The Indianapolis Colts travel out west this week for a likely playoff preview. The Colts (9-5) look like a lock for the fourth seed, and the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) are the likely fifth seed.
Since the Bye Week, the Colts have been alternating wins and loss. By that rule, the Colts should lose this week. But we’re throwing out the rule book! (According to coach Chuck Pagano.)
This game is going to come down to two basic things:
- Stopping Jamaal Charles and,
- Generating offense.
Lets start with the easier of the two: offense.
Last week, Colts fans were treated to touchdowns in the first half of a football game. It was a rare sight, not seen since the days of Reggie Wayne. Indy managed to jump out to a fast start over a bad team, and coast in the second half to a relatively easy win.
This week, the Colts will face a more talented defense than the Texans, but the stories of the Chiefs dominance have been largely exaggerated. What made the Chiefs so good during their undefeated run?
Well, it wasn’t the defense; it was their opponents.
The Chiefs faced just one team that will make it into the playoffs (Eagles or Cowboys). The nine teams they faced? A combined 44-82, with just the Eagles posting a record above .500. The Chiefs have played the easiest schedule in the NFL, which isn’t surprising since they finished 2-14 last season.
While the Chiefs were undefeated, no team scored more than 17 points. Since then, they’re giving up an average of 29 points per game. They still have some talented players on defense, but once they started playing teams with a pulse they’ve struggled.
They’re defensive line, and outside linebackers, can wreck havoc on an opponent (especially one that is playing musical chairs with injured linemen like the Colts). The Chiefs have the fourth most sacks in the NFL and average three per game. Their defensive line ranks eighth in the NFL as well. Per DVOA, the defense ranks 10th in the NFL (the Colts have faced four other top 10 defenses this season).
The question will be, which Colts offense (or rather play calling) will travel to Kansas City? Will they spread the field and keep the Chiefs guessing? Or will they telegraph run plays and set themselves up for failure time and again?
Last week they spread the field and it was very effective. It also was a result of Stanley Havili being out for the week. He’s listed as probable, but will Pep Hamilton learn his lesson? There’s a time and place for a fullback, and its not on every single play.
The Colts also should have wide receiver LaVon Brazill back on the field, giving Andrew Luck another option down field.
Speaking of Luck, he has been on a tear recently. Over the past six quarters he has thrown six touchdowns. All it would take for the Colts to have a big run in the postseason is Luck getting hot. It worked out pretty well for the Ravens and Joe Flacco last season.
Now to the second part of Sunday’s game plan: stopping Jamaal Charles.
Last week, Charles posted five touchdowns…against the Raiders. Not to diminish the feat, but still it was Oakland. Somehow that game vaulted Charles into the MVP conversation (despite Peyton Manning having 47 touchdowns).
Last season against the Colts, Charles had 226 yards and a touchdown, in a 20-13 loss. Proving that rushing yards don’t matter in modern football. For the record, the Colts had 90 total rushing yards in that game.
But this is a different Chiefs team with Andy Reid as head coach. His favorite play is the running back screen, which fits Charles perfectly (and is how he scored four of his touchdowns last week).
The Colts would be better off not blitzing and just covering the flats to prevent Charles from breaking loose. Shutting him down is going to be incredibly difficult. Discipline is paramount when defending a player like Charles out of the backfield.
The Colts have struggled to defend RBs in space this season, and I doubt that Sunday is going to be any exception. It would take an effort we haven’t seen from the Colts all season to reasonably contain Charles.
This has a similar feel to the game against the Bengals two weeks ago. Not a must win, but one you really want to perform well in and find some sort of coherence before the playoffs.
The Colts can end up with a bye if a lot of teams start tanking down the stretch, but its not paramount to their success. The Chiefs are trying to pace the Broncos and hope Denver slips up as they are still alive for the top seed in the playoffs.
The Chiefs run away with this one at home, 35-21.
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