Week 5 Preview: Chiefs Welcome Colts to Arrowhead for Sunday Night Football
Week 5 Opponent Breakdown: Indianapolis Colts
Kansas City will once again be without left tackle Eric Fisher (groin) and receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder). Joining them on the sideline this week is linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, who will be out with a hamstring injury. Defensive end Alex Okafor has been limited all week with a hip injury, and is listed as questionable. Sammy Watkins (shoulder/hamstring) got in a limited practice session on Friday, after being a full participant earlier in the week. He is questionable for Sunday night, as is running back Damien Williams, who practiced in full all week while working back from a knee injury.
The injury bug has bitten Indianapolis hard. Both starting safeties, Malik Hooker (knee) and Clayton Geathers (concussion), will sit out this week. Stud linebacker Darius Leonard will miss his third straight game with a concussion. Defensive linemen Tyquan Lewis (ankle) and wide receiver Parris Campbell (abdominal) will also not participate in Sunday night's game. Backup cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (hip) went from full practice on Wednesday to limited on Thursday and did not practice at all on Friday, which is not a good sign for his availability. Backup safety Rolan Milligan (knee) and starting linebacker Anthony Walker (shoulder) both appeared on the injury report on Friday and are listed as questionable for Sunday.
Colts should have playmaking wide receiver T.Y. Hilton ready to return from a quad injury and starting running back Marlon Mack practiced in full on Friday. He'll be a game time-decision returning from and ankle injury.
It all starts up front for the Colts with one of best offensive lines in the game. They get push to open up holes on runs and hold up well in pass protection, giving quarterback Jacoby Brissett time to go through his progressions and get the ball out to his playmakers. They use both their tight ends and receivers to chip on edge rushers before releasing on their routes.
The run game centers around Marlon Mack, a physical back who can run through arm tackles and employs a good stiff arm in the open field. Nyheim Hines serves as a pass catcher and change of pace runner, while Jordan Wilkins has both skillsets, just not on the same level. The Colts run zone and power plays with the occasional counter. Off of the zone plays, they implement both zone-read concepts and RPOs.
The passing game relies mainly on short crossing routes, hitches, and out routes. Brissett’s passing charts show that he tends to target the left side of the field heavier than the right. His deep shots typically go to the left as well. The Colts have a trio of tight ends who present mismatches for any defense. Hilton is an explosive athlete who can cover ground in a hurry.
Stopping The Offense
The Chiefs must focus their efforts on stopping the run game if they want any chance to shut down this offense. The Colts' offensive line eats up blocks in the trenches, which forces opposing linebackers and defensive blocks to to get involved in run defense. Tackling should rank as a point of emphasis this week for for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The Chiefs can look to run blitz when Zach Pascal lines up tight to the offensive line. A linebacker or defensive back can use a quick inside move to beat Pascal’s block, leaving a defensive end attracting the tackle’s attention and a free blitzer off the edge.
The Colt's reliance on the short-passing game makes tackling critical to limiting yards after catch. The offensive line gives Brissett plenty of time to work, rarely letting anyone run free. Linemen Braden Smith, who is more of a guard playing tackle, has issues with quick inside moves. Twist stunts are picked up well by the offensive line, but they can be used to squeeze the pocket in around the quarterback. Brissett is athletic enough to escape the pocket and make plays with his legs when needed, but he prefers to throw the ball. The Chiefs need to show blitzes pre-snap to speed up Brissett’s internal clock, whether they actually blitz or not. Along with masking blitzes, the Chiefs can give Brissett different looks on the back end by disguising pre-snap looks and mixing up coverages throughout the game.
The Colts enter as big underdogs in this game, and head coach Frank Reich understands the fire power of the Chiefs’ offense. Expect a trick play or two and more aggressive play calling in an effort to match intensity.
The Colts play a fundamentally sound, swarming defense without abandoning zones or gaps. They reserve blitzing for obvious passing situations, but rarely send more than five rushers on a play. The blitzes usually come off the edge with a linebacker or nickel back. They line up almost exclusively in their base 4-3 defense with a cover 2 shell. They mix in 2-Man, man free and cover 3 from time to time. The Colts also like to move both of their defensive tackles in the A-gap to create issues with blocking schemes.
Pierre Desir is the Colts' best corner and most experienced backend defender with Hooker and Geathers out. Rookie safety Khari Willis filled in for Hooker last week. After a slow start, he found his footing and turned in a decent performance. He processes plays very quickly and flies to the football.
With Darius Leonard missing the game, the Colts turn to a host of youngsters to pick up the slack. The linebackers outside of Leonard don’t really stand out; they just quietly go about their business without a lot of flash. Middle linebacker Anthony Walker leads the team in tackles.
Justin Houston is a guy Chiefs fans are very accustomed to, since he spent 8 years with the Chiefs. He is second on the team in sacks, with 1. Denico Autry, who plays as the under tackle, leads the team in sacks with 2.5. Autry is relentless in his pursuit, regularly chasing down runs from the backside of the play.
