There are few gripes to be had in terms of the job Frank Reich and his coaching staff have done this season. They have transformed a team that shouldn’t be as good as it is into a true contender far faster than anyone imagined they could. To some degree that is because of poorly utilized talent being put to better use.
It is also in part due to an incredible draft class courtesy of Chris Ballard. What is undeniable, though, is Reich and company’s ability to consistently put his players in position to win games, and motivating them to finish strong. They’ve done that better than anyone down the stretch, winning 10 of their last 11 games.
However, there is one complaint I have with this team down the stretch and it isn’t an insignificant one. The offense has undeniably come out fired up and ready to go. When they are running through their scripted plays at the start of the game, they have been nearly unstoppable, and it hasn’t really mattered who was playing defense. They have scored touchdowns on their first two drives in both of the past two games. The defense has come out just as hot, with 3 punts and an interception making up the results of the first two drives of each of their last two games.
The problem that arises is after that point. Once they get beyond the first quarter when they find themselves moving the ball efficiently, they have seemed to transition to a ball control offense. Against the Texans, this worked fairly well. The defense was holding the Texans’ offense in check all game, and it hardly mattered that they didn’t score in the second half. They took a commanding lead and sat on it.
While it didn’t become an issue, what it did do was leave the Texans still somewhat in the game. A major play in their favor or a mistake by the Colts could have landed them right back in the mix rather than roundly putting them away. This isn’t entirely about scheme, because while the Colts went run heavy in that game, it was also to some degree a matter of sustained execution. Receivers dropped passes. Drives stalled after penalties.
It almost seems as though the team gets a bit comfortable and loses focus during the midpoint of the game. That absolutely cannot happen against the Chiefs. A two touchdown lead against them would not be one you could consider even a little “safe.” This is one of the most prolific offenses we have seen, possibly ever. You cannot go to sleep on them at any point in a game and get a win.
The Colts should find success moving the ball on the ground. If they can gouge the Chiefs for 5 yards per carry, their average allowed on the season, it won’t be a problem to stick with the running game. However, they need to make their primary concern scoring points, not running the clock. They can’t force their defense into that kind of situation against this team.
Frank Reich acknowledged as much earlier in the week as did OC Nick Sirianni when asked if ball control would be a key factor.
His response was succinct, “Our job is to score points.”
Don’t expect the #Colts to suddenly become conservative offensively Saturday. Asked today if ball control will be a key factor in limiting the Chiefs, OC Nick Sirianni politely acknowledged the importance of complementary football. Then said, “Our job is to score points.”— George Bremer (@gmbremer) January 7, 2019
That mentality across the board is absolutely right. They need to show they can have the same kind of offensive dominance across 60 minutes of football that they have done for halves at a time. If they can do that against a Chiefs defense that has many weaknesses, they can keep this game in their control and give their defense an opportunity to get a stop.
If they sputter and stall out as they have at times, they are likely to find themselves getting behind. The Chiefs are not likely to slow down much at all on the offensive side of the ball. The Colts will be lucky to hold them under 30, and going for an entire quarter without scoring would almost certainly result in the Colts getting behind.
That makes for desperate football. While Andrew Luck has engineered many incredible comebacks, and I’d take Adam Vinatieri on a windy, snowy field attempting to kick a game winner over just about anyone, that isn’t the Colts’ best bet to get a win tomorrow. As much as we will be watching carefully how those first couple of drives go for the Colts offense, it will be the 3rd, 4th, and 5th drives that will ultimately determine if this team can be a heart breaker, or if this is the end of their magical season.