Before we get started on the keys to today’s game, it’s important we discuss the keys of making it to the game. Before you venture out on your first ever road game, I highly recommend that you take the weather reports far more seriously than I did. My wife and I were in what felt like a snowy version of the movie The Purge, slowly rolling by the carnage of a snow storm that rolled through Missouri to greet its many visitors this weekend. All we could do is wonder just how long it would be until the storm would claim us.
Luckily, we made it. Although a trip down a dead end rural road just off of I-70 felt eerily like it could be the end.
We got up this morning to some light-hearted heckling that was overshadowed by stories about each person’s experience just getting to Kansas City. Might I kindly suggest to the Missouri state government that they increase the funding and resources committed to their emergency services and road crews. On a twelve hour drive, 8 hours of which was in the state of Missouri alone, we saw a grand total of two snow plows on the eastbound stretch of I-70.
Anyway, it appears that the grounds crew at Arrowhead is hustling this morning to get the field ready for this afternoon’s playoff showdown. There will be signs of snow and likely moisture present throughout the game and that could certainly have an impact on the outcome. How bad it will be will likely depend on how much the skies open up throughout the game, which is currently projected to be up to an inch of snow.
No matter how the weather turns out. This game has been discussed at great lengths and the best consensus we have been able to reach is that there is no consensus. The strengths and weaknesses of each team make a compelling case for one outcome, game script or another. Let’s sift through everything and reduce it down to the keys for a Colts victory.
NO UNENFORCED ERRORS
The Kansas City Chiefs have one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. The team thrives on getting as many offensive opportunities as it can to put points on the board and force opponents to play from behind. Their pass rush and defensive mindset is all about opportunism and capitalizing on mistakes. Their defense is not predicated on regularly shutting the offense down.
If Andrew Luck and Colts ball carriers can eliminate unforced errors like entirely unnecessary interceptions, fumbles, and batted balls... If Frank Reich can keep his offense rolling and not let his foot off of the gas, whether that is by repeatedly battering the Chiefs defense on the ground, abusing them with chunk plays in the air, breaking their will with quick developing short plays underneath, or a combination of those things they can win. The Colts cannot hold anything back and expect to come out victorious.
ELIMINATE BIG PLAYS
The Chiefs offense is explosive and likes to score points quickly. They utilize a bevy of offensive skill players who are capable of getting behind the defense to make this happen. They utilize screen passes and underneath routes to punish teams who sell out to stop the deep ball.
Indianapolis needs the defense to use its speed and pack mentality to rally to the ball, limit yards after the catch, and force Mahomes to throw the ball into tighter windows. If the offense does its job and can force Mahomes to make plays from behind, he will be more likely to make mistakes. The key to getting and staying up on the scoreboard early is to not allow chunk plays.
Patrick Mahomes has the arm strength to make any throw in the NFL. He can squeeze the ball into tight windows on short passes and throw it accurately at incredible distances. What’s worse, he is entirely comfortable rolling out of the pocket and making throws on the run.
That is a whole lot for any defense to handle.
Still, at its best, the Colts defense has been able to contain mobile quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson and Marcus Mariota. They have been unable to escape the pocket and were not effective enough on the ground to overcome the rest of their offensive deficiencies.
The Chiefs don’t have a lot of offensive deficiencies but one way to help keep it pedestrian is to contain Mahomes in the pocket, put pressure in his face and keep him guessing on where it is coming from, and force him to make throws in the face of that pressure in positions he doesn’t want to be in.
OWN THE TRENCHES
The Colts and the Chiefs both have a lot of pride about how their teams perform in the trenches. Chiefs fans believe they will rattle Andrew Luck with the best pass rush in the NFL. They believe Chris Jones will teach Quenton Nelson that he isn’t as good as has been hyped in his rookie season. They also believe that the Colts are not the team to give Mahomes and the offense fits and that they have faced worse.
Colts fans know that, when healthy, their offensive line is the best in the NFL. The starting group, when together, has not allowed a single sack this season. When Ryan Kelly is healthy, Marlon Mack and the ground game has been potent and efficient. On the other side of the ball, Denico Autry and Margus Hunt have had a way to make life difficult on the inside.
The team that wins the battle in the trenches will likely win this game. The more field conditions or weather play a role, the more that will be true.
PLAY TOUGH RED ZONE DEFENSE
The Chiefs have an incredibly efficient offense no matter where they are on the field. The Colts are efficient in their own right but one way to help turn the tide in the game is to stymie would-be touchdown drives, field goal attempts and force punts at midfield. One way to rattle a young quarterback in the playoffs is to steal away his opportunities.
One of the best attributes of a Tampa 2 style defense is to stiffen up in the red zone as windows start to close. Failed offensive red zone drives by the Chiefs or an opportunistic turnover for the Colts defense can make the difference.