INDIANAPOLIS — Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium:
- Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Broadcast: CBS4.
- Spread: Chiefs by 5½.
History lesson, Part I:
We’re trying to set a positive tone. The Colts lead the overall series with the Chiefs 17-10 and have won nine of the last 12. And the last time these two AFC franchises met, it was the Colts walking out of Arrowhead Stadium with a 19-13 victory. That Oct. 6 experience on the Monday night stage remains one of the highlights of Frank Reich’s stint in Indy.
History lesson, Part II:
Patrick Mahomes already has established himself as one of the NFL’s preeminent players. The 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft is 60-16 as a starter, has taken the Chiefs to two Super Bowls, helped them capture their first world championship since 1969, was MVP in that Super Bowl LIV win over San Francisco and was league MVP in 2018.
He just turned 27.
History lesson, Part III:
In case you were wondering, Mahomes is 6-1 against a Gus Bradley defense (two games against Raiders last season, five against the Chargers). He has completed 65.3% of his passes and averaged 260 yards per game and 7.7 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 108.4 passer rating. The Chiefs swept their two games with the Raiders last season, 41-14 and 48-9. The latter blowout was fueled by five Raiders turnovers that resulted in 28 K.C. points.
Who are these guys?:
One quote from Matt Ryan resonated with us. It was Wednesday and he was addressing the lackluster performance at Jacksonville. All good teams he’s been a part of, he insisted, have endured similar afternoons.
“It’s how you respond,” Ryan said, “and the measure of who we’re going to be as a team is not last week. The measure of who we are going to become as a team is how we respond to situations like last week.”
So, how will the Colts respond? They haven’t exactly given their fan base much reason for optimism during the 0-1-1 start. An inefficient offense. A defense that has made very few impactful plays. Special teams that cost the team the opening victory with an errant 42-yard field goal.
That was against Houston and Jacksonville, neither of which should be mistaken for legitimate playoff challengers. And now, the Kansas City Chiefs, who are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
We’ve already mentioned the last time these teams met. The Colts would do well to thumb through the game plan from that evening at Arrowhead Stadium and, as much as possible, replicate it.
They controlled the game with a run-based offense (180 yards on the ground, including 132 on 29 attempts by Marlon Mack), which led to massive edges in time of possession (37:15-22:45) and total plays. That meant Mahomes led only nine drives. Even he can’t do damage sitting on the bench. The defense limited the Chiefs to 36 total rushing yards and 2.6 per attempt, and got after Mahomes. He was hit eight times and sacked four times.
Rely on your strengths:
That would be the offensive line, Jonanthan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, with several dashes of Michael Pittman Jr. The NFL’s highest-paid offensive line has been more of a liability than a strength thus far – 18 hits allowed on Matt Ryan, including seven sacks – and that group will dictate whether things get better anytime soon.
An assertive o-line should enable Reich to lean heavily on Taylor in the run game and Hines and Pittman in the Ryan-led passing game. Taylor was limited to nine carries and 10 touches at Jacksonville, and it doesn’t take a football savant to realize the league’s reigning rushing champion needs 25-30 carries in this type of game. He’s good enough to carry a team to an upset against a top-tier team. Remember Buffalo last season?
Also, Hines needs to be much more involved after just 15 snaps and six total touches as the offense had just 48 plays at Jacksonville. In ’19, Hines complemented Mack’s strong game with four receptions for a team-high 46 yards.
An effective line needs to provide Ryan with enough time to incorporate Pittman and the wideouts. If pass protection falters again, the Chiefs have the wherewithal to take over the game with a defense led by tackle Chris Jones and end Frank Clark.
Ball control has to be Chapter 1 of the playbook.
“It has to be,” Taylor said. “And not only for us, but any team playing (the Chiefs). You have to make sure you kind of keep the ball out of that guy’s hands. We have a great defense and we know the defense is going to be up for the challenge, but it’s also part on us to make it easier on them.”
So, long drives that shorten the game. And long drives that find the end zone. After two games, the offense is 2-for-7 in the red zone, 29th in the league. Kansas City’s defense has allowed six TDs on eight red-zone situations (75%, tied-24th).
Make a difference on defense:
We’re still waiting for the defense to assert itself. OK, it’s tied-9th in rushing yards allowed (86.5) and 2nd in yards per attempt (2.7). But Jacksonville’s James Robinson gashed it for a 37-yard touchdown. More alarming are just seven QB hits and 3 sacks – Kwity Paye’s team-best 2 sacks came in overtime at Houston – and one takeaway. Davis Mills and Trevor Lawrence have completed 71.6% of their passes with four TDs, no interceptions and a 111.2 passer rating. Yannick Ngakoue and DeForest Buckner have yet to produce as expected. They’ve combined for 0 sacks, one QB hit and two tackles for loss.
Again, now the defense gets Patrick Mahomes. He’s going to get his with a supporting cast that includes tight end Travis Kelce, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (116 yards on 15 attempts) and wideouts Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman. Kelce figures to be a day-long headache for a defense that once again is having trouble dealing with tight ends (12 receptions, 114 yards, two TDs allowed). He’s once again Mahomes’ prime target with 13 catches, 172 yards and one TD.
As difficult as it is, the defense must keep Mahomes from breaking containment and buying time with his legs. He’s been sacked just once in two games.
“It’s keep him in the pocket,” said All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard, who’ll miss a third straight game while rehabbing from back surgery. “Mahomes is very dangerous whenever he leaves the pocket. Keep pressure on him. Defensive backs, just make sure we stay in coverage so when he does leave the pocket, plaster them well.”
And the winner is: Chiefs 30, Colts 24.
Maybe the offensive line comes together, the offensive game plan works and Taylor is able to wear down the Chiefs defense. Maybe the return of Pittman and Alec Pierce injects life into the passing game. Maybe the defense is able to pressure Mahomes and keep him from going off. Maybe Chase McLaughlin is able to convert field goals when drives stall.
But that’s too many maybes.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.