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Chiefs v Colts: A Wild Card Preview

On Saturday, the Chiefs will head up north to face the Indianapolis Colts in a rematch of week 16 game that the Colts won 23-7. Also, the Chiefs will be looking for their first playoff victory since January of 1994.  The last time the Colts and Chiefs faced each other in the playoffs was 2006, where Peyton Manning took Indianapolis to victory 23-8.  I will be taking a view of each team and match-ups that will be key for victory.  First, let’s review how each team got into the playoffs.

Chiefs-They have been an up and down team since their 9-0 streak ended.  Not too many people were surprised that it came to an end, as rumors of their undefeated record had more to do with who they faced, and not so much on talent.  The second half of the season proved that the speculators were correct as they promptly loss five of their final seven games, and saw their 9-0 record turn into a final 11-5.

Colts-There was a big hurdle to get over when Reggie Wayne went out for the season.  They struggled as most people would think, but in the final three games, they look like a strong playoff contender.  They won those three games by outscoring their opponents 88-20, and are on a streak that most playoff teams want to be in, which favored Baltimore so well last year,  They also have not had the hardest schedule.  Their division consists of the Titans, Jaguars, and Texans, and there is no reason they shouldn’t have gone 6-0 against these teams.  In rebuttal they beat the Broncos, 49ers, Seahawks, and Chiefs.

Chiefs offense v Colts Defense

Alex Smith has refined his career in Kansas City under Andy Reid.  Smith will never be worth the number one selection he was with the 49ers, but he does have the talent to be a strong starting quarterback.  He is mostly a drop back passer, who looks for dump-offs to Jamaal Charles, but can also take off and run when needed too.  Andy Reid has given him that freedom, and Smith uses it well.  He is not a turnover prone quarterback, so Reid can feel safe with him down near the goal line to make that wise throw.  On the season, Smith has averaged 221 passing yards per game, and the Colts have allowed just 232 passing yards per game.  Alex had a difficult time getting things going against the Colts in week 16 as he threw for an interception, and went 16-28 with 153 yards passing and no touchdowns.  Obviously this will need to change if the Chiefs are going to advance.  Their best decision will be to go after LB Jerrell Freeman.  Freeman has the lowest pass coverage rank on the Colts, and the Chiefs targeted him seven times two weeks ago with minimal success.  Freeman only allowed three receptions, and had one interception, and was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.  Alex Smith will need to find his offensive weapons in open space and let them work their magic, short west coast offensive passes, due to his lack of exploiting safety coverage, and his tight ends have not been above par.

Jamaal Charles- There is no doubt that Charles is the key to the whole show.  He will need to put on another showcase this Saturday against the Colts, if the Chiefs have a chance in winning.  Two weeks ago, the Chiefs were shut down, and it put the onus on Alex Smith, which is not how Kansas City will win, survive, and advance.  Charles had just 13 carries, even though he averaged eight yards per carry.  The Chiefs will need to keep Jamaal busy all day, as they do not want to face a solid Indianapolis pass rush.  Two weeks ago this defensive unit forced three fumbles from Smith and six overall all.  Charles will need to keep the Colts defense away, slow the clock, and keep the game in striking distance.  Charles finished the season with just 1.287 yards rushing, but had 693 in the air.  The Colts rushing defense is porous as they have allowed on average 4.5 yards per game, 2,002 yards overall, and only the Broncos and Jaguars didn’t go over 100 yards on them.  Cory Redding is the only Colts defender that is stellar against the run.  He will be lining up over offensive tackle and rookie Eric Fisher, which means a lot of inside runs, and breaks to the outside where Redding is not at.

Dwayne Bowe leads this wide receiving crew that is poor at best.  The unit consists of Bowe, Avery, Mccluster, and Hemmingway.  Not names that people think of right away, when asked to name as many wide receivers as they possibly can.  Bowe has been a disappointment as he could never really find a cohesion with Smith. Donnie Avery has speed, and is a possession receiver, but Dexter McCluster is a jack-of-all-trades as he can play anywhere on the field, and is super fast.  By the end of the regular season, the stats showed the ball had beenspread around evenly between Bowe and McCluster as both had 50 plus receptions, but Bowe led the core group with five touchdowns.  Avery and McCluster were tied at two apiece.  In the tight end area, both McGrath and Fasano combined for 49 receptions for 502 yards and five touchdowns. Jaamal  Charles led the group in all categories, as he had 70 receptions for 693 yards and seven touchdowns.  The Colts secondary has had its ups and downs.  They did an excellent job against Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson which led to Colt victories, but,were sloppy against teams such as the Rams, Bengals, and Cardinals.

