Sunday marks the first Chiefs-Broncos game since 2011 that Peyton Manning hasn’t started as Denver’s quarterback.
“It is different,” Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali said. “It’s a new look.”
But if the Chiefs or anybody in football expected slippage from the Broncos in the post-Manning era, they are disappointed.
Trevor Siemian is a second-year pro and a first-year — and somewhat surprising — starter who has guided the Broncos to a 7-3 record. Surprising because of how Denver handled the position after winning Super Bowl 50 and Manning’s retirement.
The top reserve last season was Brock Osweiler, who took over for Manning during the Chiefs’ victory at Denver. Osweiler signed with the Texans in the offseason. The Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch from Memphis in the first round, but Siemian won the job after appearing in one regular-season game last season.
“All he got was an opportunity,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “We sat him out a year and he watched two guys, the best in Peyton and Brock work, and how to be a pro. He took advantage of that. You have to give the kid credit for making up the ground he’s made up.”
Also factoring in the decision was the Broncos’ team makeup. Defense was the team’s calling card last season and Denver doubled down this season, leaning on a rugged defense to win games and not pressuring an inexperienced quarterback.
The Broncos have had one game with at least 400 yards of total offense and two games without a turnover.
Siemian got off a fast start, including becoming the first NFL quarterback to pass for 300 yards and throw four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first road start, at Cincinnati.
He injured his shoulder in the fourth week and his play has been inconsistent since. Still, the Chiefs see a quarterback capable of doing damage.
“They’re not doing Peyton’s no-huddle, but (Siemian) is doing what they’re asking him to do very well,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He has mobility to do the bootlegs and get out of trouble. He appears to a sharp guy on the field, and we really have to come after him.”
Manning’s retirement is fine with the Chiefs. The future Hall of Famer won 14 of his first 15 starts against the Chiefs, including his time with the Colts and postseason games.
But Manning’s final start finally went the Chiefs’ way. In a 29-13 victory, the Chiefs not only came up with four interceptions but they recorded two of their five sacks against him. Osweiler took over in the third quarter.
But there likely was no opponent more respected by the Chiefs than Manning.
“He was a coach on the field,” Hali said. “It didn’t matter how good your defense was. He could take advantage of any defense put in front of him.”
As for Siemian, the Chiefs see a young player with a strong arm who has completed 60.1 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s had a rough go lately with six giveaways, including fumbles lost, in the last three games.
“He gets the ball out of his hands quick,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “He can make all the throws. Have they had the amount of success they’ve wanted to have on offense to this point? No? They’re built on defense, it’s fair to say.
“But they can be a dangerous team.”
The Chiefs, who have won seven straight and nine of the last 10 against AFC West opponents, look to begin a better run against the Broncos quarterback than the previous one.