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Thirteen things about the Broncos, one for each of Kansas City receiver Tyreek Hill’s 13 touchdown catches this year:
1. Broncos rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia didn’t play a defensive snap against Las Vegas and Miami, his role eliminated because of a combined six missed tackles against the Chargers and Atlanta. Coach Vic Fangio kept Bryce Callahan at the outside spot and gave rookie Essang Bassey a second chance to play the nickel role.
2. Ojemudia, though, is back in the rotation after Callahan (foot) was placed on injured reserve. Ojemudia played 25 second-half snaps against New Orleans, allowing a 20-yard completion, but also showing good physicality to stop receiver Michael Thomas for a one-yard rush.
3. “I thought he tackled better (against New Orleans),” Fangio said of Ojemudia. “When you play the corner position in the NFL, it’s a challenging position to play and it gets no more challenging than the Chiefs. (I would) just like to see him improve on a week-to-week basis, make some plays on the ball, have some good, tight coverage when we need it and when he’s called upon to tackle, to come through for us.”
4. Semi-lost in the shuffle of last weekend’s madness with the quarterbacks being declared ineligible by the league office was left tackle Garett Bolles’ four-year, $68 million contract. “I just think he’s played extremely well,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s pass-blocked well. He’s run-blocked well. He’s a tough, competitive guy and I think that’s necessary if you’re going to play this game and he’s displayed that to me all along.”
5. It’s wild to think back to after the draft, when general manager John Elway declared left tackle an open competition between Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson. The Broncos’ decision to decline Bolles’ fifth-year option was made days later. Of course, Bolles locked up the left tackle spot when Ja’Wuan James opted out of the season, moving Wilkinson back to right tackle.
6. Getting Bolles re-signed keeps the franchise tag open for safety Justin Simmons, who is playing on the tag this year. If talks don’t develop after the season, the Broncos could tag Simmons again (at 120% of his 2020 salary, about $13.73 million) while hoping to reach a long-term agreement.
7. Led by chief contract negotiator Rich Hurtado, the Broncos have re-signed Bolles, kicker Brandon McManus and nose tackle Mike Purcell to in-season contract extensions. Is anybody next? Simmons is the big one, but if defensive end Shelby Harris finishes strong after returning from the COVID-19/reserve list, getting him locked up makes sense because DeMarcus Walker is a free agent and Jurrell Casey could be a cap casualty.
8. Leading into the New Orleans game, Fangio said Saints coach Sean Payton keeps improving as a play-caller. I asked Fangio before practice Thursday whether he has improved as a defensive play-caller. “Every experience, good and bad, you learn from and you just have a good backlog when you have the experience of things that have happened, things you’ve used, when it’s a good time to call something and when it’s not,” he said. “There are no guarantees that any of it will work. I think the more you do it — and it’s been 20-some years calling them — you do get better. But it doesn’t mean you won’t have a bad series or a bad game.”
9. When Rigoberto Sanchez debuted in the NFL with Indianapolis in 2017, Tom McMahon was Indianapolis’ special teams coordinator. Now with the Broncos, McMahon was asked about Sanchez on Thursday, days after he announced a cancer diagnosis. “My heart is with him,” McMahon said. “He’s going to win this thing and there’s no question about it. He’s going to recover. He can be better than ever. Coaching him was awesome. He did every single thing you asked him to do and he did it correctly. This is a guy that wins on the field and he’s going to beat cancer — he’s going to cover that kick and he’s going to be just fine.”
10. Shurmur didn’t burn the New Orleans tape. In fact, there could be some plays to pull out of that game plan, particularly with running back Royce Freeman. “We were running the ball and running some base concepts just from a ‘Wildcat’ formation,” Shurmur said. “Who knows, those things could pop up now periodically, having been forced to (run those plays) in a real game.”
11. Kansas City’s defense is middle-of-the-pack in most statistical categories except for two outliers: Points allowed (21.6 per game, sixth-best) and red zone (74.1% — last in the NFL). In the last seven games, opponents have scored 16 touchdowns in 18 red-zone trips.
12. The Broncos lead the league with 26 turnovers (2.4 per game), having already lapped last year’s total of 16. At their current pace, the Broncos will finish with 38, which won’t even rank among the top 15 in team history. The record was set in 1961 (68 turnovers), 14 more than any other year.
13. A Chiefs win Sunday night would be their 11th consecutive victory over the Broncos, tying Kansas City’s record in the series (November 1964-November 1969). During the streak, the Chiefs have outscored the Broncos on average 30.1-16.4.