Weekly Matchup Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs

This is the fifth of 16 articles that I will post throughout the season, previewing the Colts' upcoming matchup.  I'll attempt to analyze some strengths and weaknesses of both teams, a few areas to focus on, and a couple of key individual matchups. Overview:  After a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves at 0-4.  The injury bug has never been kind to the Colts, but a Peyton Manning-led team was usually good enough to overcome some major injuries.  So as if losing Peyton Manning wasn't enough for this team to withstand, the injuries keep piling up.  After placing Melvin Bullitt and Gary Brackett on IR last week, the Colts have placed DT Eric Foster and rookie OT Ben Ijalana on IR.  It also appears that 1st-rounder Anthony Castonzo won't be back in the lineup any time soon.  Awesome.  Looking ahead to Sunday's matchup, the Colts will face one of their main competitors for the #1 overall selection in April's draft in the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs edged out the winless Minnesota Vikings last week 22-17, as the team improved to 1-3.

Kansas City Chiefs

Strengths:

  • Pass Defense.  It's hard to find a lot of positives on a team that ranks 29th in total offense and T-21 in total defense, but the Chiefs are 'only' giving up the 17th most passing yards, despite facing some elite offenses (Detroit, Buffalo, San Diego).  The Chiefs lost their best defensive player Eric Berry to a torn ACL, but the team still sports one of the best CB duo's in the league – Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers, who have combined for 3 interceptions in 2011.
  • Dwayne Bowe.  He's been the lone bright spot on the Chiefs' offense after RB Jamaal Charles went down for the year with an ACL injury.  Bowe had a breakout year in 2010, notching 72 catches for 1,152 yards and 15 touchdowns.  After a quiet week 1, Bowe has once again emerged as an elite receiver in the NFL, recording 14 catches, 275 yards and 2 touchdowns over the past 3 weeks.
  • Rushing Offense.  This unit took a major blow with the loss of Jamaal Charles, but the Chiefs' offense is built around the ability to run the football.  Dexter McCluster has been the team's most effective RB this year – averaging 5.9 ypc, but at his size (5'8", 170 lbs), he's not an every-down back.  Despite trailing for most of the 2011 season, the Chiefs are averaging 110.8 rushing yards per game, 14th best in the league.
Weaknesses:
  • Passing Offense.  As I just mentioned, the Chiefs have found themselves trailing for most of the 2011 season.  So the fact that QB Matt Cassel is averaging just 159.8 passing yards per game shows just how anemic this offense has been.  Despite completing nearly 65% of his passes, Cassel hasn't been able to stretch the field (6.2 ypa), and has thrown more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4).
  • Total Defense.  The Chiefs' defense is surrendering the 16th most passing yards, 7th most rushing yards, and the most points per game in the NFL through 4 weeks.  Enough said…
  • 3rd Down Offense/Defense.  Kansas City's offense is converting just 31.4% of their 3rd downs, and teams are converting 43.9% of their 3rd downs against the Chiefs' defense – both numbers are 7th worst in the NFL.  It's also worth noting that the Chiefs have just 53 total first downs, the fewest amount in the entire league.
Indianapolis Colts
Strengths:
  • Rushing the Passer.  Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are off to the kind of start that most defensive ends can only dream about.  Through 4 games, the duo has combined for 6 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.  The past 2 weeks, their ability to pressure and chase down Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman has kept the Colts competitive.
  • Pat Angerer/Kavell Conner.  These LB's are the NFL's top two leading tacklers, with 50 and 43 tackles respectively.  They've each forced a fumble as well, and Angerer has recovered a fumble.  Although many of their tackles come at the expense of poor defensive tackle play, it's nice to have a pair of linebackers that can limit big plays in the run game.  Both players are just 24-years old entering their 2nd season in the NFL, and should continue to get better as the season progresses.
  • Joseph Addai.  He's playing some of the best football of his career, averaging 4.6 ypc behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.  With Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter not contributing much to the offense, it's an absolute mystery why Addai is averaging just 12.5 carries per game.  Addai has looked quick, fast, and powerful this season – now give him the damn ball.
Weaknesses:
