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Ian Allan

Thursday night recap

Position-by-position look at Denver, KC

Man plans. The fantasy gods laugh. There will be 256 regular-season games played this year, and the underwhelming game on Thursday night between Denver and Kansas City will be remembered as one of the most notable, with repercussions that will be felt throughout the second half of the season.

PATRICK MAHOMES:
Mahomes has been playing all year on a sprained ankle, aggravating it multiple times. Some were of the school of thought that they should shut him down for a few weeks, making sure it wouldn’t be an issue in the playoffs. So as he stepped to the line of scrimmage for a fourth-and-one play in the second quarter, it seemed obvious that Mahomes wouldn’t handle on the ball on a quarterback sneak. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck pointed out as much.

Oops.

There’s no timeline on Mahomes’ return yet. The team has a bye in Week 12. I will guess for now that they’ll be going with Matt Moore for their next four games, with Mahomes returning for the final five. When Mahomes is playing, KC has the kind of offense that might average about 330 passing yards, with 40 TD passes (per 16 games). With Moore, probably about 100 yards less per game, with about 24 TDs (per 16). So when the Redrafter comes out next Tuesday, I’ll split the baby and be working off team numbers of about 280 passing yards and 32 (about 2 per game) for the KC players.

JOE FLACCO:
To me, it’s clear that neither of the two teams playing Thursday night are going to have their quarterback for 16 games. The Broncos can’t put Flacco on the field for nine more weeks. They can’t ask their fans to watch nine more games of that. Drew Lock is coming off injured reserved soon. I don’t know that he’s ready to play or will be an upgrade, but it would be reasonable to put him in the lineup for the last few games.

This was Flacco at his worst. He reminded me of Marcus Mariota in the earlier Thursday game at Jacksonville, with no ability to handle the pass rush. Flacco took 8 sacks, and he probably could have avoided half of them by being more ready to get the ball out of his hands. He’s in his 12th year; he’s got to be better than that. (And can he at least bring in a little fire to the table? With his flat-liner personality, it looked like he didn’t even care.)

KC RUNNING BACKS:
LeSean McCoy is taking charge of this backfield. He popped a nice 19-yard run early, with vision and elusiveness most backs don’t have. He was mostly ineffective but also had a 22-yard run late (after the game was over) putting him well ahead of the team’s other backs. McCoy is an older back who at times jukes too much and has ball-security issues, but KC doesn’t have much else.

The two Williams backs carried 11 times for 8 yards. The 4 passes they caught generated a total of 4 yards. Combined they were on the field for 35 plays (9 more than McCoy) but they’re just not getting anything done. McCoy is definitely the starter for now, and he’ll be leading them in touches. With KC probably now running more in its upcoming games, his value is on the rise. I don’t see either of the Williams dislodging him from the starting lineup this year, barring injury. They’ll be mixed in for touches, but they’re just not doing enough with them.

DENVER RUNNING BACKS:
Earlier in the week, I spent quality time researching that Kansas City came into this game as just the second defense in the last 15 years to allowed at least 180 rushing yards four games in a row. So of course it made perfect sense when the Broncos (who’ve had a couple of good running games recently) came out and couldn’t run the ball worth a damn from the get-go. That was apparent on the opening drive, when their running plays resulted in 1, 2, 1, 0, 3, 1 and 0 yards. It was just never going to happen. First half: 11 carries for 23 yards. They got a couple of runs in the second half to finish at 71 yards on 21 carries, but a disastrous effort.

Phillip Lindsay is a good back, but it’s a one-two punch backfield. Royce Freeman has actually been on the field for more snaps than Lindsay four games in a row. They’re both getting double-digit carries, and they’re both averaging 20-plus yards as receivers. When Denver got the ball on the 1-yard line in this game, they lined up Freeman behind Andy Janovich to punch in the touchdown. I think we’ll see that formation again this year (if Denver ever reaches the 1-yard line again, which I suppose shouldn’t be considered a certainty). But on the play after the touchdown, the ball was back on the 1 (after a penalty on the PAT). Having just scored with Freeman, the Broncos got cut and went with a spread formation, trying to catch Kansas City off guard with a Lindsay run up the middle. It did not work.

KC WIDE RECEIVERS:
Tyreek Hill is the game’s fastest player and a threat to score on any play. This looked like a lousy game for him, with him not even getting a target in the first half. He salvaged the night with a 57-yard touchdown. With Mahomes sidelined, however, I expect they’ll have problems getting him the ball.

Sammy Watkins (hamstring) sat this one out but should be back in Week 8; he’s been practicing. For this one, they went mostly with Demarcus Robinson, with Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle in supporting roles. Hardman officially started, but he played a little less than half the game; Robinson was out there for 80 percent of their snaps. Pringle hardly played.

I have seen enough of Robinson to conclude he’s not quite going to be able to get over the hump and become a viable receiver. I saw him drop a touchdown last week. He dropped or failed to catch 2 more balls in this game. He can contribute some, I suppose, but he’s just not that good.

In a dynasty league, Hardman looks like the clear 2nd-best receiver (behind Hill). Watkins has also been mostly underwhelming in recent years. As Hardman grows and develops, I expect he’ll be their other big-time receiver. He caught a touchdown in this game and also had a 36-yard punt return. Oddly, after that nice return, they went back to using DeAnthony Thomas as their returner for most other punts. I just saw Hardman on the field for only one other punt in the game.

DENVER WIDE RECEIVERS:
Courtland Sutton reminds me of a young Demaryius Thomas. He’s big, he’s good, and it’s clear he’s going to be one of the game’s top 15 receivers for a long time. He’s gone over 75 yards in five of his seven games. I wish he was working with a better quarterback.

Emmanuel Sanders is still good, but he’s 32 and comes with injury issues nowadays. He missed half of their last game, and you never know how long he can keep it going. Sanders played fine in this one, catching 5 for 60.

DaeSean Hamilton was on the field for two thirds of the plays in this one, mostly as a slot receiver. But they don’t use him. He’s had more than 15 yards in only two games all year.

KANSAS CITY TIGHT ENDS:
Is Travis Kelce the last notable player wearing an old-school traditional helmet? I can’t think of anyone else whose helmet doesn’t include all the special bells and whistles (designed to somehow reduce concussions). Antonio Brown tried to wear an older helmet in Oakland, and the league wouldn’t let him. My guess is that Kelce’s helmet is right on the edge of extinction, and that they’ll make him switch to something new next season.

Kelce has been fine. He’s on pace to finish the season with 86 catches for 1,237 yards. But he hasn’t made enough big catches. He’s caught only one touchdown all year. Now he’ll play a chunk of games without Mahomes – looking more like a top-5 tight end nowadays, rather than a Gronk-like difference maker.

Blake Bell also plays a lot, but they don’t use him much as a receiver.

DENVER TIGHT ENDS:
Noah Fant came up very small in this game. He had chances to make too big catches downfield in the second half and couldn’t come up with either of them. He’s a talented, mobile guy who’ll probably step up his game in his second year, when he knows the offense better and is more confident. I don’t think it’s happening for him in 2019. He’s averaging 23 yards per game so far, with one touchdown in seven weeks.

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