Hitchhiker’s Guide to Colts at Chiefs, NFL Week 16

The Colts not only lost their week 15 game to the Texans, but the 29-17 final also eliminated them from contention for the division title. With those hopes dashed, the Colts turn their attention to their next goal: making the playoffs. The easiest way for them to accomplish this goal is to win one of their last two games. And while there are some very likely scenarios that see the Colts still make the playoffs even if they lose out, no one wants to enter the post season on a 3-game losing streak.

Their next opportunity to win a game will also be their easiest, as they travel to Kansas City to take on one of the worst teams in the NFL, the 2-12 Chiefs. Will the Colts be able to put their loss to the Texans behind them, overcome another round of key injuries, and beat the lowly Chiefs, or will Kansas City relish their spoiler role and make the Colts wait a little longer to punch their playoff ticket?

After the jump, we'll look at the key stats, match-ups and injuries that will help determine the outcome of this weeks game!

Tale of the tape

How do the Colts and Chiefs measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.  

 

Indianapolis Colts

   

Kansas City Chiefs

 
  Offense Defense   Offense Defense
Passing 8th 21st   31st 7th
Rushing 21st 23rd   7th 27th
Total 9th 21st   25th 18th

   

When the Colts have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Offense Kansas City Chiefs Defense
87 WR R. Wayne 94 LDE T. Jackson
80 TE C. Fleener 92 NT D. Poe
74 LT A. Castonzo 77 RDE R. Pitoitua
76 LG J. Reitz 50 OLB J. Houston
62  C AQ Shipley 52 ILB B. Siler
75 RG M. McGlynn 56 ILB D. Johnson
69 RT W. Justice 91 OLB T. Hali
83 TE D. Allen 24 CB B. Flowers
11 WR D. Avery 29 SS E. Berry
12 QB A. Luck 23 FS K. Lewis
33 RB V. Ballard 21 CB J. Arenas

Stop me if you've heard this broken record before: the Colts offense will only be as good as its offensive line. The past month, that's meant they've been inconsistent with a side of bad. On Sunday, they'll have to be at their best if they are going to help the Colts secure a win, as they have to overcome not only a good pass rushing duo in LBs Houston and Hali, but also the infamous Arrowhead Stadium Crowd Noise, which will make hearing line calls and snap counts a challenge. Looking at these two teams on paper, it's hard to envision many scenarios in which the Colts lose, but most of them involve the OL failing to open up holes for Ballard and allowing the Chiefs to use Andrew Luck as a pinata.

Look for the Colts to attack this Chiefs defense on the ground, in hopes that a solid running attack will set up the pass: the Chiefs are giving up the 7th-most yards-per-game on the ground (139.3) and are surrenderinghorrific 4.6 yards-per-carry, which makes them a great match-up for rookie RB Vick Ballard. Ballard, who put up the Colts first 100-yard rushing game since 1483 against Houston, has gotten rapidly better with each start, and must be salivating at the prospect of getting 20+ touches Sunday. If Ballard can duplicate – or better – the success he had against an infinitely superior Texans run D, it will not only slow down Houston and Hali, but cause the Chiefs secondary to peek in the backfield and open up the play-action passing game.

Let's take a look at the red zone stats, an area we've been focusing on all season: on the surface, the Chiefs appear to have a very good red zone D, surrendering TDs only 49.12% (9th in the NFL) of the time. A deeper look, however, shows us that while the Chiefs are giving up TDs just shy of 50% of the time, they're surrendering 4.1 red zone trips per game (30th in the league), which means their red zone D is still surrendering 2.0 red zone TDs per game, which is 28th in the league. Not only do the Chiefs give up a lot of red zone trips – and points – they also give up the big play, allowing opposing offenses .441 points-per-play, which is 30th in the league.

All this adds up to mean that, if the Colts offensive line can do its job, Luck, Ballard, and the Colts receivers should have plenty of opportunity to put up big plays and big points. But as the last month has shown us, that's a big "if."

When the Chiefs have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Defense Kansas City Chiefs Offense
90 DE C. Redding 89 WR J. Baldwin
99 NT A. Johnson 76 LT B. Albert
91 DE R. Matthews 71 LG J. Allen
98 OLB R. Mathis 65 C R. Lilja
51 ILB P. Angerer 73 RG J. Asamoah
50 ILB J. Freeman 74 RT E. Winston
93 OLB D. Freeney 81 TE T. Moeaki
32 CB C. Vaughn 22 WR D. McClustr
35 FS J. Lefeged 9 QB B. Quinn
41 SS A. Bethea 40 RB P. Hillis
23 CB V. Davis 25 RB J. Charles

Asking me to write about the Chiefs offense is like asking an artist to paint dog poop on a picturesque hillside. Sure, there's some pretty scenery, but, in the end, it's still dog poop.

