The Chiefs offensive line was once a vaunted unit, but has since been gutted and re-stocked with draft picks and free agents, though guard Brian Waters is a carryover from the old regime and center Casey Wiegmann played for Kansas City for seven seasons before departing for the Broncos, then coming back.
Left tackle Branden Albert was highly touted coming into the 2008 NFL Draft and has settled in nicely on this re-tooled offensive line. Albert is a solid two-way blocker that is smooth into his backpedal and nasty at the point of attack. He is not big enough to wear Dwight Freeney down over the course of a game, but he will certainly use his hands, size, and technique to get the better of Freeney when the Chiefs run the ball.
Both due to quarterback Matt Cassel's quick release and good line play, Kansas City has only allowed two sacks in three games. Indianapolis needs to be able to pressure Cassel in order to force him into quick throws and checkdowns, so it is imperative that Freeney wins his battle on the outside in the pass rush.
Barry Richardson on the right side was also drafted in 2008 and is more of a leaner than a mauler. Robert Mathis will not be able to beat Richardson purely on speed and athleticism, so he will need to use his full complement of pass rushing moves to get to the quarterback. The Chiefs are more agile and quick on the edges, which favors the speed of the Colts on defense, but they have their fair share of bruisers on the interior.
Former Colt Ryan Lilja rounds out the inside linemen and he is the least physical of the three. At their respective ages, Waters and Wiegmann are more tactician than brute, but they can still lay a solid hit on an unsuspecting defensive tackle and are more than capable of getting enough of a push to create a seam in the running game.
Kansas City has run the ball 104 times compared to only 84 passes including sacks. They have averaged more rush attempts per game than any team in the NFL other than the Atlanta Falcons, so they are very committed to running the ball. Indianapolis can shake them from this game plan by putting the Chiefs in a big hole early on, but chances are that head coach Todd Haley will stick with running the ball in an attempt to wear the Colts front seven out.
The biggest enemy in this game is not the front five of Kansas City and fullback Tim Castille, it is the scoreboard. If the Chiefs are able to keep the game close, they will keep running the ball down Indianapolis' throat and, if history is any indicator, the front seven will crack.
Tight end Tony Moeaki leads the team with 12 receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, a top-tier receiver in the eyes of many, has only seven catches for 117 yards. Clint Session needs to stick to Moeaki the entire game, jam him at the snap, and keep the talented tight end in front of him. If Moeaki finishes the game with a large number of receptions, his yardage total will be low. Hopefully, Session will not let Moeaki get behind him and into the seam, where he will be the responsibility of DaJuan Morgan.
Jacob Lacey did not participate in practice this week due to a foot injury, so Kelvin Hayden will most likely draw Bowe. He needs to chuck Bowe at the line, frustrate him early, and attempt to take him out of the game. Bowe has been under targeted thus far this season and may well give up by the third quarter if he feels he has not been paid enough attention.
The issue comes if the running game is effective, the score is close, and Moeaki continues to pile up receptions and yardage underneath. In that event, Morgan and Antoine Bethea will creep up on the line and leave Hayden and Jerraud Powers on an island over the top. The Chiefs have not shown an ability to throw the ball deep thus far this season, but Indianapolis has shown vulnerability in that area, so Cassel will most likely take his shots in a game where he knows his team will need to score points in bunches in order to win.
Receivers Dexter McCluster and Chris Chambers have combined for ten receptions and 131 yards with one touchdown. They need to be monitored, but not necessarily game planned for. In a tight game, it could happen that the Colts blanket Bowe and Moeaki and leave Chambers or McCluster in man coverage. If that happens, that player will need to beat his man and step up, just as Tiquan Underwood did unexpectedly in Week 4.
The venerable Thomas Jones has had success against the Colts defense in the past. The faces are different, but the scheme is familiar. Both Jones and Jamaal Charles — who appear as though they are sharing carries thus far this season even though Charles is averaging seven yards per attempt and has fewer rushes — are explosive, decisive, and patient. They will get the ball, run the play, and look for a seam to burst into.
If no seam is there, they will wait, as they both have tremendous patience, though Jones is older and more patient than Charles. It is up to the Indianapolis players to clog the seams, pursue the play, and use their speed on defense to chase the ball carrier down, hopefully behind the line of scrimmage.
If the seams are there, the Chiefs will execute the same game plan that has been effective for opponents thus far this season: Run the ball until they can't take it anymore, then score through the air or any other path of least resistance. If Kansas City encounters resistance in the running game early on and the Colts offensive does its job, then the Chiefs will be forced to become one dimensional and need to throw the ball. This is a position that they are not comfortable in and have not faced so far this season.
Cassel will see some familiar faces when he lines up under center from his days with the Patriots. He is familiar with the Indianapolis scheme and knows how best to exploit it, but he does not have the weapons on offense that he enjoyed in New England. Cassel has a reputation as a precision passer in the short yardage game, but is not seen as a gunslinger that will throw the ball deep on a whim.
This does not mean, though, that his arm has a limit of 20 yards. If he is able to pick away at the Colts underneath and the Chiefs are successful running the ball, he will have opportunities deep. If those opportunities present themselves, he will take advantage of them for big plays provided his receivers catch the ball.
Matt Cassel is not able to beat Indianapolis on his own, but neither was David Garrard. If he gets enough help, he has more than enough tools in his toolbox and weapons on offense to beat the Colts. The mission on defense for Indianapolis should be to eliminate those options and force Cassel to beat them. He will not be able to do so, especially if this turns into a shootout.
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