Eyes in the Backfield: Chiefs

12 Things to Watch For in Sunday's Colts/Chiefs Game

It's not a fat joke, ok? Andy Reid looks like a walrus. I can't help that.

Last week, the Colts returned to the winner's circle with a convincing win over the Houston Texans. With just two weeks to go, Indy faces their last big test before the playoffs. They visit Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs in what is likely a playoff preview. Here's everything you need to know about the game.

1. Watch for the irony. If the Colts beat the Chiefs the odds go way up that the Colts don't have to play the Chiefs in the playoffs in two weeks. Then again, if the Colts beat the Chiefs, they should be thrilled to play them again in the playoffs because they know they can beat them. But if the Colts lose to ensure the matchup with the Chiefs, they'll also lose the impetus to play them. Trippy man.

2. Watch for the hot hand. Andrew Luck is apparently breaking out of his mini-funk. After the injury to Reggie Wayne, Luck had a rough stretch of games, but six touchdowns to just one pick with just one sack over the last two games have things looking up. I had to do a significant rewrite of my piece that compared him to Peyton Manning because his season stats changed so radically over the last 14 days. It's a good sign for the Colts. If Luck catches fire now, anything is possible once the calendar flips to 2014.

3. Watch for the turnaround. Just a year ago, the Colts beat the Chiefs on their home field to clinch a playoff spot. Now Kansas City has gone from the first pick in the draft to a playoff team. Sound familiar? The fact is that it's not that difficult to turn around an NFL team. I still hear the Colts argue from time to time that they are just in the second year of a rebuild as if they get extra credit for that. They don't. If you haven't seriously turned around your team in two and at the most three seasons, it's time accept that the new regime will soon be the old regime. What the Colts and Chiefs have done isn't that rare. Even Jacksonville will be back in another season or two.

4. Watch the most overrated unit in football. The Chiefs defense is a mythical creation born out of the media's need to explain an undefeated record. Back when KC was winning every game, no one wanted to come out and say it was because of the crappy teams they were playing. Instead they invented a myth that the Chiefs had some awesome defensive squad. Over the last five games, KC is giving up 28.8 points a game. To put that in perspective, the Colts have allowed 25.2 (which also sucks). KC is just 10th in DVOA on defense. They are a pretty ok unit. Nothing more.

5. Watch the reason to believe. Don't look now, but the offensive line might be coming together. It's funny how taking Satele out of the equation suddenly has the Colts protectors looking competent. The line hasn't pass blocked well all year, but they've taken far far more crap than they should have. It's not a good unit, but there's plenty of evidence that they are credible run blockers at least. If the offensive line has indeed gelled 16 weeks into the year, there's reason to believe the Colts could make a postseason run.

6. Watch the roller coaster. Vontae Davis continues to alternately great and terrible marks from week to week. In some ways, he's the symbol for the entire club. Davis has some of the best graded games of the year. He was fantastic against Andre Johnson last week, but he was also terrible against him a few weeks before that. Indy as a whole has the most inconsistent defense in football. The offense isn't much better. This is a team that has to put together consecutive solid performances at some point, but it has been since Weeks 4 through 6 that they've played well for more than a game at a time.

7. Watch the focal point. Jamaal Charles has over 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns with two games left to go. He's averaging 4.8 yards a carry and nearly 50 yards a game in the air. Against the Colts last year, he hung 226 on them. So, yeah. He's gonna be an issue. He's had at least 70 total yards in every game this year and even in his worst rushing game of the season, last week he still posted 195 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Normally, I'd offer up some kind of analysis of how the Colts can stop him, but I'm honestly not certain they can. Hopefully, he'll get tired after a few long runs and have to come out of the game.

8. Watch for the devil you know. Donnie Avery went to the Chiefs and has posted 564 yards on 37 catches with two scores. He has a DVOA of -2.2% and a catch rate of 55%. He's not very good.