  • Total Defense.  Yes, the Colts have defended the run better this season, but they've had to sell out their defense in order to do so.  As a result, their pass defense has been horrendous – giving up 257 passing yards per game.  Over the past 2 weeks, Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman have shredded the Colts' secondary for 651 yards while completing 66% of their passes.  Meanwhile, someone within the Colts organization (Caldwell? Polian? Irsay?) has been playing musical chairs with the Cornerbacks.  I wonder what Justin Tryon is thinking right now.
  • Coaching.  At 0-4, this team has very little to lose – except, ironically, the coaches' jobs.  Jim Caldwell deserves some credit for having this defense play some inspired football, but I've yet to see a major adjustment made to this team.  Without Peyton Manning, why do the Colts continue to emphasize the pass, especially considering Joseph Addai's success on the ground?  Defensively – the team seems content to give up the middle of the field, and has taken the phrase "keep everything in front of you" to an entirely new level.  Something needs to change.
  • Pass Offense.  The offense looked a little better Monday night with Curtis Painter starting over the injured Kerry Collins, but don't let the final numbers fool you.  The two long passing touchdowns to Pierre Garcon were fluke-ish in nature (albeit great plays), and they accounted for more than half of Indy's passing yards.  Painter only completed 43.3% of his passes, was sacked 4 times, and should have thrown at least 2 interceptions.
What to Watch For:
  • Turnovers.  Once again, expect turnovers to play a crucial role in Sunday's game.  The numbers suggest that the Colts should win the turnover battle – Indianapolis has a +1 turnover differential, Kansas City has a -5 differential, and it's imperative for Curtis Painter to protect the football.  If Freeney and Mathis can continue their dominant play, they should provide the Colts' defense with a few opportunities for takeaways.
  • Injuries/Offensive Struggles.  With RB Jamaal Charles and TE Tony Moeaki on injured reserve, the Chiefs are lacking play-makers on offense.  For the Colts, the offensive struggles have been obvious with the absence of Peyton Manning.  Expect this game to be a low-scoring affair: both the Colts and Chiefs rank in the bottom 5 in scoring offense.
  • Reggie Wayne vs. Brandon Flowers.  I expected Curtis Painter to lean heavily on Reggie Wayne, much like he did against the Packers in the 3rd preseason game earlier this year.  But Wayne had a quiet night against the Buccaneers, tallying just 4 catches for 59 yards.  He'll face one of the league's elite CB's this week in Brandon Flowers, so Painter and Wayne must be in sync in order to have success on Sunday.
  • The Colts' Offensive Line.  With Ben Ijalana out for the season and Anthony Castonzo out for some time, the Colts offensive line will be…well, offensive.  I never thought I'd say this, but the Colts need Ryan Diem to get healthy to anchor the right side of the line – either at Guard or Tackle.  Jeff Linkenbach was abused at both Right Tackle and Left, and Mike Tepper didn't fare much better filling in for Jeff on the right side.
  • Colts' Play-Calling.  I've been saying this for weeks: the Colts need to emphasize quick screens to their WR's.  Pierre Garcon took a 3rd-quarter screen for a 59-yard touchdown on Monday, but I don't recall the Colts dialing up the same play during the game's final 23 minutes.  The screens have been successful all season, yet the Colts seem hesitant to run it.  Speaking of "run", the Colts must stay committed to the running game.   Joseph Addai and Delone Carter are averaging 4.2 ypc in 2011, yet they're averaging fewer than 20 combined carries per game.  The Chiefs are allowing 130 rushing yards per game, and the Colts must approach that number on Sunday if they want to win the game.
Final Thoughts:  Yet another "winnable" game for the Indianapolis Colts, the team must give their home fans something to cheer for on Sunday.  Don't expect this game to be an offensive showcase, however: I expect both teams will struggle to put points on the board.  But while the Colts' defense (mostly Freeney, Mathis, Angerer, and Conner) has played some inspired football the past 2 weeks, the Chiefs' defense has continued to struggle.  Look for both teams to make a conceited effort to establish the running game in order to relieve some pressure off of their quarterback and defense.  Both teams match up fairly well against each other, so be prepared for another low-scoring, competitive game on Sunday.  I do expect the Colts' offense to improve over time with Curtis Painter under center, and the aforementioned defensive foursome should continue their exceptional play.  Let's just hope that it's enough for the Colts' first victory.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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