Colts relied on adjusted ‘perfect’ offensive game plan to stun Chiefs

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KANSAS CITY, MO – OCTOBER 06: Running back Marlon Mack #25 of the Indianapolis Colts rushes up field against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium on October 6, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – For at least one unique occasion, Frank Reich had to adjust his definition of a perfect offensive game plan.

All things being equal and generally speaking, that perfect game consists of 150 yards rushing, 250 yards passing and an even play distribution designed to keep the defense guessing and, hopefully, on its heels.

But again, we’re talking about a unique situation: Sunday night, at Arrowhead Stadium, against Patrick Mahomes and the score-at-will Kansas City Chiefs offense and with the college-type crowd cranking up the decibels.

Factoring everything in required a flip in that perfect-game approach.

“That’s when you have to move that dial the other way and say, ‘Well, now the perfect game at Arrowhead is probably something more like what we saw last night,’’’ Reich said Monday.

Instead of that 150/250 run/pass split, the Colts flipped the script.

Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni dialed up 45 rushing plays, the most by the Colts in a non-overtime game since Dec. 7, 1997 against the New York Jets (46). That included a career-best 29 for Marlon Mack, who wore down the Chiefs’ No. 31-ranked run defense for 132 yards. Indy generated 180 yards on the ground with Jacoby Brissett finishing with an economical 151 yards on 29 passes.

Reich and Sirianni pride themselves on being flexible and tailoring a game plan that’s best suited for the upcoming opponent. Sunday, that meant taking into account the absolute need to limit Mahomes’ opportunities.

The ball-control attack served its purpose. Mahomes had just nine possessions, excluding the kneel-down at the end of the first half. He directed the Chiefs to scores on the first two and the last, but was harassed and pummeled in between.

Brissett, meanwhile, directed an offense that piled up sizeable edges in plays (74-57), first downs (25-18) and time of possession (37:15-22:45). In the second half, the Chiefs had just four possessions, ran 20 plays and had to deal with 7 minutes, 29 seconds of possession time.

It was reminiscent of one of Reich’s starts with the Buffalo Bills in 1989. The opponent: Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins.

During a conversation with Sirianni a few weeks ago, Reich mentioned that week 8 meeting. It was similarly run-based, in large part to limit possible damage by Marino.

He conveyed to Sirianni, “‘Yeah, there was one game I played in and I only threw 9 passes in the game and we won.’’’

The reason? The Bills generated 280 yards on 51 rushes. They dominated time of possession (34:41-25:19) and won 31-17.

“We called 51 runs in that game and three 9 passes and beat Dan Marino, who could be the Patrick Mahomes of today,’’ Reich said.

Fielding a top-5 rushing attack has been Reich’s goal since the start of the offseason. So far, so good. Heading into their bye, the Colts rank No. 5 (142 yards per game) and Mack ranks No. 4 with 470 yards.

Pressing the action

Complementing the bullish ground attack by the offense was a more physical approach on defense. Instead of sitting back in zone coverage and limiting Mahomes’ big-play opportunities, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus frequently pressed the Chiefs’ receivers at the line of scrimmage.

“Just trying to disrupt timing a little bit and play a little bit tighter coverage and not give them as much space,’’ Reich said.

The Colts also felt “pretty good about some of our matchups up front.’’

Tighter coverage in the secondary resulted in more contested passes. Tight end Travis Kelce was targeted 10 times but finished with just four receptions 70 yards. Mahomes entered the game completing 67.9 percent of his passes. Sunday night, he was 22-of-39 (56.4 pct). After opening 13-of-17, he finished 9-of-22.

The pass rush, meanwhile, got to Mahomes for four sacks and three other QB hits. At least twice Mahomes came out of a pile limping after aggravating an injury to his left ankle.

The Chiefs had allowed only three sacks in their first four games.

Turay out

Reich confirmed second-year defensive end Kemoko Turay will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a broken and dislocated right ankle in the closing minutes against the Chiefs.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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