Big game coming up this weekend, no?
The Chiefs are undefeated, the last in the NFL this season to remain unbeaten.
And they have to go onto the Colts’ home turf to try and demonstrate the 3-0 and record isn’t a scheduling quirk, but is actually indicative of the Chiefs’ ability this year.And they have to do it after the Colts have endured an embarrassing loss, and in which both losses include a humilating inability to stop their opponents’ running game.
It is an intriguing matchup, to be sure:
Cassel has struggled in the passing game. He was one of the most-sacked passers last year, but this time, has only been sacked 2 times in 3 games, which is close to the best in the league at this point. Is the pass-protection this year for real, or has it just been luck? We’ll find out in a hurry, as the Colts’ Freeney and Mathis are among the best rushing end tandems in the league (if not the best pair).
But the Chiefs also excel at getting the ball to Charles on the perimeter where he can gash a defense for long gains if he can get around the defensive ends. The aggressiveness of the Colts rush ends, and their smallish size should facilitate that plan.
So do the Colts sell-out the pass in order to stop the run?
Then there is the fact that the Chiefs have one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL, with Brandons Flowers and Carr both gaining experience to add to excellent physical skills and instincts, and 5th-overall pick Eric Berry looking for a breakout game (but otherwise already playing better-than-average), and surprisingly decent performances also being turned in by Berry’s fellow rookies Javier Arenas and Kendrick Lewis. But it is also one of the youngest secondaries in the NFL, with Carr having the most experience with just 35 starts, and just 71 starts total between all 5. That’s less than 5 seasons, and Manning is one of the most experienced, cunning, and cerebral QBs to ever play the game, much less currently active.
So does Peyton exploit the inexperience of the Chiefs’ secondary and torch them for bundles of TDs? Or does the teamwork and physical ability the Chiefs’ Young Guns contain the Colts’ passing attack enough to keep the score in check? I’m sure the running game of both teams will influence the answer to this, if the Colts’ offense can’t get to the field because the Chiefs dominate TOP, or if the Colts are one-dimensional because the running game doesn’t produce much of anything.
Well, the Colts’ running game has also been notably ineffective, and the Chiefs have been doing a good job of stuffing the run without sacrificing the passing game.
And part of the success in the passing game is that the Chiefs have started to find ways to pressure the passer, if not garner showy sack stats. The Colts let OG Ryan Lilja go, and so far it looks like that was a mistake. The problems are more in the running game than the passing game, but the Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali is developing into one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, getting pressure on the QB on better than 1 out of every 3 dropbacks against the 49ers. Not even Peyton Manning can remain unruffled with that kind of pressure. And the chifes are excellent at forcing 3-and-outs, ending opponents’ drives without allowing a score, and preventing 3rd-down conversions (yes, those are all very closely-related stats, but not identical).
In the end, I think the Chiefs will win:
Games are won in the trenches. The Colts have an amazing D-line, but their O-line isn’t as good as it used to be. The Chiefs, on the other hand, are getting excellent performances from both their O-line and D-line. And when you get away from the trenches, the Colts have clear weaknesses in both running the ball and stopping the run. The best passing performances come when a team is trying to come back from behind. The biggest passing totals usually come in a losing effort. That’s because it is still true (if somewhat exaggerated) that when you drop back to pass, only 4 things can happen and 3 of them are bad. You can win games by being a one-dimensional team with nothing but an excellent passing game and good pass rush, but you can’t win games consistently.
Ask Peyton’s father about how being the best passer in the league sets you up for winning seasons, if the NFL basics (winning in the trenches, running, stopping the run) are lacking.