Deciphering clues about KC Chiefs’ offense through snap counts against Denver Broncos

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The Chiefs gained some ground in the race for the AFC’s No. 1 seed with their 22-9 win over the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday night.

And as has become the norm during the Chiefs’ five-game winning streak defense won the day.

“The defense again had a nice game here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It was beautiful to watch the pressure we put on Teddy (Bridgewater) and the way we were able to sustain against the run game.”

The Broncos’ offense totaled 404 yards, but the Chiefs bent and never broke. They limited their fifth straight opponent to less than 17 points and had three takeaways, including a pick-6, a sack and eight quarterback hits.

Sunday’s win gave the Chiefs (8-4) a two-game lead over the Broncos (6-6) and Las Vegas Raiders (6-6) in the division, and a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Chargers (7-5). The Chiefs face the Raiders at noon this Sunday and the Chargers in Week 15.

Here are the Chiefs’ snap counts against the Broncos.

QUARTERBACKS: Patrick Mahomes (57), Chad Henne (did not play)

Mahomes completed 15 of 29 passes for 184 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, his 12th this season, for a career-low 57.3 passer rating. Two of Mahomes’ lowest career passer ratings have occurred in 2021: Sunday night, and in Week 7 (62.3)..

The Chiefs’ receivers also dropped a few more passes. (More on that problem in a moment.)

Mahomes scored on a 10-yard run in the first quarter. He had 21 yards and a touchdown on four carries.

RUNNING BACKS: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (29), Darrel Williams (26, 6 on special teams), Derrick Gore (2, 8 on ST), fullback Michael Burton (7, 13 on ST)

As a team, the Chiefs gained 89 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

Edwards-Helaire paced the backfield with 54 yards on 14 while Williams chipped in with 20 yards on five. Burton’s lone carry came on a third-and-1 play — and he secured the first down with a 3-yard run.

Williams led the team in receiving, with three catches for 60 yards on three targets. Edwards-Helaire was second with three catches for 28 yards. It was that kind of day for the Chiefs’ passing game.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Tyreek Hill (50), Byron Pringle (41, 11 on ST), Demarcus Robinson (31, 6 on ST), Josh Gordon (13), Mecole Hardman (9, 1 on ST), Marcus Kemp (4, 17 on ST)

Hill’s 27 yards led this position group Sunday ... and that’s not a typo. One pass deflected off Hill’s hands and into the waiting arms of a Broncos defender.

But the usually dependable Hill wasn’t the only wide receiver who struggled.

One one particular series in the first quarter, Mahomes threw a pass to Pringle that the K-State product dropped. Mahomes went right back to him for a 14-yard gain, but Pringle then dropped the next pass thrown his way, too.

Pringle finished with just the one catch on four targets.

“Our offense was a little bit sporadic,” Reid said. “We had a few dropped balls that we’ll work on and make sure we fix that.”

Robinson had two catches for 21 yards. Hardman saw a season-low nine snaps, with one catch for 12 yards. Kemp was targeted once but didn’t secure the catch. Gordon played but wasn’t targeted.

TIGHT ENDS: Travis Kelce (44), Blake Bell (14, 8 on ST), Noah Gray (12, 21 on ST)

Kelce was targeted a team-high eight times in the game, catching just three passes for 27 yards. He, too, also dropped a pass. Bell and Gray were not targeted.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Trey Smith (57, 5 on ST), Andrew Wylie (57, 5 on ST), Orlando Brown Jr. (57, 5 on ST), Joe Thuney (57, 5 on ST), Creed Humphrey (57, 5 on ST), Nick Allegretti (3, 5 on ST), Austin Blythe (did not play), Prince Tega Wanogho (did not play)

With rookie Lucas Niang (ribs) inactive for the third straight game, Wylie drew another start at right tackle and had a pancake block during Mahomes’ 10-yard touchdown run. As a unit, the Chiefs’ front five did a good job of keeping Mahomes clean, allowing only one sack and three quarterback hits.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Chris Jones (51), Frank Clark (48), Jarran Reed (44), Melvin Ingram (41), Alex Okafor (34, 1 on ST), Tershawn Wharton (34, 1 on ST), Mike Danna (17, 3 on ST), Derrick Nnadi (25, 1 on ST)

Ingram saw his first start for the Chiefs and made an immediate impact. He split a sack with linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and made three tackles, including one for a loss, plus two quarterback hits.

“We look at him as if he’s a starter, but we rotate all those guys,” Reid said of Ingram, acquired recently in a trade with Pittsburgh. “So it was good to get him in there and get him some extended snaps. He played his tail off and did a nice job.”

Jones totaled two tackles, a quarterback hit and two passes defensed. Reid complimented his ability to knock down passes.

“We all see this happy-go-lucky kid that is out there,” Reid said, “but he does study his tail off and makes sure he knows what the offensive linemen are doing and how they react to certain things.”

Clark, Nnadi and Danna each recorded a quarterback hit. Okafor had two tackles and a pass defensed.

LINEBACKERS: Willie Gay Jr. (47), Anthony Hitchens (41, 1 on ST), Ben Niemann (29, 17 on ST), Nick Bolton (22, 4 on ST), Dorian O’Daniel (17 on ST)

Gay split the sack with Ingram and made eight tackles, including one for a loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed. Hitchens had five tackles, Niemann had four and a pass defensed, and Bolton made three tackles in just 22 snaps.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: L’Jarius Sneed (77, 3 on ST), Tyrann Mathieu (77), Charvarius Ward (77), Juan Thornhill (68, 3 on ST), Deandre Baker (51, 8 on ST), Daniel Sorensen (39, 7 on ST), Mike Hughes (11, 7 on ST), Armani Watts (17 on ST), Chris Lammons (4 on ST)

Mathieu’s nine tackles led the Chiefs’ defense. He also recorded a hit on Bridgewater.

Ward totaled eight tackles and a pass defensed, while Thornhill made six tackles, an interception and a pass defensed. Sneed and Baker each had four tackles.

Sorensen, who lost his starting job to Thornhill in Week 6, enjoyed some redemption Sunday night with a pick-6. He also had two tackles and a pass defensed.

Hughes, the team’s new primary punt returner, ran back two punts for 13 yards.

Lammons left the game in the first half with a left ankle injury.

SPECIALISTS: Harrison Butker (11), Tommy Townsend (9), James Winchester (9)

Butker missed an extra-point attempt but drilled three field goals, including one from 56 yards. The Chiefs’ placekicker has five field of 50-plus yards this season and set a new team record for most 50-plus-yard field goals in a single season.

Townsend punted four times for 190 yards, averaging 47.5. He placed three inside the Broncos’ 20-yard line.

INACTIVES: Tackle Lucas Niang (ribs), cornerback Rashad Fenton (knee), offensive lineman Kyle Long, quarterback Shane Buechele