On Sunday, the Chiefs will exercise their free will and send out either Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi as their starting quarterback. As I write this, I realize I'm flirting dangerously with all sorts of disastrous jinxes. But then I remember: Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi. Not only does that duo not inspire confidence, neither does their group of receivers – who could be missing both WR Dwayne Bowe (RIBS, season-ending IR) and Tony Moeaki (head injury, status unknown) – lead by the young, talented, but currently unproven Jon Baldwin.

So, if the Chiefs passing game is the pile of dog poop, the picturesque hillside must be Jamaal Charles (this is clearly the greatest compliment Charles has ever been paid). Charles, the Chiefs' 25 year old jitterbug, has returned from his 2011 ACL injury to put up 4.9 yards-per-carry (1,230 yards on 249 carries) despite receiving little-to-no help from the passing game. Saying the Colts #1 priority will be stopping Charles is kind of obvious, but it's also true. Here are some stats to back that up: as we mentioned, Charles is averaging 4.9ypc, while Brady Quinn is averaging 5.8 yards-per-attempt (35th in the NFL) and 9.8 yards-per-completion (most other QBs in the league average between 11.5 and 12.5 yards-per-completion) – the Chiefs passing game doesn't move the ball.

For fun, I did the following comparison:

Team A's QBs combined stats (14 games): 256 of 437 (58.6%) for 2726 yards, 8 TDs, 18 INT, 35 sacks, 65.8 QBRating

Team B's QBs combined stats (16 games): 302 of 534 (56.6%) for 3223 yards, 14 TDs, 14 INT, 35 sacks, 72.2 QBRating

As you've probably guessed, Team A is this year's Kansas City Chiefs duo of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, while Team B is the 2011 Colts Triumvirate of Triumph: Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky, and Kerry Collins. Yes, that's right, unless Brady Quinn goes for 300 yards and 3 TDs and takes no sacks in BOTH of the Chiefs last two games, the 2011 Colts QBs will have outperformed this year's Chiefs duo. F YEA, Kansas City! At least your sucking will lead to Andrew Luck Matt Barkley!!!

So, yea, stop Charles. To do that, the Colts need to attack the Chiefs offense the way they would the Titans – Charles and Chris Johnson are similar runners – stay in your lanes, be patient, don't over pursue. Keep Charles from taking off for an 80-yard TD, and the Chiefs will have a hard time putting up enough points to upset the Colts. Do that, get the win, earn some rest in week 17 and a date with Baltimore in the wild card round. Who could have imagined me typing THAT sentence 8 months ago?

Key Match-ups

1. Me vs This Article with no FootballOutsiders – As you may notice, the stat table at the top of the article is incomplete, listing only the conventional stats, while the advanced stats are missing. FootballOutsiders.com has been down since Tuesday afternoon, so I've been unable to use their information for not only that table, but for my research in this article. I have other methods of research, and I've used all of them, don't worry, but some information – how defenses are handling specific WRs, run success to certain sides of the field, DL metrics, etc… – will be missing.  Thanks for bearing with me through this!

2. Colts Defense vs Jamaal Charles - The Chiefs will be starting either Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi at quarterback. Their stud WR Dwayne Bowe is on IR. Their gifted TE Tony Moeaki is missing practice with a head injury. If the Colts get beat by the Chiefs passing attack, I'm not sure they deserve to make the playoffs. Instead, the Chiefs biggest threat will come from the backfield, where RB Jamaal Charles does his thing. Charles, like Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, is coming off of an ACL injury (though his comeback is getting approximately 1/10000000th of the attention that Peterson's is).

Charles' injury hasn't slowed him down, however, as he's been able to overcome rehab and the non-existent Chiefs passing attack to put up some really nice numbers: 249 carries for 1230 yards (4.9ypc) and 4TDs, along with 33 catches for 218 and 1 TD. Charles is a lot like Titans' RB Chris Johnson: a fast, shifty runner who feasts on big plays via the cut back. The Colts will have to play smart, disciplined, gap-responsible football if they are going to contain Charles and prevent the kind of big plays the Chiefs will need if they are going to win this game.

I actually expect the Colts to be successful in their run stopping endeavor. As we documented last week, the Colts run D has been much improved over the past month, and I felt that, until the 4th quarter, they did a really good job against the Texans and Arian Foster last week. If the Colts D can continue to have that kind of success – and a lot of that will hinge on the health of LB Jerrell Freeman – then they will be able to put Quinn/Stanzi in 3rd-and-longs, and create some turnover opportunities, and, more importantly, a W.

