After losing 15 pounds in the offseason to get leaner and faster, defensive end Jared Allen is svelte for a defensive lineman at 6-foot-6, 255 pounds. However, with his effort, speed, ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage and surprising strength at the point of attack, he personifies what Kansas City is trying to build along the defensive line.
They drafted left defensive end Tamba Hali in the first round out of Penn State before last season, signed tackle Ron Edwards from Buffalo in the same offseason, and brought in former Bear Alfonso Boone this offseason to completely revamp the front four around Allen. It has paid off.
Allen is the true threat to disrupt the passing game, with ten sacks and two forced fumbles so far &mdash despite serving a two-game suspension to start the season. Hali is also beginning to get his sea legs in the NFL and has three quarterback takedowns as well.
Boone (one sack) and Edwards (two sacks) have brought their share of pressure, but are primarily used as run stuffers &mdash both check in at 6'3" and over 300 pounds.
With the status of right tackle Ryan Diem and left tackle Tony Ugoh as well as Charlie Johnson unknown at this point, Peyton Manning could face some serious pressure from the talented duo of Hali and Allen on Sunday.
The obvious solution would be to keep Joseph Addai or Kenton Keith in to block and Dallas Clark (if available), Ben Utecht, or Bryan Fletcher shifting to Allen's side of the field and chipping him. But Indianapolis is perilously thin at wide receiver. Marvin Harrison's knee injury continues to trouble him and Anthony Gonzalez is also out. Reggie Wayne will draw a lot of attention, while Aaron Moorehead and Craphonso Thorpe are still trying to get on the same page with Manning.
In order to have success in the passing game, the Colts must set up the run and Manning's potent play-action attack.
Sunday, Denver's Selvin Young was able to find consistent daylight against this defense by using the scheme that Denver has run since Mike Shanahan has been their coach — take the ball, read the play, and cut back against pursuit. The Chiefs defense, especially their defensive line, has a tremendous amount of hustle and the front four all possess fantastic motors.
This enthusiasm was exploited by the Broncos, as they set up a play to go one direction, then had Young go against the grain into a big hole. Addai has the kind of quickness and feet necessary to execute this play and Indianapolis needs to use his talents and the aggressive nature of Kansas City's defense to their advantage.
The Chiefs very rarely blitz and count on their line to create pressure in the passing game. As a result, they often have their ends rush up field and count on their tackles to crash the pocket in the middle. Indianapolis can exploit this by running draw plays and screen passes to Addai, slowing down the pass rush and creating natural lanes for him to run through. While Boone and Edwards are big, they aren't particularly nimble, and will be caught out of position in this situation.
With a mix of cutbacks, draws, and screens, the Colts should be able to loosen up and slow down the front four of the Chiefs.
In defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham's scheme, a lot is asked of the linebackers and this is exactly where Indianapolis holds an edge.
Cunningham deploys a number of different looks in order to put his linebackers and his line in a position to make plays. They are asked to blitz, to play man, to sit back in a zone while the defensive backs play man, and they are especially responsible for supporting in run defense.
Donnie Edwards tackles Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
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Outside linebackers Derrick Johnson and Donnie Edwards switch sides according to matchups and the situation, making it very difficult to plan to attack a particular side of the defense. If Johnson and Allen were always lined up on the same side, it would be easy to simply avoid that side of the field on offense. The key, though, is realizing that Napoleon Harris is always lined up in the middle and Manning must adjust to what he sees when he comes to the line.
The book on Harris and Johnson are that they are exceptionally talented athletes that prefer to roam free and pursue the ball. As football players, they do not shy away from contact, but they struggle to take on blockers and are far more effective when they have a clear path to the ball carrier. It is imperative that the Colts put a hat on Johnson and Harris if they are to be successful running the football. Edwards is more comfortable in the running game, so look for Manning to audible away from a run to Edwards' side when Indianapolis runs the ball, preferring to make Johnson and Harris shed their man and wrap up Addai or Keith.
When Manning comes to the line, look for him to use a great deal of motion and shifting, particularly involving the tight end. If the linebacker follows the tight end, meaning the Chiefs are playing man coverage underneath and zone in the secondary, look for Manning to target the tight end, whether it's Clark, Fletcher, or Utecht, since no one on this linebacking corps can cover a Colts tight end man-to-man.
If the linebacker does not follow the tight end, they are in zone coverage and man in the secondary — look for Manning to attempt to make a play, likely off play-action, either over the top or in front of the defender if they are playing off.
Even if Harrison suits up, moving the ball through the air — particularly deep — is going to be a tough task for Manning and the Colts. Cornerbacks Ty Law and Patrick Surtain are big, physical players who are equally adept playing in man or zone coverage. Both men are intelligent and crafty — Law has experienced considerable success against Manning — and they understand that the key to slowing down the potent passing attack of Indianapolis is to jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage and not allow them a clean release.
Surtain and Law will attempt to punish whichever Colts receiver they encounter at the point of attack. They will harass the Colts receiver up to and including the five-yard limit and are well known for their physical play against receivers.
Surtain was one of the last corners in the league to adapt to the illegal contact rule. The theory is that if they can intimidate the receivers for Indianapolis, their physical play will have a cumulative effect over the course of the game, to the point where Colts receivers are shocked to not encounter contact as they attempt to enter their routes.
The gamble in crowding the line at cornerback is that it only takes one missed bump and one clean release to result in a big play. Enough big plays will soften the secondary and force Cunningham to show Indianapolis more true Cover 2 looks, where safeties Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard are liabilities in the deep passing game, as evidenced by their poor performances against the Broncos and Packers. Going along with their physical mentality, Surtain and Law pride themselves on run support and their skills helping against the run.
If the Colts are able to have success in the running game and if their receivers are able to come clean at the snap, the Chiefs cornerbacks are liable to be caught looking into the backfield, particularly on play-action, and find themselves with little or no help over the top. But that's a lot of "ifs."
Ultimately, it will be up to each individual wide receiver to run crisp routes, be cognizant of their reads, and fight off the physical attacks of Law and Surtain for Manning and Indianapolis to find success in the passing game.