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The Indianapolis Colts (0-4) lost more than just their fourth game of the season as they fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-17 on Monday Night Football. Following a script all too familiar to the Colts and their fans, the Colts also lost multiple players to injury. Now, on a short week, they will have to regroup and pick up the pieces as they take on a Kansas City Chiefs team fighting them for the title of “Worst Team in the NFL.” Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium figures to be an interesting battle of the stoppable force against the moveable object, where the loser may wind up winning.
Tale of the tape
How do the Colts and Chiefs measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.
When the Colts have the ball
A week ago, the key to a successful Colts offense was to lean on an above average offensive line and running game to take pressure off of QB Curtis Painter. Now, with the offensive line starting its backup left tackle, its third string right tackle and its backup right guard, the Colts rushing attack is likely to be as bad or worse as it was in 2009-2010. Combined with the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs two starting cornerbacks, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, form one of the best starting duos in the league, and it looks as though the Colts may struggle to move the ball against a poor Kansas City defense.
The Colts’ best hope to attack the Chiefs defense will be quick strike plays, with the majority of their offense revolving around a variety of screens – running back, wide receiver bubble screens, and their backside tight end screens being the most prominent. This will allow the Colts to simplify situations for Painter, having him make a predetermined throw to cut down on his reads. It will also serve to slow down a Kansas City pass rush, lead by OLB/DE Tamba Hali, that dominated the Colts in last year’s match up.
The most important advantage it may give the Colts, however, is that early success of these screens should serve to limit the number of blitzes called by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. If Painter has shown anything in his limited action this season, it is that he is incapable of dealing with the blitz. Painter, much like Collins before him, seems to freeze as the pass rush bears down on him, and he fails to do what every good quarterback does against the blitz – get rid of the ball. Until Painter shows an understanding on how to deal with the blitz, teams will blitz him more and more as the season rolls on.
Screens can only do so much, however, and if the Colts are unable to establish some other method for moving the ball – a running attack or down-field passes – the Chiefs will adjust and tighten their coverages to prevent the screens from having enough space to be successful. The Colts will have to use smart, creative play calling that works together to throw the Chiefs’ defense off balance, making them think a screen is coming, and then hitting a big play down field. If they can do that, they may be able to get the defense to loosen up their underneath defense, allowing them to run a more balanced, normal offense, mixing in the running game and non-screen passes.
When the Chiefs have the ball
Going into the 2011 season, the Chiefs’ offensive game plan was simple: hand the ball off to Jamaal Charles, let him do his magic, and occasionally mix in some passes to TE Tony Moeaki and WR Dwayne Bowe. Those plans had to be scrapped early Moeaki suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and Charles went down in week 2. Suddenly, a team that was remarkably healthy in the 2010 season had lost two of their three best offensive players.
Their offense now runs through backup RB Thomas Jones (not literally, Jones is averaging 2.8ypc) and WR Bowe. The Colts should have success against Jones, a north-south runner that has failed to give them problems in the past, and an offensive line that was failing to run block well even when Charles was healthy. The Chiefs’ biggest hope in the running game may be the Colts’ lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball, especially at defensive tackle, where the Colts have lost DT Eric Foster for the season, and DTs Drake Nevis and Fili Moala are both fighting through various injuries.
As we saw Monday night against the Buccaneers, the Colts stood up well to the run for much of the game, but eventually ran out of gas and healthy bodies and the Tampa Bay running game took over. If Chiefs’ head coach Todd Haley can call a patient game – definitely not a given based on Haley’s history – and stick with the run through some early struggles, the Chiefs may find success running in the fourth quarter.
Through the air, Bowe is the only legitimate weapon at QB Matt Cassel’s disposal, and the Colts may break from their usual defensive practice of not worrying about cornerback-wide receiver match ups, and have CB Jerraud Powers stick with Bowe throughout the game. If Powers can contain Bowe, it will be up to the rest of the defense to do what they have been unable to do the past two weeks: make tackles and limit the opponents yards after catch (and contact), and get the offense off the field on third downs.