Damien Heyward Bey has 29 catches for 309 and a score. His DVOA is an unholy -26.2% with a catch rate of an apocalyptic 45%.

Those numbers are positively Satanic. Avery practically destroyed the Indy offense by himself last year, and Ryan Grigson managed to replace him with someone worse. Wow.

9. Watch for "just pointing it out". Indy is 11-2 against the Chiefs since 1990. They've won six times at Arrowhead in seven games. Three times they've eliminated the Chiefs from the playoffs. One of the only two losses came in the 2011 season. The Colts own Kansas City. I mean, I'm just pointing it out.

10. Watch for the mistaken identity. I'm not totally certain Craig Stadler and Andy Reid aren't the same person. Honestly, if it turned out that Stadler had witnessed a grizzly murder in the clubhouse and was placed in Witsec and developed a second career tutoring Donovan McNabb would you really be surprised. Maybe he got the yips, and went into football. Only now he still gets the shakes inside the five-yard line. He keeps confusing Alex Smith and Justin Leonard. Ok fine. Reid is isn't Stadler. He's really the Kool-Aid man. I was trying to avoid the obvious and you ruined it. Thanks a lot. Jerk.

11. Watch the historic advantage. So the Chiefs have one of the best DVOAs in history on special teams. Most all the value comes on kick and punt returns, so Pat McAfee will have to earn his money this weekend. This is actually one of the reasons I see Indy upsetting KC in the playoffs. You can neutralize that advantage with a good day from your punter. This is another reason to avoid punts, by the way. If the Colts can keep the return game in check, it will go a long way toward evening things out.

12. Watch for the thumping. While I still believe the Colts can beat the Chiefs in the playoffs, I think Kansas City puts an Arizona/Cincinnati style whipping on the Colts. I don't think the Colts can beat a quality team on the road. Chiefs 42 Colts 27.


Eyes in the Backfield: Chiefs

12 Things to Watch For in Sunday's Colts-Chiefs Game

She's the Chief's best option at quarterback

Last week, the Colts got smacked around by the Texans, but their dream season can get back on track with a win in Kansas City. The Colts have owned the Chiefs for almost two decades now, and the dominance should continue this year. Here's what to keep an eye on…

1. Watch the bounce back. The pendulum has swung on Andrew Luck. A few weeks after he was anointed Moses on the mountain top, everyone just as suddenly wonders why he's "regressed". The truth is that there's nothing wrong with him. For all our justified focus on rate stats, it's easy to forget this kid will pass the 4,000 yard mark and will likely finish the year with 30 combined passing and rushing touchdowns. In some ways, Luck's 2012 reminds me a lot of Manning's 2010 season. High volume passing leads to supressed rate totals. That's just how football works. Luck will come out and have a nice game and remind everyone exactly why he's such a big deal.

2. Watch his back. The Chiefs only real strength is their dual pass rushers of Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. As long as the motley crew that makes up the Indy offensive line can get a hand on them once in a while, the Indy offense should operate with impunity. At some point the Colts simply have to start blocking for Luck. Look for it to start this week. Of course, it's possible that line will still be exhausted from not sleeping all week. Word has it they were up all night with Watt related nightmares.

3. Watch for the flashback. The 2012 Chiefs are bad, historically bad. If that doesn't sound familiar you should be sending Ryan Grigson a nice Christmas present. Just a year ago the Colts were attempting to find any way to get a win. This year's Chiefs are doing the same and essentially coming up short each week. In many ways they are a mirror of the 2011 Colts. Expect big changes in Kansas City after the "bring New England west" plan didn't work.

4. Watch for turnovers. The Colts haven't excelled at forcing turnovers but the Chiefs spent much of the year exchanging gifts with their opponents. They've recently been better but the team isn't great at ball control. In fact the Chiefs give up the ball more than anyone in the league and boast a horrifying -22 turnover differential. The Colts could have a much easier day if they win the turnover battle.

