for a lot of running. When a RB is racing toward the flats, it’s crucial for the LB to be with his man step-for-step. If the RB can get to the LB’s outside shoulder, then there will be a lot of open grass to escape toward. If, however, the LB can be head-up on his man or even on his man’s outside shoulder, the RB will likely need to cut back inside or just keep stretching the play toward the sideline. If that occurs, there’s a far smaller chance of the RB being able to turn up field for a large gain.

Teddy Bridgewater didn’t do his side any favors. The Chiefs’ final TD came on a Bridgewater pick six. It’s also notable that Denver’s punt return unit fumbled the ball, putting Kansas City in a prime position to score again. Denver’s defense, even with the injured front seven, held the Chiefs to a field goal. The game finished with a 22-9 score, and 10 of those points are the direct result of turnovers. We really couldn’t expect much more from an injured defense battling one of the game’s most explosive offenses, especially since the game took place in KC’s stadium.

The Send Off

The 6-6 Broncos made their season difficult. In this sense, they mirror the Vikings. Whereas Denver received a far better effort from their defense, it was Minnesota’s offense that led the charge in 2021. Combining Denver’s defense with Minnesota’s offense would have led to a dangerous team. In 2022, the Vikings will be looking to get the best of both worlds with Kevin O’Connell and Ed Donatell leading things.

In Week 14, the Broncos will again try to get their season back on track. They’ll be taking on the Lions.

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