The Colts will enter Arrowhead on Saturday as the underdogs against a potent Chiefs offense which has the ability to put up a lot of points and to do so quickly. It is perfectly normal to be a bit concerned about going on the road to a tough venue to play a great offense. However, that is why I am here. I’m going to give you the three reasons why you should have no doubt that this Colts team can go into Arrowhead and keep the Colts cycle of beating the Chiefs in the playoffs alive.
For some reason Andrew Luck is a bit of a divisive player. There are those who point to his stat line and attempt to argue that he is not as good as advertised. Rather than relying on a combination of stats and film as well as accounting for differing circumstances, they attempt to make quick comparisons. This is pretty typical of football analysis, and always leaves something to be desired. There are too many variables in this game to provide credible analysis by simply doing a side by side comparison.
It is a lot like arguing that because we beat Team X and they beat Team Y, we are better than Team Y. The math just is not that simple. Unfortunately, not everyone who values statistics also values nuance. We are fortunate to have a guy like Troy at Stampede Blue who brings both to the table.
The reality is that Luck has been an incredible player who for most of his career was saddled with an awful supporting cast and worse coaching. What the film shows about Luck this season is a quarterback in complete command of his game and who is one of the most cerebral quarterbacks in the league. He and Frank Reich have meshed perfectly and been very successful despite some limitations in terms of their overall skill position talent.
Luck is the best quarterback in the league at diagnosing and evading pressure, and never has that been more apparent than this season. His pocket movement is incredible and his ability to raise his game when the pressure is on is a thing of beauty.
Despite missing last year and all the doubts to start the season about what his arm would look like, he has answered every question definitively by having one of his best years and demonstrating the ability to make every throw.
As a passer his decision making has continued to improve and he has the ability to buy time with his legs to strike downfield and also to get first downs by scrambling. No quarterback in the NFL has done more with less than Andrew Luck has, and when he is in the game, it is never out of reach, as he demonstrated to the Chiefs early on in his career.
The Indianapolis House of Pancakes
The primary reason for such a rapid turnaround for this Colts team has been tied to the impact of the offensive line. While First-Team All-Pro rookie Quenton Nelson gets most of the credit for the turnaround, give right tackle Braden Smith his due, as a guy who has now twice demonstrated the ability to virtually stonewall J.J. Watt. This is arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, and they don’t shy away from a fight. Their goal is to force feed you pancakes until you puke, and then sit on you while the world laughs at your misery.
The match-ups might initially seem to be a tough one for the Colts in terms of pass protection. While the Chiefs lead the league in sacks, that stat line can be a bit deceiving, since they padded those stats against awful quarterbacks and poor offensive lines. 5 of 7 games in which they had 4+ sacks came against the Cardinals, Jaguars, 49ers, Broncos(twice). The other two came against the Chargers and Rams. In most of those games, the teams absolutely had no choice but to become one dimensional. They also didn’t have quarterbacks who could regularly get rid of the ball quickly or avoid pressure.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is a talented pass rush. But the Colts haven’t had an off game on the offensive line when their whole unit has been together, and this defense won’t be the unit that cracks them.
While the Chiefs’ front seven has been tough getting after the passer from ahead, they have been woefully bad defending the run. That’s good news, since the Colts do that really well and will absolutely use their line to open not so much running lanes as highways for Mack to run through. The Colts haven’t played many truly awful run defenses this season, but they just put 200 yards on the best one in the NFL.
This game is likely to be too high scoring to rely completely on the run game, but it will certainly be a factor in keeping the Colts offense balanced. When Frank Reich has had consistent production from his running backs, the offense has hummed. Marlon Mack and Andrew Luck have each proven capable of carrying this team behind this offensive line, but on Saturday, neither will need to do it alone.
It isn’t a stretch to say that this offensive line will be the best total position group in Arrowhead on Saturday, and they will make certain the offense is able to put points on the board.
The Colts’ defensive coordinator has done an incredible job developing and growing a very young group of defensive players into one of the toughest groups in the league. Rookie First-Team All-Pro Darius Leonard has been ridiculous on his way to establishing himself as one of the best linebackers in football. Malik Hooker has been heating up over the past few games and the cornerback room is on fire lately, shutting down DeAndre Hopkins twice and Amari Cooper since Week 14.
What makes this defense so good is about more than individual player performance. It is a cohesive unit that plays hard as a team. They get big plays in critical moments from all over the place, not just one key player. While Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore have come up big in the last few weeks, it has just as often been Margus Hunt, Anthony Walker, Clayton Geathers, or Denico Autry who have stepped up in the moment.
On top of the fact that they’ve continued to raise their level of play, this defense has been more and more well coached every week. Eberflus may be in his first year, but he hasn’t been getting head coaching looks for nothing. He is getting every bit of effort out of his players and has become masterful at mixing up his looks to keep opposing offenses guessing.
While Patrick Mahomes has been remarkable this season, it is still worth noting that this is his first foray into the postseason. I don’t anticipate a collapse from him, but the playoffs are a different animal, and with higher stakes than they have had all season, the pressure is on for the young quarterback to be perfect.
Colts fans know better than just about anyone how tough the pressure is on a quarterback who knows they have to score. The Colts are a far more balanced team, and that means that a lot of pressure falls on Mahomes to carry them. They’ve scored a lot of points this season, but they have had to.
I expect Eberflus to test Mahomes early and often, and while the Chiefs will score points, I expect him to get a couple wins as well as the game goes on. The Colts have been solid in the red zone, and they should be able to get a couple stops and turn some touchdowns into field goals. If the offense does their part, that is all they should need to get away with a win.