Every season has a most difficult match-up, but perhaps no season in recent memory has one with as much separation as this year. The Indianapolis Colts will travel to Arrowhead to face the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs for Sunday Night Football. No game remaining is in the same ballpark in terms of difficulty — both in terms of the talent the Colts will see on the field and the atmosphere they will play in.
On paper, this isn’t going to be pretty. Patrick Mahomes is the reigning NFL MVP and is the early front runner to win the award again. Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the NFL. The downfield passing attack that typically features speedster Tyreek Hill has shrugged off his absence and utilized a combination of Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson to complement Kelce.
The backfield is loaded with at least three rushers who have shown that they can get it done, including starter Damien Williams, primary backup LeSean McCoy and change of pace back Darrel Williams. Each has a different running style and brings a different element to Andy Reid’s offense.
To say that this unit is clicking on all cylinders is an understatement. To this point, without signs of slowing down, the Chiefs offense has the chance to be historically good.
Getting into a shootout with the Chiefs is not a good idea. The Colts have to find a way to slow things down.
The good news is that Kansas City is not particularly gifted stopping the run. Ideally, this would give the Colts an advantage in the trenches and allow Marlon Mack and his teammates to “run the damn ball.” Sustained offensive drives that punish the Chiefs’ biggest defensive weakness could limit Patrick Mahomes and his opportunities.
Perhaps, if the Colts can keep the high-octane offense on the sideline enough on Sunday, Mahomes will make uncharacteristic mistakes in frustration.
I wouldn’t necessarily count on it, but this is potentially the best outlook and outcome the Colts could hope to achieve. Limit the Chiefs on the scoreboard by keeping its offense on the sideline and brutalize its defensive line on sustained touchdown scoring drives that keep Kansas City behind — or at least keep the game close.
RUN THE DAMN BALL
It’s okay to acknowledge that Jacoby Brissett has looked much better than many had anticipated and at the same time acknowledge that he isn’t anywhere closer to Patrick Mahomes in terms of talent. Getting into a gun fight favors the Chiefs considerably and will force Brissett to do a lot of the things he isn’t particularly comfortable doing — taking risks, pulling the trigger on time, and having confidence in his receivers.
The better alternative is to rely on the Colts offensive line to open up holes against the 27th ranked run defense in the NFL. If the backfield trio of Mack, Hines and Wilkins can get things churning on the ground, a lot of pressure will be lifted off of Brissett. Considerably more pressure will be placed on the shoulders of Mahomes.
If the Colts don’t find a way to slow this game, and the Chiefs offense, down a bit with an effective running game — things don’t look promising.
FORCE TURNOVERS — PESTER MAHOMES
Patrick Mahomes has otherworldly talent as an NFL quarterback. His arm strength and athleticism are absolutely elite. His ability to make throws off-balance and on the run are quickly becoming legendary. There is something very special about Mahomes and, assuming he stays healthy, the Chiefs have a bright future.
With all of that said, Mahomes is human. He can be rattled by pressure in his face and he can be sacked. His tendency to try to make a big play and not give up can backfire. He is susceptible to strip sacks and will at times have too much confidence in his athleticism that will lead to an interception.
If the Colts can get pressure from its trio of pass rushers — Justin Houston, Kemoko Turay, and Jabaal Sheard — turnovers can give the Colts offense a short field and take away scoring opportunities.
LIMIT THE CHIEFS RUSHING ATTACK
The Colts have been insufferably bad at stopping the run this year. Losing defensive tackle Al Woods has had a bigger impact than many — including perhaps Ballard and Eberflus — had anticipated. At this point, big running plays have been far too common and given opponents excellent field position.
If the Colts can’t at least slow down the Chiefs rushing attack, the run the damn ball plan may be neutralized. After all, if the Chiefs can run it as effectively as the Colts hope to, we’re back at even — and the Chiefs have a considerable passing game advantage.
CATCH AND SECURE THE DAMN BALL
The Colts cannot afford to watch offensive drives stall out because of dropped passes. The start of 2019 is eerily similar to the start of 2018, where Indianapolis has displayed a horrible habit to drop passes. If we can admit that Jacoby Brissett isn’t Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, or Patrick Mahomes, than we have to also admit that he will need help from his teammates to have any success.
Every pass catcher needs to focus on securing the catch before worrying about turning up field. Every player needs to be concerned more about getting what is available and less about placing themselves or the football at risk by straining to extend a play. There are a lot of young offensive weapons still taking the field and much learning to do but ball security and soft hands have to be the biggest priority.
NO WASTED SCORING OPPORTUNITIES
This is team wide and will include Adam Vinatieri. Earlier this year, Vinatieri embarked on what has been possibly the roughest five game stretch of his career. It was devastating to watch it happen live. I can still hear the gong-like sound the upright made as Vinatieri kicked in our end zone direction at Arrowhead.
There have been too many points left off of the scoreboard in 2019. Kicking cost us a Week 1 win in Los Angeles. Drops helped lead to a Week 4 loss at home against the Raiders. Two losses and both featured plenty of missed points.
Let’s be honest, the Colts will need every last point to have a chance tonight. It will take a team wide effort to not waste any chances.