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AFC West Spin cycle: Week Three

Pro Football Weekly
AFC West Spin cycle: Week Three
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AFC West Spin cycle: Week Three

The winds changed drastically in the AFC West in Week Three, proving that this division is extremely hard to figure and could be another exciting battle at the end of the season. The Chiefs and Raiders both got dramatic, last-second upset wins, which also happened to be their first victories of the season, respectively. On the other side of the coin, the Broncos lost their second game in a row, digging too big of a hole against a talented Texans squad and the Chargers, who looked like the class of the division through two weeks, fell flat in a 27-3 whipping at the hands of the Falcons.

BRONCOS

What we learned: The Broncos’ defense, while improved from last season, is going to put Peyton Manning in some holes. The Texans took advantage of Denver’s secondary with two huge passing scores and forced Manning to have to rally the Broncos back. The offense got off to a slow start again and did too little until it was too late. We also saw some breakdowns up front, as Houston notched six QB hits and six tackles for loss. 

What’s in store next: Denver gets a confident Raiders team coming off a last-second upset win over the Steelers. Manning should be able to move the ball with ease through the air against a depleted Raiders secondary, but the Broncos’ O-line will have to play better. The Broncos’ run defense, which looked very good the first two weeks, showed some holes against Houston and now faces the electric Darren McFadden, which will put the onus on the linebackers to help keep him grounded when he gets out in space. With a brutal schedule coming up, this is as close to a “must-win” as a team can have this early for the 1-2 Broncos.

What the heck? The Broncos had rookie RB Ronnie Hillman active, and they clearly want to get him involved and get him the ball in space, but it didn’t seem to work out on Sunday. He had two carries for seven yards and one catch for one yard. The strange decision was the demotion of Knowshon Moreno from No. 2 back to presumably the No. 4. Moreno was inactive for the game, likely in favor of Hillman, but there wasn’t much of an upgrade seen on the field.

Kevin Fishbain

CHIEFS

What we learned: The Chiefs still have life. Down 24-6 against a desperate Saints team that had lost only one game in the Superdome dating back to 2010, the Chiefs rode the back of Jamaal Charles on 33 inspired carries to an unlikely overtime victory. It was Charles’ 91-yard score that rallied the team from near-death late in the third quarter, and he ended up accumulating 288 yards from scrimmage on 39 touches a week after leaving the lineup with a knee bruise. Defensively, there are still issues for the Chiefs, but they held the Saints to 288 yards and fewer than five yards per play. After staking the Saints a 10-0 lead, the Chiefs held them to 140 yards on their next 45 plays, including a net minus-16 yards on the Saints’ final five drives in the fourth quarter and overtime. Quite an unreal turnaround.

What’s in store next: We’ll find out if the Chiefs can put the misery of the 0-2 start behind them with their first division game of the season. They head back home to face the Chargers, who had their legs cut out from underneath them at home against the same Falcons team that whipped the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week One. The AFC West title is very much up for grabs, with all four teams — just like last season — clearly in the mix. Could we be headed for another season of 8-8 winning the division? It's too early to tell. But the preseason-darling Chiefs can turn what looked like an early nightmare into a 2-2 start with a victory over the Chargers. They’ll have to play better first-half defense, though. Despite Charles’ heroics in New Orleans, this team really isn’t built to rally back from big deficits, as the losses to the Falcons and Bills showed.

What the heck? Where was this defense, the one we saw in the second half against the Saints, in the first 10 quarters of the season? Clearly, there is something wrong with New Orleans, and it’s more than just the defense. Factor that into any analysis you do of the Kansas City “D.” After all, the Saints were white-hot early against the Panthers but faded badly after the first quarter. But Sunday’s victory showed that the Chiefs do have defensive talent. After a few quiet games, OLB Justin Houston made a statement with three sacks, including a huge safety on Drew Brees that cut the lead late to three points and allowed PK Ryan Succop (six-for-six on field goals) to tie it in regulation and later win it in overtime. It’s not a finished product by any measure. CB Stanford Routt’s interception was the team’s first takeaway of the season. They were gashed by big plays, via missed assignments and poor angles, early on. But the progress might be developing.

— Eric Edholm

RAIDERS

What we learned: Yes, the Steelers’ defense was playing without Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, but the Raiders’ offense still proved it can pack a punch against a respected “D.” After scoring 27 points in the first two games of the season combined, Oakland dropped 34 points on Pittsburgh to get its first win of the season. Concerns about coordinator Greg Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme will be quieted for a while after RB Darren McFadden rushed 18 times for 113 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown, and QB Carson Palmer spread the ball around well, completing at least one pass to nine different receivers.

What’s in store next: It will be a battle of 1-2 teams when the Raiders visit the Broncos on Sunday. Denver has lost two in a row since beating the Steelers in Week One, but the losses came against two of the three still-undefeated teams (Falcons and Texans). Oakland’s suspect secondary, which was chewed up by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (384 yards, four TDs), faces another tough test vs. Peyton Manning. The Raiders have won four of their last five games against the Broncos, and Denver is only 1-8 in home games against AFC West opponents since 2009.

What the heck? The Raiders have the reputation as the team lacking discipline, but you would not have known it Sunday. Oakland was penalized three times, while the Steelers racked up 10 penalties, and the Raiders won the turnover battle, 2-1. This was a game the Steelers should have won — they outgained the Raiders by more than 100 yards and dominated in time of possession. Pittsburgh led by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, but a fumble by WR Antonio Brown allowed the Raiders to tie the game before winning on PK Sebastian Janikowski’s field goal in the final seconds.

— Dan Parr

CHARGERS

What we learned: This team is not nearly as good as the 2-0 record made it seem. The Chargers had breakdowns all over the place in the 27-3 loss to the Falcons on Sunday. The offense looked out of sorts — even with Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates back in the lineup, and the defense couldn’t get off the field on third downs — Atlanta was 8-for-13, which included the conversion of all five third-down opportunities on a 17-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that chewed up nearly eight minutes in the second quarter.

What’s in store next: The Chargers face the Chiefs in Week Four, getting a Kansas City squad that just got its first win in comeback fashion against the Saints. The Chargers' O-line had a couple leaks against Atlanta and will need to shore things up against a Chiefs squad that got to Drew Brees, especially OLB Justin Houston, who had three sacks, including a safety. It also will be important for the Chargers to get Mathews and the ground game going to take some pressure off Philip Rivers. 

What the heck? The Falcons game could have gone a lot differently if Mathews didn’t fumble near the Falcons' goal line. A touchdown there and the Chargers would have taken a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter. Obviously Mathews is a bellcow back for San Diego, but fumbles have been an issue in his career (11 total, six lost) and this was his first game action since the preseason opener. Maybe looking to Jackie Battle or Le’Ron McClain in that situation would have been a better option. 

Kevin Fishbain

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