The Colts have been remarkably good on first and second down the past two weeks, but have allowed their opponents to convert 46.9% of their third-down tries and have been especially frustrating on third-and-long situations. While most of the teams’ failures this season can be attributed to poor play from the offense – specifically the quarterback – the defense has to force 4th downs when they have the chance. A match up against Matt Cassel and Thomas Jones, neither of whom is particularly good, is the perfect opportunity for this to happen.
If the Colts can limit the Chiefs to shorter drives, both in length and time of possession, and force them into fourth downs, they may be able to provide their offense with enough opportunities to get the Colts their first win of the season. If not, the Colts will suffer their fifth-straight (and worse) loss of the season.
Five key match ups
1. Dwayne Bowe vs. Jerraud Powers – With the loss of TE Tony Moeaki and RB Jamaal Charles, WR Dwayne Bowe is the lone play maker on a Chiefs offense that has struggled to score points this season. QB Matt Cassel will look to Bowe early and often on Sunday, especially in the red zone, where Bowe can use his size and strength to out jump and out muscle cornerbacks for the ball. If the Colts can shutdown Bowe, they will force the Chiefs to run the offense through RB Thomas Jones, a running back that the Colts have had success stopping in the past. To keep Bowe in check, the Colts will call on CB Jerraud Powers, the lone bright spot on a secondary that has been served as a side disk on Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfast the past 2 weeks. Powers, the only cornerback on the Colts roster capable of covering opposing receivers in the same zip code, is quick, intelligent, and decisive, and should be successful against Bowe when the two are matched up one-on-one. Bowe’s main success may come in finding holes – which have been numerous in recent weeks – in the Colts cover-2 zone.
2. Jeff Linkenbach/Mike Tepper/Michael Toudouze/Guy off the street vs. Tamba Hali – The Colts offensive line had been one of the few bright spots on the team this year, surpassing expectations and playing extremely well in most phases of the game. That all changed Monday night when the Colts lost their first- and second-round picks, Anthony Castanzo and Ben Ijalana, to injuries. Those injuries, along with injuries to guards Ryan Diem, Mike Pollak, and Joe Reitz, have turned a strength into a glaring weakness. To make matters worse, OLB/DE Tamba Hali comes to town this Sunday. Hali, the best pass rusher on the Chiefs, terrorized the Colts offense last year, abusing then-RT Ryan Diem and LT Charlie Johnson and harassing QB Peyton Manning all day long. Now Hali will face a couple of recently-signed undrafted free agents and a quarterback in Curtis Painter that struggles (to put it mildly) in the face of pressure. If the Colts can’t contain Hali, it could be a long, disastrous day for their offense.
3. Curtis Painter vs. Matt Cassel – QBs Curtis Painter and Matt Cassel have followed similar paths in the NFL. Both were late round draft picks (6th for Painter, 7th for Cassel). Both backed up quarterbacks of varying skill (Painter backed up the greatest quarterback ever, Peyton Manning; Cassel backed up Brady). Both were thrust into the starting role due to major injuries to their respective starters (and a major Kerry Collins being Kerry Collins problem for Kerry Collins). Cassel lead the Patriots to an 11-5 record and was immediately shipped off to Kansas City for a 2nd-round draft pick. It does not look like Painter will be leading the Colts to an 11-5 record, but there is a chance Bill Polian ships him to a far away land in the off-season. Cassel was lauded as a good quarterback after his 2008 season. Painter has been the subject of much scrutiny. Watch on Sunday as they both struggle to look like competent NFL starters, and, in the process, help their teams compete for the #1 overall pick.
