Archive for Sunday, October 20, 2002

Chiefs’ Gonzalez eyes matchup with rookie

October 20, 2002


— From Denver's point of view, this could be the worst week in the entire season to slap a one-game suspension on strong safety Kenoy Kennedy.

Now Sam Brandon, a raw rookie, might find himself standing eyeball-to-Adam's apple with the most dangerous tight end in America.

Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez is about three inches taller and infinitely more experienced than Brandon, a fourth-round draft pick out of UNLV who has seen only limited time in one game.

Anticipating a beginner lined up against him, might KC be planning mischief for their Pro Bowl tight end?

"I would," said Denver coach Mike Shanahan.

Of course, Shanahan would probably never ask Brandon or anybody else to deal with Gonzalez all by himself.

A few weeks ago, Miami conceded the middle of the field and concentrated on running back Priest Holmes. Sure enough, the NFL's defending rushing champion got only a season-low 52 yards rushing.

But Gonzalez caught seven balls for 140 yards and three TDs and the Chiefs won 48-30.

"If this guy's a rookie, I like the matchup," said Gonzalez. "But I don't think I'm going to see just man-to-man coverage. I used to look at that kind of stuff in my first five years in the league when I thought there were times when I could have a big game, like last week against the Chargers. What did I get? Two catches?

"Let's just see how this one goes."

The Broncos (4-2), who have dropped two of three after a 3-0 start, lost Kennedy for a game for a helmet-to-helmet hit last week on Miami receiver Chris Chambers.

When: Noon today.Where: Arrowhead Stadium.Television: Channels 5, 13.Line: Broncos by 3.

Not that Gonzalez, who's caught 22 passes for 314 yards and six TDs this year for the Chiefs (3-3), wasn't already feared in Denver. He had eight catches for 129 yards there last year.

"Sometimes you wish you had an extra player when you face a great player like Gonzalez," Shanahan said. "He can make so many big plays. Even when you have him covered, he's got the ability to do things most tight ends can't do. That was evident against Miami."

Nothing Gonzalez or Holmes or anyone else does will help the Chiefs if they don't find a way to keep the Broncos from exploiting their last-ranked defense.

Offensively, the Broncos are averaging 360 yards and 24 points a game. Brian Griese will be throwing to Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey, one of the league's top receiving tandems, and rookie Clinton Portis will be looking for his third 100-yard rushing game.

They'll be facing a defense that's on a record-breaking pace, yielding 430 yards and 32.2 points a game.

Schemewise, it's a defense very familiar to the Broncos, designed by Greg Robinson, who was their defensive coordinator when John Elway was leading them to two Super Bowl titles.

"I think it's a factor. It's a factor both ways," said Griese. "We know Greg and his scheme pretty well from when he was here with our ballclub. And he knows our tendencies very well, too. In the end, it will probably even out."

Another key matchup will be Holmes, who leads the NFL with 653 yards rushing and 962 yards from scrimmage, and a Denver defense that's No. 1 against the run. The Broncos are allowing only 62 yards rushing a game.

Give too much attention to Holmes, however, and Gonzalez runs free. Just ask the Dolphins.

"They do so many great things with their offense right now, they really keep you off-balance," said Shanahan. "Offensively, it's by far the best team we've faced. You've got to be ready for everybody. They're so balanced, you can't just key on one guy. That's the tough part about it."

The Broncos may not be the only team missing a safety. Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil expected Greg Wesley to miss a second straight week with a deep shoulder and chest bruise. His replacement, Shaunhard Harts, played well last week at San Diego.

As for trying to exploit the Broncos' safety shortage, Vermeil seemed to say, "Aw, shucks. Who, me?"

"Nowadays, you plug people in and go play," Vermeil said.

"Shaunard Harts did a great job for us and I'm sure their young player will go in and play well for them. You don't change a whole scheme based on one guy."

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