5. Watch the best worst defense in history. The Colts D is ranked 32nd in DVOA, but a hilariously easy schedule of opposing quarterbacks means that they are just 24th in points allowed. They've played Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert (twice!), Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jake Locker and now Brady Quinn. You couldn't knock over more soup cans in a Campbell's factory. The Colts will likely hold the Chiefs to around their average (13.9 points) and once again put up a "strong" defensive performance against a lousy opponent.

6. Watch for the auditions. Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli must find a way to instill some confidence if they are to keep their job. That means they need a win and to find a few gems buried on the roster. That could be a headache for the Colts coordinators. Building a game plan around guys who haven't seen much time is difficult and a wild card could change the game.

7. Watch for red. The Chiefs are absolutely horrible in the red zone–the worst in the league to be exact. The Colts stiffen up in the red zone which should be an encouraging matchup. Much of that lies on the shoulders of Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll but QB play in scoring situations has been pretty poor. If this becomes a shootout then plan on a rough day.

8. Watch for wholesale ownership. The Colts have simply dominated the Chiefs since 1990, going 10-2 against Kansas City. Even last year, Curtis Painter almost managed to hang a loss on the Chiefs before morphing back into, well, Curtis Painter. This matchup has been entirely one-sided for years including huge wins in Arrowhead Stadium in 1995 and 1996. For all it's culture and amazing barbecue, you might as well start referring to Kansas City as Fort Wayne because it has become Naptown's baby brother.

9. Watch for the rookie record. Andrew Luck hasn't been hot or cold as portrayed in the media–he's been a rookie and in fact a pretty good one. With just 74 passing yards Luck will pass Cam Newton for the most passing yards by a rookie. While the media will continually debate the 2012 Rookie of the Year award they'd never second-guess Newton in his first year. In fact, Newton only lead the Panthers to a measly 6-10 and still won the award collecting all by three votes along the way. He even went to the Pro Bowl! Yet for some reason the quacks that vote for these awards don't see Andrew Luck for what he is: the best rookie quarterback in NFL history.

10. Watch for crow-eating. Many of us didn't expect for this team to visit the playoffs so quickly following a massive rebuild. There's so crow to be served and I suppose there'll be enough to go around. That said, it should be noted that this kind of turnaround is historic. In fact with just one more win the Colts could become just the second team in NFL history to win 10 games the season after losing 14 or more games. This turnaround is nearly on par with that of the 2004 Steelers as well who improved 9 games behind a rookie–another occurrence that was incredibly unlikely. In short this kind of success behind a rookie quarterback after a horrible year is a statistical anomaly and something fans should treasure.

11. Watch for the big payoff. Reggie Wayne came back. We don't know exactly why although we believe it had something to do with heart. Despite not understanding his motivation entirely the results are clear. With just three more catches Wayne will have, at the age of 34, just netted another 100 catch season. He's a virtual lock for another Pro Bowl appearance thanks to appearing in the top 5 for nearly every receiving category. Reggie Wayne: still good at football.

12. Watch for the clinch. The Colts are too good, too focused to lose to the Chiefs. Don't overthink this one. Indy wins in a walk and locks down 10 wins. Colts 24 Chiefs 13

Eyes the Backfield is a collaboration of Nate Dunlevy, Kyle Rodriguez and Todd Smith.

Eyes in the Backfield-Chiefs

7 Things to Watch for in Sunday’s Colts Chiefs Game

At long last! REVENGE!

Last week, the Colts came up short to the Bucs, this week they take on perennial whipping boy, the Kansas City Chiefs. Since 1990, the Colts have dominated the Chiefs, beating them 9 times in 10 games. Now the teams square off in a matchup featuring a combined 1 win. Here’s what to watch for this week.