3. Vick Ballard vs Chiefs Defense – Like the Chiefs, the Colts may have to rely on their running game to generate offense on Sunday. Unlike the Chiefs, this won't be due to a lack of talent in the passing game – the Chiefs would love to have a core of Luck, Wayne, and Hilton – but rather due to the Chiefs defense. While it's true that the Chiefs' D isn't great, if it has a strength, it's the passing D, where Brandon Flowers and Javier Arenas form a strong secondary, and LBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are capable of harassing opposing QBs.

[Writer's Note: this is one of the times I'm really missing the FootballOutsiders stats: the Chiefs pass D ranks 7th in conventional yards-per-games stats, but their overall D ranks 28th by DVOA. I'd love to be able to see the specific metrics]

But then there's the run defense, where the Chiefs surrender a tasty 136.4 yards-per-game on the ground. Enter RB Vick Ballard, who, with his week 15 performance against the Texans, proved that he's ready to feast on rush defenses, good and bad. If the Colts can feed Ballard early and often, get him going against this porous run D, it should slow down the pass rush and open things up for Luck in the passing game. If it doesn't, that's fine, too, it just means the Chiefs refuse to take away the run, and the Colts can continue to gash them with Ballard.

Either way, the key to the Colts offensive success should start with Ballard's ability to have success early, and end with Arians having success in not putting Mewelde Moore in the game while it's close.

4. Colts OL vs LBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston- You may remember Hali from the Colts-Chiefs match-ups from 2010 and 2011, when the LB dominated the Colts OL and harassed Manning (2010) and Painter (2011) endlessly. While neither Hali nor his partner in pass rushing, Justin Houston, are on the level of Houston's JJ Watt, we've seen the Colts OL have trouble with pass rushers of all skill levels recently. It's not surprising that the Colts blocking troubles have also coincided with the worst stretch of Andrew Luck's career.

Outside of some big Jamaal Charles runs, the best way for the Chiefs to hang around and steal a win on Sunday will come via sacks and turnovers. The Colts OL must do a better job of protecting Luck – who has shown that he can be rattled by the pass rush in recent games – to play a smart, calm game. If they can't protect him, and the Chiefs force a few bad decisions out of the rookie signal caller, it could be just what the Chiefs need to pull off the upset.

The injury reports

NOTE: This guide comes out Thursdays, official injury statuses are not released until Friday, the Probable or Questionable designation in these reports is based on Wed/Thur participation only.

Indianapolis Colts

C Samson Satele ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
RB Delone Carter ANKLE (OUT)
ILB Kavell Conner HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)
ILB Jerrell Freeman THUMB (QUESTIONABLE)
C AQ Shipley KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)
NT Martin Tevaseu ILLNESS (PROBABLE)
OLB Dwight Freeney ANKLE (QUESTIONBLE)
S Joe Lefeged CALF (PROBABLE)
QB Andrew Luck KNEE (PROBABLE)
NT Antonio Johnson ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
OT Winston Justice BICEP (QUESTIONABLE)
S Tom Zbikowski KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)

Kansas City Chiefs

T Branden Albert BACK (QUESTIONABLE)
CB Javier Arenas ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)
OL Jon Asamoah THUMB (PROBABLE)
WR Jon Baldwin ILLNESS (PROBABLE)
DB Eric Berry HAND (PROBABLE)
WR Terrance Copper HAMSTRING (PROBABLE)
DB Abram Elam QUAD (QUESTIONABLE)
CB Brandon Flowers ILLNESS (PROBABLE)
G Russ Hochstein BACK (QUESTIONABLE)
C Ryan Lilja BACK (QUESTIONABLE)
TE Tony Moeaki HEAD (QUESTIONABLE)
NT Jerrell Powe ILLNESS (PROBABLE)
QB Brady Quinn RIBS (PROBABLE)
OL Rich Ranglin KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)


 

Series notes

  • The Colts and Chiefs franchises have squared off 18 times in league history, with the Colts holding a 10-8 record in those games.
  • Andrew Luck, Vick Ballard, TY Hilton, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have never faced the Chiefs. STOP ASKING ME ABOUT THEM!! :)
  • Reggie Wayne has faced the Chiefs 5 times in his career and has 25 catches for 409 yards and 2 TDs in those games
  • OLBs Dwight Freeney (1.5) and Robert Mathis (1.5 ) have combined for 3 sacks in 3 games against the Chiefs
  • With WR Bowe out and with the starting QB for the Chiefs being either Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi, not much point in talking about the Chiefs "passing attack."
  • RB Jamaal Charles has faced the Colts only once in his career, and had 16 carries for 87 yards, 0TDs in that game.

Identifying the coverage

Where(Visually): CBS

Who(Visually): Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker

Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM

Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford 

Is the Game on in your area? Good question! The people at The506 will be able to tell you.

Officiating Crew:  Ron Winter. Ron Winter. Ron Winter. Ron Winter. If I say his name 100 times will this nightmare end? Ron Winter?

Prediction

Colts – 24, Chiefs – 17

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