After Review: Chiefs v. Colts (Week 5)

Philip Wheeler breaks up a pass from Matt Cassel to Dwayne Bowe, saving a first quarter touchdown. (Brent Smith | Reuters)

After watching the Chiefs game a second time, it was easier to pick out which players and plays hurt the Colts offensive effort, and which defenders or defensive plays allowed the Chiefs to generate the bulk of their offense.  Although the Colts won the game 19-9, at no time before Mike Hart’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter could Indianapolis or its fans get comfortable.

The common theme for the Colts offense throughout the day was a failure to consistently execute, primarily by the offensive line, quarterback Peyton Manning, and the Colts receiving corps.  When each group of players did their jobs correctly, the Colts had a great deal of success dictating the pace of the game, keeping the Chiefs off-balance with a productive running game, and exploiting holes in the crowded Kansas City secondary.  Outside of a couple of untimely penalties, and situations where linebackers were out of position or cornerbacks were giving receivers too much cushion, the defense had an outstanding performance — without which the Colts would not have won.

There is no doubt that future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning had an off day.  Too often he rushed passes, forced passes, or gave up on plays before he needed to get rid of the football.  The cause for his frustration is understandable, as too often the Colts wasted prime opportunities to get into the end zone, keep drives alive, and play sound football.

The wide receivers were unable to come up with the big catches they have made in the past, were out of position, or did not run appropriate routes too often for Manning and Company to find their stride.  Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie did come up with a couple key receptions to keep Colts drives moving, and had Manning been given enough time, Wayne would have hauled in a touchdown catch on one of the early Colts drives.  Still, the performance was too inconsistent and primarily fell short due to mental errors and miscommunication.

The other primary culprit for the Colts offensive woes was the offensive line.  The odd thing is, much like Manning and his receivers, it seemed like it was only one guy failing to do his job, failing to complete his assignment, that led to each breakdown.  The biggest disappointment along the line was right tackle Ryan Diem.

Diem struggled against Chiefs pass rush specialist Tamba Hali throughout much of the game.  It was not that Diem was physically outmatched so much as it was that he too often failed to take the appropriate position, took bad angles to get a hand on Hali, or missed his assignment altogether.

Right guard Mike Pollak also was solely responsible for the breakdown of two running plays, one on third-and-short that led to a Colts punt on an otherwise productive drive.  The other came on the Colts second trip to the red zone, on second-and-goal, when Joseph Addai took a hand-off only to get destroyed by Pollak’s man.  In both situations, Pollak simply “chipped” and released on the defensive player who ended up making the play, rather than riding the defender out of the hole, leaving Addai no where to run.

Left tackle Charlie Johnson is primarily responsible for the rushed throw on third-and-goal on the Colts first offensive drive.  Johnson failed to block anyone, looking outside only to let a rusher inside of him untouched.  He realized his mistake in time to turn around and watch Manning get hit as he rushed his release and overthrew Reggie Wayne in the back-left corner of the end zone.

Left guard Jamey Richard made two mistakes that resulted in blown running plays.  On one play, a third-and-short run failed because Richard was looking through his legs at Manning, as though he was waiting to tap Saturday’s leg for the snap count.  Instead, Saturday snapped the ball without Richard’s prompting, and Jamey did not even get out of his stance. He panicked, turned around to force a penetrating lineman out of the pocket, and another defender had a wide open lane to rush through and break up the play.  On the other play, Richard pulled right but there was no one to block, except the man behind him who had cut inside and blew up the play.

The good news regarding the struggles along the offensive line is that they all seemed to be mental or assignment mistakes, which can be corrected.  The bad news is that these types of mistakes happen far too often, and first year offensive line coach Pete Metzalaars will need to get those communication and mental issues under control, find new linemen who can fulfill their responsibilities appropriately, or find himself a new job.

The best players on offense in the Chiefs game were Joseph Addai, Mike Hart, Reggie Wayne, and Austin Collie.  Although Addai’s statistics suggest that he did not have an outstanding game on the ground, the tape tells an entirely different story.  Outside of blown blocks, like the ones mentioned above, Joe had an impressive performance.  One pass, on which Joe lined up as the right wide out, was behind him, but Joe caught it cleanly. It was just the kind of catch Addai routinely makes that few other running backs in the league can handle.

Mike Hart had an incredible day.  The difference between Hart and Addai is that while Hart lacks Addai’s top speed, he makes guys miss using timely cuts and good vision rather than jukes and moves that get defenders heading the wrong way.  Additionally, Hart gained considerable yards after contact with defenders who seemingly stopped his forward progress by keeping his legs churning and falling forward to pick up an additional yard or three.  Watching Hart’s touchdown run again shows just how tough he is after contact, how much control he has over his body, and how he uses his legs and balance to lunge forward for every possible yard.

Although Austin Collie saw limited play due to his heel injury, all but one of the throws in his direction resulted in a completion and important yards — he had more than one circus-like catch.  Even when injured, Collie is making a very strong statement that his is not just a legitimate number two receiver in the NFL, he may be one of the very best.

As mentioned earlier, play on the defensive side of the ball is hard to criticize.  There is no doubt that the D’s performance after the Chiefs initial drive was the single biggest reason the Colts were able to hang on and get the win.  For a squad that is known to be reliant on the offense in order to succeed, things were quite the opposite on Sunday.

The performance, while good, still showed blemishes that will need to be corrected if this team hopes to continue winning football games and have any chance of success against future playoff teams.  First, mental lapses like Kelvin Hayden’s moronic out-of-bounds late hit at the end of the first half – solely responsible for the Chiefs field goal – are inexcusable and infuriating to fans.  Mistakes like this lead to losses, and if this writer made the personnel decisions, Hayden would have had an early exit from the game.

Second, the defense did a wonderful job defending their own end zone when the Chiefs moved into the Colts side of the field.  On one drive, though, the Colts had stopped the Chiefs from picking up a first down by blowing up an attempted screen pass, only to have defensive tackle Daniel Muir get flagged for encroachment.  The five yard difference made it possible for the Chiefs to attempt a field goal, one which tied the game.

Beyond the mental mistakes, loose coverage provided primarily by Hayden allowed the Chiefs to have success throwing the ball.  A lack of discipline amongst the linebackers early in the game allowed the Chiefs to get to the edge and pick up solid gains on the ground.  The tape suggests that Clint Session was the primary culprit, obviously out of position on those plays.

The defensive effort was led by Antoine Bethea and Jerraud Powers once again.  Both players were outstanding, made few mistakes, tackled well, and continued to show the rest of the Colts secondary how to get things done.  Philip Wheeler also had a solid performance, representing the linebackers.  While this is encouraging, Wheeler continues to be inconsistent.  It’s hard to know what to expect from him in the Colts upcoming game against the Redskins.

To this point in the 2010 season, the Colts have yet to establish their identity.  There are too many mental mistakes and breakdowns, and there is too much inconsistency and miscommunication for a team that started the 2009 season 14-0 and went to their second Super Bowl in four years.  Injuries have not helped with numerous starters missing game or lost for the season.  Still, the pieces are there.  If those pieces can jell, it does not matter who the opponent is, Indianapolis will come away with a convincing victory.

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