1. Watch the thin blue line. It’s getting hard and harder to remember who is even playing for the Colts offensive line anymore. With Diem and Castonzo likely out, the Colts are left with Jeff Saturday’s beard playing right guard. Yes, they shaved his beard, put the clippings in a helmet, and asked it block. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The Colts line looked like it was beginning to gel, despite giving up a lot of pressure early in the season. With Ijalana out on IR, the Colts look to possibly be going with guys like Quinn Ojinnaka, Mike Tepper, Michael Toudouze, Joe Reitz, and an old T-shirt Tarik Glenn left behind. The good news is that the Chiefs have 5 sacks on the year: 4 by Tamba Hali (who is awesome) and 1 by everyone else (who are not). Kansas City is a bottom five pass rushing defense. If the Colts can block one guy, they might be able to run an offense.


2. Watch the thin blue line. As long as I’m going to trot out tired cliches to be the point headers, I might as well be completely gratuitous about it and use it twice. This time I mean the defensive line. The Colts already lost Eric Foster in gruesome fashion, and are now facing a hobbled Drake Nevis and Fili Moala too. The Indy tackles have been strong this season, but the curse of Corey Simon is still alive and well in Indianapolis. The Colts have held opposing offenses in check in part by limiting the running game, but that will be a challenge as they trot out the likes of Ricardo Matthews again. 

3. Watch the original Curtis Painter. How hard is it to replace a Hall of Fame quarterback on the fly? Just ask Matt Cassel. Cassel filled in for Tom Brady in 2008, and led the Pats to 11 wins. He did go to a Pro Bowl last year, but has yet to fully replicate his success in the New England. Cassel is a competent passer, but currently runs the 31st ranked passing offense by DVOA.  Cassel may go on to have a long career, but it’s most likely that he’ll be forever remembered along with Curtis Painter as half a trivia question. Before replacing Brady, Cassel had thrown 39 career passes in 3 years. Painter had thrown 28 in two. Cassel struggled early, but the Pats won 3 of his first four games that year. Still, seven of his first nine games he posted a passer rating under 90, before going over 100 in five of his final seven starts.

4. Watch guys even the Colts can cover. Kansas City has the worst wideouts in football. Seriously, their leading receiver is Dexter McCluster with 17 catches for 52 yards. Dwayne Bowe, who everyone has been waiting to breakout for years, has just 16 catches in four games. He’s basically Pierre Garcon in a red jersey. Steve Breaston is a basically a punt returner who sometimes catches passes. The Chiefs wideouts have good yards per catch, but not many catches. Indy has struggled with the intermediate passing game, but the Chiefs receiving corp is truly abysmal. Indy has to clamp down on this passing game.

5. Watch the culture clash. We all know that Jim Caldwell has never met a punt he didn’t like, but Todd Haley has never met a fourth down he didn’t want to go for. One of the most aggressive coaches in the league, Haley has shown a willingness to go for fourth down with abandon. Colts fans should take note, however. Despite his awesome set of cajones, Haley is just 15-21 as a head coach. There are rumors he is disliked. He has trouble keeping coaches on his staff. He’s basically bad at the people management side of football. He’s the anti-Caldwell. It just goes to show that there are other skills involved in running an NFL team besides knowing that punts are turnovers.

6. Watch for the return of the gratuitous point. One of my favorite aspects of Eyes in the Backfield has always been the random joke point. Unfortunately, I haven’t been in a laughing mood this season.  Couple that with Kerry Collins conveniently low jersey number, and there hasn’t been any room for humor. Now Curtis Painter is playing quarterback, and if that’s not reason enough to laugh, I don’t know what is. His jersey is seven, and that means more work for me. So, as long as Curtis is the quarterback, I’ll get up a little early on Fridays and give you a full seven points. One of them will be a throw away, though. It should be funnier on average than this point this week, but I’m not promising anything.

