Happy New Year, Colts fans. As we greet 2014 and all its possibilities, the Colts will do the same with the playoffs for the 11th time in the past 12 seasons (and 15th since 1995).
Cory Redding gave some perspective this week on the team’s mindset. “A lot of things had to happen for us to get here, so we definitely don’t take that for granted,” he said. “We are preparing as hard as we can to go out here and do the best to win this game, period. This is in our house, Lucas Oil Stadium and this time, we get them on our turf. We’re very excited about that.”
As players, coaches, and media members have referenced the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs several times this week, Redding was also asked if the team needed to come up with a postseason win to validate their regular season success.
“Why would that even be a question?” he began. “It’s the playoffs. You’ve got to win. If you don’t win, you go home. Why work so hard since April 15, 2013 to just get in the playoffs and just lay an egg? To answer that question, we’re going to do everything possible to go out and win.”
The Notebook Goes behind Enemy Lines
Well, Redding gave us all an idea of the Colts’ perspective: don’t take this for granted, do your best, and don’t lay an egg. That’s all perfectly understandable, but what are the Chiefs thinking heading into this second matchup with Indianapolis in three weeks? We’ll use a few quotes to see what they’re saying over in the City of Fountains.
According to Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, beating Indianapolis is all about running the ball (surprised?), but he also acknowledged that the Colts might want to put the game in Alex Smith’s hands.
“Oh yeah, running the ball is always a good thing to do,” Charles said. “But at the end of the day, we know they’re going to try their hardest to stop the run. You stop the run, you beat the Chiefs. So I know that’s their main focus is stopping the run and let Alex (Smith) throw the ball to the wide receivers. We just got to keep that in focus that they’re going to come out and whatever they do in the run game, they’re going to stop. We just got to continue to push the line of scrimmage forward and make plays.” Yeah, that part about Smith is open for interpretation.
Stopping the run to beat the Chiefs makes sense on the surface, but if that doesn’t work out entirely, nothing rattles a run-first team quite like scoring a bunch of points early. See: Colts-Chiefs box score, Dec, 22, 2013.
Turnovers by the Chiefs sparked both of the Colts’ touchdowns in their 23-7 dismantling of Kansas City last month. Therefore, by Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid’s account, one of their major focuses will be not to give the Colts the ball this time around. “Obviously the turnovers,” he said when asked what he would like to change on Saturday. “If you’re a good football team, you can’t turn the football over.” That is also up for interpretation.
Kansas City actually is tied with the 49ers for second fewest giveaways in 2013 with just 18, so what happened in their first meeting may have been out of character for them and difficult for the Colts defense to duplicate.
The Colts, who no doubt will be looking to minimize mistakes as well, lead the league in fewest giveaways this season. Their 14 turnovers by the offense or special teams is a franchise record low, as is their 4 lost fumbles.
Not surprisingly, both teams are near the top in turnover differential. Kansas City is in 2nd place with a +18 mark, and the Colts are 3rd at +13. Reid’s goal would be any coach’s goal, but it’ll be strength versus strength for both sides.
Also, while the Colts feel they are hitting their stride at the right time (There is understandably much talk of momentum coming from West 56th Street), the Chiefs, who rested players last week, feel they are getting healthy at the right time, with some starters, namely Justin Houston, coming back for the playoffs.
“They’re good players,” Reid said. ”It helps. I’m stating the obvious here. You have a couple guys that are good players. It helps to add them back into the mix. I’m not taking anything away from the other guys. I had some guys that really stepped up and played well when they were out.”
Lastly, for the Chiefs, is the challenge of taking on nearly everyone’s favorite Colt, Andrew Luck. He’s huge, he’s fast, and he’s so very difficult to tackle. He’s pretty darned proficient at throwing the ball, too.
“He’s a good player,” Reid said of Luck. He’s got that unique combination of size and speed and athletic ability. He can throw the football on top of that. You’ve got to handle that a certain way.”
Okay, so Andy didn’t want to show his hand on how they intend to try to stop Indy’s franchise quarterback, but my guess would be with pressure up the middle, taking away Luck’s ability to step up in the pocket or take off running down the middle of the field. Some of the Colts’ toughest games have been against teams that brought the heat in the middle of the pocket, and the Colts will need to be ready as Kansas City can bring pressure from everywhere.
In conclusion, the Chiefs will want to run the ball, don’t cough up the ball, pressure Luck, and try not to be in a position where the game rests on Alex Smith’s shoulders. Therein lays the difference between these two teams. While the Colts will want to do many of those same things, if the game comes down to being in Luck’s hands, this team – and the fans – will feel pretty good about their chances.