Chiefs offensive line-  Against the Colts two weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line got blitzkrieg.  They sacked Alex Smith five times, and Alex was consistently under pressure.  They were missing their best pass blocker at the time in left tackle Branden Albert.  He will be back, but the Chiefs biggest concern will be helping Eric Fisher who has struggled against the speed rushers of the NFL.  Fisher meet Mathis.  Robert Mathis had 19.5 sacks on the year, and if Fisher struggles, look for Donald Stephenson to step in, who played well in Albert’s absence. If this offensive line can win the battle up front it might be too much for the Colts to handle, but look for Mathis to wreck havoc, and watch for the Chiefs adjustment plans

Colts offense v Chiefs Defense

Andrew Luck-The Chiefs struggled heavily trying to contain Andrew Luck and the offense.  The Chiefs have had injuries to their linebackers, and this has minimized their pass rushing.  Most importantly for Luck though is that the Colts have started to move forward with the loss of Reggie Wayne.  When Wayne tore his ACL, it took the team, especially Andrew Luck time to recoup.  Andrew must have felt horrible knowing that it was his bad throw, which helped cause the injury to occur.  In the final two weeks of the season the Colts have looked sharp, not only on offense, but defense too.  TY Hilton continues to improve, and he finished the season on a monster week, and has developed into a favorite of Andrew’s.  Other solid options for Luck have been former college teammates in Coby Fleener and Griff Whalen. Andrew didn’t have one of his best games against Kansas City two weeks ago.  He finished with 241 yards and a touchdown completing 70% of his passes.  Luck was very accurate as most of his passes went for short steady gains.  If Luck can continue to make this happen, it will put a hurt on the Chiefs defense.  Kansas City likes to put pressure on the quarterback, and forcing bad throws that lead to many interceptions.  If Luck is accurate enough, and avoids the trap, it should be another 250+ yards for him.  The Chiefs on average allow just under 248 yards a game.  Luck will try to exploit the coverage of Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith.  Eric Berry will cause concern because of his solid coverage skills and outside line backer Derrick Johnson can also cover tight ends and running backs.  The Colts do like to get their runningbacks in the flat and use both Richardson and Brown as safety valves and options.  If Luck can connect with TY Hilton for a long pass, at least once, this game could get out of hand in a hurry.  The Chiefs defense is going to want to control short passes, and force the offense to make a mistake.

Brown and Richardson- Indianapolis has had horrible luck trying to keep running backs healthy.  First they lose Vick Ballard, then they sign Ahmad Bradshaw, who goes out as well early in the season, then they traded for what could be one of the worst trades in NFL history to acquire sophomore running back Trent Richardson, who has done zero, since arriving.  It got so bad, that they eventually had to turn to the one person they tried to avoid playing, and that is Donald Brown.  Surprisingly, it has been Brown, that has been the star of the running game, and has basically consumed the starting role away from T-Rich.  Brown has averaged 2.4 yards more a carry in comparison to Richardson (5.3 yards per carry to Richardson 2.9). The running game has no doubt been inconsistent all season, and it doesn’t help that their offensive line has been average at best.  On the season the Colts have rushed for 1, 743 yards averaging 4.3 yards per carry, just enough to get the job done.  When the Colts do rush for more than 100 yards they are 9-1, and this will be a mark they are going to be shooting for.  If they can control the game on the ground they can churn the clock, and keep Kansas City pass rush at bay.  This will also help secure the ball and avoid turnovers.  The Chiefs are more solid defensively in the red zone, allowing just nine rushing touchdowns all season.  The defensive front of Poe, DeVito, and Jackson lead to a solid group of run-stoppers.

