Broncos try to work through struggles against improved Chiefs ‘D’ |

Broncos try to work through struggles against improved Chiefs ‘D’

** FILE ** Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan clutches his clipboard as his team loses a key game 20-17 to the San Diego Chargers in this Dec. 5, 2004 photo in San Diego. The NFL fined Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan $20,000 on Friday for his criticism of the call that reversed Darrent Williams' punt return for a touchdown last week against San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

DENVER ” Bad news for the Broncos: The Kansas City Chiefs are playing defense this season, too.

The Chiefs, the team that has been a decent defense away from becoming a championship contender for the last few years, are making strides. In two games, both wins, they’ve allowed only 24 points. Last week, they stopped the Raiders at the 10-yard line to preserve a 23-17 win, a much lower-scoring affair than many people expected.

On Monday night, they face the Denver Broncos (1-1), who are struggling to find the kind of consistency on offense that has defined the Mike Shanahan era.

In times past. like last year’s season-opening 34-24 win for the Broncos after a preseason in which they barely moved the ball, a meeting with the Chiefs could have been a perfect elixir.

Maybe not this year.

“They have a lot more speed at the linebacker position,” Shanahan said. “They have a new corner who is a proven player in Sammy Knight. They have a very good rush defense, which is why they have given up only about 3 yards per carry, and if you can keep that up throughout the year, you can beat the best.”

Knight, Patrick Surtain and linebacker Kendrell Bell were the key additions to a defense that has ranked 31st, 29th and 32nd over the last three seasons. The offense was in the top five all three of those years, but the Chiefs have only one playoff appearance and no playoff wins to show for it.

Last season, Kansas City brought in former head coach Gunther Cunningham to revamp the defense. This year, it was the new players. Finally, it looks like the changes they’ve made are having an impact.

“Obviously, the numbers were down last year,” Surtain said. “When I got traded here, I just thought it was an opportunity to bring some leadership, to bring some playmaking ability to the defense. We’re playing pretty good right now, but we have a long way to go.”

As do the Broncos on offense.

In two games, Jake Plummer has led the offense to two touchdowns, both by fullback Kyle Johnson.

Denver has been inside its opponent’s 20-yard line seven times and has scored touchdowns only twice. The Broncos have converted 7 of 28 third-down opportunities.

“I think we’ve proven we can move the football, but we have to do it more consistently,” Shanahan said. “We can’t make mistakes the way we have been making mistakes.”

Indeed, penalties and turnovers have short-circuited promising drives. The Broncos were marching for a score on the first drive of last week’s 20-17 win over the Chargers when Mike Anderson fumbled at the 2-yard line.

Then, there are the more subtle problems. Denver’s rushing game has struggled, gaining only 168 yards on 46 carries so far, and put Plummer in third-and-8 or longer 11 times, none of which have been converted for first downs. Three times last week, Plummer threw short completions on third-and-long and was showered by boos from the normally friendly home crowd.

“Of course. I’m the guy throwing the ball,” Plummer said when asked if he figured the booing was directed toward him. “If I throw an incompletion or it’s third-and-20 and I chuck it down to Rod (Smith) because there’s nothing downfield, then the fans boo, not realizing they’d be booing harder if I tried to force it down there and threw an interception.”

Those short gains are one reason Plummer’s stats last week ” 23-for-37 for 248 yards and interception ” weren’t totally reflective of how much the offense struggled.

Of course, a win against the Chiefs would almost certainly right things for the Broncos among their fans. It would put them in a first-place tie in the AFC West with a pair of division wins and would give them some momentum going into a tough road game at Jacksonville.

Kansas City, meanwhile, could go 3-0 after starting last season 0-3.

Thus far, the changes the Chiefs made on defense look to be paying off.

“Obviously we weren’t getting it done going in the direction we were going,” coach Dick Vermeil said. “We had to make some changes and spend some money and when we went after somebody we had to get them. We’ve gone after defensive players before and didn’t get them. This year we got a few of them.”

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