4. The Colts vs. Injuries – I wrote in this space in week 2 that without Manning, the margin of error for the Colts was small; that in order to win, they would have to do what they’ve been unable to do in recent years – stay healthy. Three weeks later and the Colts have lost two starters – Melvin Bullitt and Gary Brackett – and two important backup/rotation players,Drake Nevis and Ben Ijalana – to season-ending injuries, along with a host of players that have missed multiple games without going on injured-reserve – Ryan Diem, Fili Moala, Ernie Sims, and now Anthony Castanzo. The worst part of the injuries is that many of them are occurring to young, core players, that could have used a “lost year” to improve and be ready to perform at a high level in 2012. One has to wonder how many more injuries the Colts roster can handle before a tipping point is reached and they are no longer able to be competitive.
5. Suck for Luck vs. Reality – Many, including the Monday Night Football Crew, have suggested that, at 0-4 and without much hope for the playoffs, that the Colts “Suck for Luck” – go out of their way to lose the rest of their games in order to “earn” the top draft pick in the 2012 and select Standford QB Andrew Luck, the man labeled as the next sure thing prospect at the quarterback position. While having the top overall pick would certainly help the Colts restock their roster with young, elite talent – whether they used it on Luck or to trade down and grab multiple needed pieces – professional athletes will fight for every inch as long as they are healthy. The Colts will not tank and they won’t “Suck for Luck.” If the first four weeks have taught you anything, it should be that the Colts may lose every game, but they are going to raise hell while doing so.
The Injury Reports
Kansas City Chefs (Great Googalie Moogalie)
Identifying the coverage
Who(Visually): Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots
Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford
How(Long until CBS hires two high school kids to announce Colts games?): Good question. The Colts have dropped from the CBS “B” team (in name only) to their “E” team in only 4 weeks. Only the “F” pairing of Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker stand between Colts fans and announcer rock bottom. One has to figure that, with such a quick descent, CBS is only four weeks away from hiring some local Indianapolis high school students to announce the game and save on costs. By week 17, we may see Alphie the Robot in the booth. Stay tuned.
- The Colts are 13-7 all time against the Chiefs. The Colts are 7-1 against the Chiefs since 1998, including a 4-0 home record during that time.
- Curtis Painter has completed 0 passes for 0 yards, 0 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Just Kidding. Painter has never faced the Chiefs.
- Joseph Addai has carried the ball 38 times for 122 yards (3.21 YPC) and a touchdown in his two games against the Chiefs.
- Reggie Wayne has played the Chiefs four times. He has caught 21 passes for 332 yards and two scores.
- Dallas Clark has caught 9 passes for 123 yards and 0 TDs in 3 career games vs. the Chiefs.
- Dwight Freeney has posted 0 sacks in his 2 games against the Chiefs.
- Robert Mathis has posted 1 sack against the Chiefs in 2 career games.
- Matt Cassel is 0-2 against the Colts (one game with the Patriots, one with the Chiefs). He’s completed 63.2% of his passes for 360 yards, 0 TDs and an INT.
- Dwayne Bowe has caught 9 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown (which wasn’t really a touchdown) in two games against the Colts.
- Thomas Jones has faced the Colts 4 times in his career. He’s rushed 51 times for 185 yards (3.63YPC) and a touchdown.
Songs of the week
Each week Colts fans submit songs that describe their current feelings about the state of the Colts, here are the six best:
In an office on West 56th St. a man wearing a stoic look, a Colts polo shirt, and a Colts ball cap sits at a desk. A man stocky man with dreamy eyes walks in…
Coach: “Jeff, I just want to tell you how much we appreciate your hard work, great play, and strong leadership. As the last healthy player on the roster, we’re counting on you to carry the torch for the rest of the year. You’re a true Colt(s).”
Jeff: “Gosh, coach, it’s really nice of you to say that. That makes my day. I’m going to go home now and play some Madden™ with my son.”
The two men embrace. Jeff exits the building.
A meteor falls from the sky and lands on the sidewalk outside of an office on West 56th St.
Chiefs – 21, Colts – 20