The Colts are a team that will enter the divisional round of the playoffs white hot and on a roll, looking to shock the Kansas City Chiefs with a win at Arrowhead to carry them to the AFC Championship game. It seems like a tall task to accomplish, especially given the potency of this Chiefs offense. They have been incredible to watch this season, with Patrick Mahomes doing things that really shouldn’t even be possible. Seriously. Some of his throws defy physics, technique, and probably the Geneva Convention.
It is fortunate too, because on the defensive side of the ball, they have been far less than stellar. They have allowed offenses to move the ball and score with relative ease, with Football Outsiders ranking their defense as 17th in the league in total weighted defense and 32nd against the run. In eight games this season their opponents scored 27 points or more against them. They have needed outstanding play from their offense, and they have had it.
Watching them actually began to remind me of another team I remember watching several years ago. The 2005 Indianapolis Colts.
They were a brilliant team. The offense was star studded, featuring Peyton Manning fully in his prime, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and possibly the best offensive line group of the Peyton Manning Era. Unsurprisingly, Football Outsiders ranked that offense 1st in the league in passing and 8th in rushing.
The Chiefs in 2018, by comparison, rank 1st in the passing game and 4th in rushing. Quite an impressive feat, indeed. There is a major difference between these two squads though. Where the Chiefs’ defense has been fairly middle of the road, the Colts of 2005 were a much stouter group. They ranked 8th in total defense and 17th against the run.
Like the Chiefs of 2018, the Colts of that year were a force to be reckoned with. They ripped off 14 wins to start their season and benched their starters for their last two games. It doesn’t hold up to compare every stat and number from now and then, because the league is so much different, however, they had the same kind of offensive dominance that we have seen the Chiefs execute this season.
That team took their number 1 seed and bye week and looked primed to roll through the competition to a Super Bowl appearance. They showed up to the RCA Dome to a raucous crowd and hosting a 6th seeded Pittsburgh Steelers team that had clinched a playoff berth in week 17 and traveled to Cincinnati to take on the winner of their division, the Bengals. They had no business being there, but they were anyway.
No one would have believed when that game kicked off that the Steelers would be the team to walk out victorious. The Colts were the 8.5-point favorite. All season long, the Colts had been virtually unstoppable on offense. The thing about the playoffs is that you basically wipe the slate clean when it begins. Whatever was done before doesn’t really matter anymore. By the time they reach the playoffs, teams aren’t what they were early on in the season.
For instance, the Chiefs started this season at a ridiculous pace. They had 41 touchdowns heading into their bye in week 12. Prior to their next game, they cut Kareem Hunt after his whole scandal broke, and since then their offense hasn’t been quite the same. Sandwiched in between two games against the dreadful Oakland Raiders are an overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens, a last-minute loss to the Chargers, and a road loss to the Seahawks.
In the game against the Ravens the Chiefs were able to score just 24 points in regulation before kicking a game winning field goal in overtime. Against the Chargers, they managed to put up 28 and scored 31 against the Seahawks. Those aren’t poor games, but they are a far cry from their first three games when they opened the season scoring 38, 42, and 38 points. The first 11 games of the season, they averaged 36.73 points per game. Over their last 5 they are down to 32.2.
In short, their offense is very good. If you take them lightly, they will make you pay dearly. However, since that infamous showdown with the Los Angeles Rams, they haven’t been putting up the kind of insane numbers they did early on. Sure, in week 13 they put up 40 on the Raiders, but the Colts hung 42 on them, so we can’t treat that as though it tells us much except that the Raiders are awful.
They haven’t had Sammy Watkins since week 11, and the exit of Kareem Hunt in addition to Watkins’ injury has definitely had an impact on the Chiefs’ ability to be as deadly as they once were. That is not to say this isn’t still one of the best offenses in the league, simply that they are no longer playing at the level they did earlier in the season. If you remove the Raiders games from the calculation and just look at their average against the Ravens, Chargers, and Seahawks, it puts their average points per game at 28.67. That’s no small feat, but it isn’t insurmountable for a very potent Colts offense.
A major factor in the Colts last two wins has also been their ability to start fast on both sides of the ball. They were able to force punts on their first two defensive drives of both of the last two games. Likewise, the offense has scored touchdowns on its first two drives in those past two games.
Frank Reich will be prepared to go against this Chiefs team, and the offense can definitely put it on them. If they can come out with a long, grinding drive for 7 points on their first possession and then get a defensive stop and do it all again, it can really go a long way to setting the tone. The major difference between this game and those previous for the Colts has to be that this team can’t sit on a lead the way they have against some of their other opponents.
Understandably, the Colts are an underdog. No one expected them to be in this situation. Few will be expecting them to leave Arrowhead victorious. The same was true for that young Steelers team. To go on the road and face the top seed in the conference is a tall task. To do it against a prolific offense led by a star quarterback is even tougher.
The Steelers did it by showing up in every phase of the game. They came out playing like they understood exactly how big that game was. To use a cheesy coaching cliché, they wanted it more. From the coaching to the execution, they started the game playing like the better team and they didn’t let up.
That is exactly what it will take to beat the Chiefs in their own stadium. Great execution, total commitment, and an obsession to finish strong. That’s what Reich has demanded of this team all season, and he has gotten them believing in it.
Back in 2005 we had to watch as what was arguably the Colts’ best team in the Manning Era get knocked off by a more balanced, more hungry Steelers team that came on the road and punched them in the mouth on their way to a Super Bowl.
The Colts have had to fight every step of the way since week 7. They are mentally tough and capable of dominating teams in the trenches. The Chiefs have been the bully on the block all season long. Saturday we’ll see if they can take a punch.