After Manning threw for five touchdowns in the Colts 41-10 Wild Card victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will have their work cut out for them next Sunday against the hottest quarterback in the NFL.
The mystery of the Chiefs first playoff opponent is officially over. The Colts will come to Arrowhead next Sunday for a noon kick-off. The winner will play in the AFC Championship game at a site to be determined before the game begins. If the Chiefs defeat the Colts on Saturday and the Titans defeat the New England Patriots, the Chiefs will play that game at home. But that's the best case scenario.
But before the Chiefs can talk about that game, Kansas City has to figure out a way to stop Manning and the Colts hot offense. Though the Colts struggled offensively in their final two regular season games; they more than made up for it with their resounding thumping of the Broncos on Sunday.
The Colts have played well on the road this season and are capable of playing at a high level outside of the Hoosier Dome. But doing it back to back weeks is another story. Manning took care of his home critics with his first playoff victory but doing it on the road will not be easy.
The Chiefs have won 13 consecutive games at Arrowhead and though they themselves have some playoff ghosts to contend with, they've never had an experienced post season coach on their sidelines like they have in Dick Vermeil.
Kansas City has to be very efficient on offense and with a weak Colts secondary and small defensive line; the Chiefs can dominate the line of scrimmage. They need to take a page out of the Broncos victory in Week #16 by controlling the clock and racking up as many first downs as possible. That keeps the Colts offense off the field and the Chiefs defense on the bench.
The Chiefs defense should be near full strength for the first time since Week #10. Mike Maslowski still is questionable but against the Colts high powered passing offense; he'd likely be sitting on the bench. But cornerback Eric Warfield will be back and that's good news for the Chiefs as Manning will test the Chiefs secondary. William Bartee, Dexter McCleon and rookie Julian Battle will need to bring their ‘A' game.
Now the Chiefs might use safety Jerome Woods in nickel situations and bring in Shaunard Harts to play along side Greg Wesley. They did that some last week against the Bears and that lineup was very effective early in the season.
But the Chiefs defense is going to have to put some pressure on Manning. The Broncos on Sunday didn't record a sack and paid the price by rushing only four down lineman on virtually every play. Manning is human and he will make mistakes but the Chiefs have to get in his face. R-Kal Truluck and Gary Stills must be aggressive rushing from the defensive ends and Ryan Sims, Vonnie Holliday and the rest of the Chiefs defensive rotation must get penetration up the middle.
The Colts use a lot of four man receiver sets and for the most part they always pass from that formation. So they'll not be fooling the Chiefs when they line up that way. The mistake the Broncos made was playing so much zone coverage against the Colts. Manning simply hit receivers in the zone who were uncovered. The Chiefs need to play man to man on the outside and use their linebackers to drop back in coverage on crossing patterns.
Another key will be the linebackers. This is a game that Shawn Barber needs to earn his money and Scott Fujita needs to make a name for himself. Their play along with the safeties can certainly impact where Manning throws the ball.
The Colts are blessed with Marvin Harrison who had a career first half against the Broncos. But Denver did not come to play and the Chiefs won't play that soft against him or the rest of the wide receiver posse. Still Harrison scored two touchdowns and Brandon Stokley did as well. That was a career game for Stokley who had only caught three touchdowns and 22 passes all season long.
The Chiefs must also account for running back Edgerrin James. He only rushed for 78 yards on Sunday but he can catch the ball out of the backfield and if the Colts wanted to play a ball control type of game, James could be effective. But I doubt they'd change their style and if they did it would be a mistake.
The Chiefs offense must be dominant. They can score on any team on any given drive and they can't have any lapses in success. They must attack the Colts weakness and never allow their defense to get any momentum whatsoever. The Chiefs were the top scoring offense in the NFL in 2003 and the Colts weren't bad either.
But Kansas City has a huge advantage playing at home and the crowd the Colts will face on Sunday will test their ability to remain focused; especially if the Chiefs jump out to a quick lead.
If the Chiefs were smart, they'd utilize from time to time a no-huddle offense and use the same four wide receiver sets that the Colts use. That will keep the Colts from blitzing and using their speed at linebacker from getting to Green.
The Chiefs must also get a few nice returns from Dante Hall. He'll be the most important wild card for the game. If he can set up the Chiefs offense, then Kansas City can work with a shorter field.
For Chiefs fans this is the game they wanted. Everyone remembers the embarrassing loss at the hands of the Colts back on January 7th, 1996 when Kansas City fell 10-7 to the Colts. This season they don't have kicker Lin Elliott but he was not the problem that game. Yes he missed three field goals but Marty Schottenheimer did a terrible job of coaching in that game as his vanilla offense and his reluctance to turn the game over to back-up quarterback Rich Gannon until late in the game, had more to do with the loss than Elliott.
Still Kansas City fans have a bitter taste in their mouths but the 2003 Chiefs and the 2003 Colts are far different teams than the ones that battled on that cold January day back in 1996.
This game might come down to kickers and both teams have great clutch kickers. No this game will come down to who wants it more, who sacrifices more and who makes the fewest mistakes. This is a playoff football at its best.
Already the national media has written off the Chiefs and most feel the Colts will win. But Kansas City has something magical on their side. Next Sunday will be the 33-year anniversary of the Chiefs last NFL Championship when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV 23-7.
If the Chiefs need any extra motivation, they only need to look at the Super Bowl Trophy that sits in the Arrowhead lobby and how long its been since they've had a chance to win another one.
Time for the Chiefs to take care of business and that starts this Sunday against the Colts.