This wide receiving core, started the season with Reggie Wayne, Darrius Hayward-Bey, TY Hilton at wide receiver, and Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener at tight end.  By week 17, both Wayne and Allen were lost for the year, DHB lost his job to Da’Rick Rodgers, Whalen is in to replace Hilton’s role, while Hilton was moved into Wayne’s role.  In other words it has been a mess. TY Hilton is the Colts number one receiver, and has stepped up big time, at season end TY finished with 82receptions for 1083 yards and five touchdowns.  Hilton also has been the most reliable as the other core around him have been plagued by drops (DHB).  Da’Rick Rogers has come in to replace Darrius Heyward-Bey, and has done a solid job in doing so, by forcing Heyward-Bey into special teams.  Rogers in the four games he has played has 14 receptions for 192 yards and two touchdowns.  As nearly three times the amount of games, Heyward-Bey had 29 receptions for 301 yards and just one touchdown. Griff Whalen has stepped up as well he has in nine games and three starts has 24 receptions for 259 yards and two touchdowns.  Coby Fleener has proved he is the worthy starting tight  end as he didn’t have to battle Allen in receptions.  Fleener finished with 52 receptions for 608 yards and four touchdowns.  When the Colts go into offensive formation, Hilton will most likely be in the slot and manned against either Flowers or Robinson.  Neither had much success there, and Hilton should find room to roam.  The Chiefs secondary has played poorly, and Andrew Luck has the accuracy to exploit it.  Eric Berry has been their saving grace, and will look to play the whole field to support the lack of talent in the defensive backfield.  Berry did have a poor game against the Colts, as he allowed four receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown.  Eric will be on coverage of tight ends and running backs, as this should support the wide out coverage of Smith and Flowers, but it won’t be enough to not get exploited by the Colts.

Offensive Line-Justin Houston wasn’t available for the Chiefs in their week 16 match-up, but he will be in for Saturday.  The Chiefs were 9-1 when Houston was healthy, and overall has been worth close to a touchdown a game difference between when he is in the line-up and when he is out.  The Chiefs found themselves not very successful against the pass blocking of the Colts, and to give Andrew Luck time to throw is very dangerous indeed. Tamba Hali also adds some pass rushing skills, but he will find it difficult to get through the offensive tackle pair of Anthony Costanzo and Gosder Cherilus.  The interior line still needs work, but if they can remain productive against Kansas City and their heavy attack defense, it should be an easy win for the Colts.

Special Teams Comparison

One of the most easily forgotten, but easily one of the most important outcome difference is the special teams.  Games can be won and lost out there, ask Kyle Williams, as his two fumbles led to a Conference title and eventual Super Bowl win for the New York Giants. Or Super Bowl XLIV when the Saints were down at half-time 10-6, and decided to on-side kick against the Colts and Peyton Manning.  The surprise onside kick changed the game, as Brees led the Saints to a touchdown and lead.  The New Orleans Saints went on to win 31-17.  Special teams can give a team good field position in a tight defensive game or watch the ball go over the returners head, and have the opposing team down it at the one yard line.

Kansas City has a great unit, they had two punt returns along with two kick returns for touchdowns.  In the kick return and punt return average the Chiefs averaged 29.9 yards per kick and 11.8 for punts.  The Colts have allowed 25.2 per kick and 13.7 on punts, so there is no doubt that the Colts want to refrain from giving up big yards in the Chiefs direction.  The Chiefs on the flip side have played great in coverage.  They are only allowing 6.5 yards per punt return, and just 24.4 yards on kick returns.  The Colts average 23.5 per kick return.

In a field goal contest, Kansas City would march out Ryan Succop and he would face Adam Vinatieri.  Succop has only connected on 78.6% on his kicks, but half of his misses have come from over 50 yards.  Vinatieri has been able to hit on 87.5% of his kicks, and has been exposed to as many different scenarios as possible.  Being from kicking two winning Super Bowl field goals, or that pressure kick to give the team breathing room.  There is no doubt that the right choice here is Vinatieri over Succop.  What it boils down to is that in the overall facets of special teams, the Chiefs have a better unit, but in the crucial moments, the team wants Vinatieri to attempt the kick, and surely not Succop.

Keys to Victory:

Chiefs

1) Turnovers.  They cannot reproduce this in a playoff game.  Just like the loss in week 16, turnovers will put the nail in.

2) Jaamal Charles.  He will need to be counted on, and the Chiefs will need to keep the ball in his hands. This will be a ball control game, and if Charles is not heavily involved it will be a game ender. Charles can win this almost all by himself, as he destroyed the Colts defense in week 16, he just didn’t gave the rock long enough to finish the pounding.

3) Defensive attack-If the Chiefs can get to Andrew Luck, then they can play the defensive they like to play.  But if Luck has the time he will pick apart their defense and force another 23-7 type game.

Colts

1) Andrew Luck time to throw.  Luck is very accurate and if he has time to throw it will be a slow death for Kansas City.

2) Keeping the ball out of Charles hands.  The Colts are going to win, they are going to have to limit his touches.

3) Colts running game.  Brown and Richardson can be successful running the ball, they can control the clock, and limitJaamal Charles from taking over the game

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