7. Watch the arrival of the QB win stat. If the Colts can’t win this week, they may well go a long time without a W. This team has played with so much pride and fire, that I have to believe they keep it close. I don’t believe in Painter (as everyone knows), and the line is bad, but I’m hoping Dwobert Frathis comes through and Indy wins 10-9. It will be amusing to see everyone’s reactions if the Colts win, especially if Painter plays poorly. My guess is that the “he just wins game” crowd shows up in droves.

Eyes in the Backfield-Chiefs

18 Things to Watch for in Sunday’s Colts-Chiefs Game

What do these guys have cooked up for Indy?

Last week didn’t exactly turn out the way I envisioned it.  A couple of turnovers, some bad defense, and a 59 yard field goal sank the Colts.  Now they face a must win game against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.  As the Colts try to get back onto the right side of .500, be watching for:

1. Watch the linebackers. The Colts’ linebackers have been wildly inconsistent from week to week.  They played a good game against Denver, but were a mess against the Jags last week.  They say “it all starts up front” and that might be true, but the Indy defense depends upon disciplined play by the backers.  Clint Session has struggled with injuries and looked lost on the field in both games he’s played.  Brackett has been active, but has just missed coming with game changing plays.  Phil Wheeler was great against Denver and invisible last week.  We need more from this unit.

2.  Watch the Haitian Sensation. Pierre Garcon is coming back to the lineup this week, and in the nick of time.  With Collie wearing a boot all week and out for Sunday, we need Garcon to be productive.  He had a brutal first game of the year before being slowed by injuries.  With Gonzo coming back in a couple of weeks, Garcon needs a strong showing.  More importantly, the COLTS need a strong game from him.

3.  Watch the needle.  The decibel meter should be tilting toward the danger range on Sunday.  While the Colts’ slow start may only be a fluke of the schedule, to the naked eye, it looks like there has been some erosion on defense.  The Colts desperately need to win all eight home games this year if they want to claim a playoff spot.  The crowd simply must come through and be loud to help the defense and disrupt the Chiefs offense.

4.  Watch for max protect.  Part of the problem the last two weeks for the Colts has been an inability to get pressure on the quarterback.  The Jags and Broncos were determined to keep Freeney and Mathis off of their QBs.  That should have meant fewer receivers for the Colts to cover.  Unfortunately, some truly horrid corner play kept Indy from taking full advantage.  The target is squarely on Kelvin Hayden this Sunday who has to hold up in coverage.

5.  Watch the fourth quarterThe FootballOutsiders tell us the Colts have the best offense in football in the fourth quarter.  They tell us they have the worst defense in football in the fourth quarter.  No matter the score late, stay tuned.  Something crazy is going down.

6. Watch Cassel. It’s a hot show about a former crime novelist who helps the cops solve real life mysteries.  It stars Jessica Lansbury as Richard Castle.  It happens to my brother Luke’s favorite show.  Oh wait.  That’s Castle.  Sorry.  I meant to say, Matt Cassel is a huge question mark with a weak completion percentage and a penchant for taking sacks.  In the first two years of his career he took 89 sacks in 1009 attempts.  To put that in perspective Peyton Manning took 89 sacks from 2004 to 2009.  He had 2265 attempts in that span.

7.  Watch special teams. The Colts once again field one of the worst units in the league.  The Chiefs are among the best.  KC leads the league in punt return DVOA and is 3rd over all in special teams.  Indy is 25th over all, and punting is the worst category of the group.  If KC is going to score a big upset, it’s going to come on the heels of a big return or two.  Given the number of injuries the Colts have had, this is where you should see some slippage.

8. Watch the steady improvement. The offensive line isn’t a work of art, but not only is it better than it was early in the year, I think it’s better than last year.  The big gain has been by Saturday who is rounding into form.  Pollak continues to play credibly at guard.  Diem isn’t making as many mistakes either.  The Adjusted Sack Rate has dropped by nearly a percent over last year.  Adjusted line yards are basically the same, but the power rate is up and the stuffed rate is down.  Both rank in the top 10 in the NFL.  As they get more time together, the line should keep getting better, though CJ will always be a project at tackle.