Beating The Defense
To attack this defense with the run game, the Chiefs can run power plays at defensive tackle Denico Autry to limit the effect of his pursuit by double teaming him at the point of attack. Toss plays have been effective against the Colts, as have stretch runs, as long as Autry gets cut off and isn’t allowed to chase down the line. A reverse or some type of misdirection could hit for a big play this week.
Kansas City should look to take advantage of the backup players on the backend of the defense in pass coverage. Play action, boots and waggles should get the linebackers flowing hard to stop the run, opening up the zones in behind them in front of the safeties. Patrick Mahomes can exploit the natural holes in cover 2, which are down the sidelines 15 to 20 yards deep and in the middle of the field between the linebackers. He can use seam routes by the slot receiver/tight end to clear out the safety hit the dig by the outside receiver. Crossing routes in general work well against this defense as long as Mahomes can fit the ball in the windows between zones.
Matchups To Watch
1. Justin Houston vs. Team That Let Him Go
The Chiefs released Houston in March after eight seasons with the club. Houston says he wants the game to be just a regular game, but hard to believe he hasn't had this game circled on his calendar since joining the Colts. Houston can show Kansas City what they are missing, and the extra motivation could push him toward his best game so far this season.
2. Chiefs DT Chris Jones vs. Colts LG Quenton Nelson
Stone Cold Jones goes head-to-head with The Screaming Meanie. This matchup is made for football enthusiasts, a battle in the trenches pitting a dominant defensive lineman against a physical offensive lineman hungry for pancakes.
3. Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Chiefs’ Secondary
Hilton is dynamic and is always a threat to take one to the house. The Chiefs’ defense will have their hands full trying to contain him and would be wise to keep safety help over the top of the corners, who have struggled at times limiting the big play.
4. Chiefs’ Pass Catchers vs. Colts’ Backup Secondary
The Colts will be missing both starting safeties and best linebacker and could be without several backups as well. Not a great scenario for a team facing Mahomes and a speedy corps of receivers. Desir's return to action is key for the Colts, Willis played well filling in for Hooker last week.
5. Colts RB Marlon Mack vs. Chiefs’ Run Defense
The Chiefs allow 149.8 rushing yards per game, and Mack averages 84.5 yards per game. With the Colts’ stout offensive line and Mack’s physical run style against a defense that isn’t stopping the run with any consistency, Mack has to be licking his chops for this matchup.
6. Charvarius Ward vs. Morris Claiborne
With Claiborne back from suspension, Ward might soon find himself in a battle for the No. 2 corner spot opposite Bashaud Breeland. Ward and Claiborne more than likely will find themselves splitting reps until one of them stakes his claim to the job. Can Ward step up to the competition and keep the job, or will Claiborne use his experience to take hold of the starting spot?
Keys To Victory
1. Stay Patient
With the Colts playing with a cover 2 shell and rarely blitzing, they play a true bend-but-don’t-break defense. There are holes in the cover 2 shell, but this style of play limits the electric plays, forcing teams to take what is given to them and methodically drive down the field. Mahomes will need to find the holes in the coverage and fit the ball in the open windows in the middle of the field and down the sideline to matriculate the ball down the field. Without the game-breaking ability of Tyreek Hill, it becomes even more important to pick spots wisely without forcing plays and not to rely on the chunk play to move the offense and score.
2. Don’t Let Justin Houston Have His Revenge
Houston’s return to Kansas City has been a storyline ever since he signed his contract with the Colts. His adrenaline and motor should be extra high this game. The Chiefs must limit his impact on the game by chipping him with tight ends and running backs. If he gets going, that energy will become infectious and could spell doom for the Chiefs.
3. Watch Out For The Right Hook From Marlon Mack
Mack is a physical runner, but one of his best moves once he gets in to open space is a devastating stiff arm. If the Chiefs’ defenders play timid while trying to tackle him, he will plant them on the ground with his stiff arm and open up a bigger running lane.
4. Stop T.Y. Hilton From Running Wild
With Campbell out this week, Hilton remains the sole explosive athlete on the Colts’ offense. Hilton can beat defenses over the top and has the ability to slip a tackle and head off to the races. Kansas City must pay extra attention to Hilton and limit his chunk plays, or the game could become a shoot out.
5. Confuse Jacoby Brissett
Brissett is still a fairly young quarterback. This game marks the 22nd start of his career. He is still learning all the schemes and ways that defenses will try to attack him. While he shows calmness in the pocket, there is a clear difference in his game when he is allowed to sit back and pick his targets versus when he feels pressure. If he sees pre-snap blitzers, Brissett has a tendency to speed up his footwork and reads, trying to get rid of the ball quickly. The Chiefs can show blitz then back out and play coverage, hoping to confuse Brissett into making a mistake. They should also try to disguise coverages and give him plenty of different looks pre- and post-snap to keep him continually guessing.