9.  Watch the return of Romeo and Charlie.  Our friends at CHFF think Crenell is the kryptonite to Peyton. I think he’s a clown.  Romeo never shut down Peyton in the Dome, and he’s not going to in the Luke.  Still seeing Weis and Crenell back as opposing coaches again, should get the venom flowing from Colts fans.  We don’t just hate Weiss for the Pats days, but for making it impossible to like Notre Dame for all those years too.

10.  Watch the deep threat.  The Colts are so banged up at safety, that Polian hired Simon Cowell to hold auditions with random people off the street.  This is a bad week to have safety problems because the Chiefs have three players averaging more than 15 yards a catch.  Matt Cassell hasn’t been efficient this year, but when he does connect, it’s gone for big yardage.  The Colts have to limit the big gains in the air by the Chiefs, because they don’t have the kind of passing game that can sustain long drives.

11.  Watch for the Kings of Kansas City. Indy hasn’t lost to the Chiefs in a long time.  The Colts dropped a game to the Chiefs in 2004 in Kansas City, and before that KC hadn’t beaten Indy since 1985.  The Indianapolis Colts are 9-2 all time against KC, including three playoff wins (1995, 2003, 2006).  We slapped them down so hard, we even forced Whitlock on them for a decade or so.

12.  Watch the star in the making.  Brandon Flowers is having a breakout season for the Chiefs.  The third year corner with a penchant for big plays has already had an impact on this season, with key interceptions in back to back weeks.  The problem for the Chiefs is that one corner is not enough against the Colts.  The way Indy moves players around within formations, there’s no guarantee he’ll be covering the primary option on any play.  KC needs turnovers to win this game, so if Manning can stay away from Flowers, the offense should thrive.

13. Watch the corks pop.  The Chiefs are undefeated, sure, and their win (in the rain, at home, on MNF) over the Chargers was impressive, but since then, they beat the Browns and winless 49ers.  The truth is that we have no idea if this Chiefs team is any good. I’m inclined to think they aren’t.  They may be the last undefeated team in the NFL, but I’m betting the ’72 Dolphins have some champaign on ice.

14.  Watch the big play back. Shake already covered Jamal Charles yesterday, but it bears repeating: this guy could destroy the Colts.  If Indy doesn’t stay disciplined on D, Charles could be running free in the secondary.  He doesn’t get used often, but when he does, the result can be devastating.  He averages 80 yards a game rushing on 12 carries.  His five catches have gone for nearly 20 yards a pop.

15. Watch the rest of the staff. I’m going to a work conference for the weekend.  I leave tomorrow and won’t get back until Monday afternoon.  Shake is going to mind the chat, and my elusive younger brother who founded this mess in the first place will be posting the picture and writing the recap.  I’ll check in later on Monday.

16. Watch the return of Lilja. Ryan Lilja was cut from the Colts this past offseason in a move that made little sense at the time.  Indy’s line struggled early, but has rebounded well, while Lilja found a soft landing in KC, who always coveted him after letting him get away shortly after signing him as an undrafted free agent.  The KC native has played well in his return to the Chiefs.  It remains to be seen which team gains the advantage on Sunday because of him.  Will the Colts DTs know how to attack him or will he get the better of Muir, Foster and the Johnsons.

17.  Watch the depth chart. We can’t afford to lose any more players.  We’ve lost running backs, wideouts, linebackers, safeties, corners, tackles…  The Colts are running out of interchangeable parts.  The only guys left to get hurt are mission critical players.  Winning is essential, but if that win brings another spate of injuries, the Colts might wind up sinking to the bottom of the division.

18. Watch for the right track.  I can’t see Indy losing at home to a mediocre team. If it happens, we’ll all know something is seriously wrong.  Colts roll, and it isn’t close: 30-17.