There have been a lot of harsh words thrown in the direction of the Chiefs offensive line this season. Experts say the line is underachieving, that it is substandard, and that they are most responsible for Larry Johnson's decline in production before he got hurt.
No such claims will be made in this report. Kansas City's offensive line isn't terrible, it's just average. And in Kansas City, they're used to exceptional.
Damion McIntosh is a decent left tackle. He has the size, wingspan, and hand speed that most teams look for at the position. He just isn't as talented as Willie Roaf and doesn't possess the level of quickness and agility as the former Chief and perennial All-Pro. Brian Waters is fine, he's just not Will Shields. Chris Terry aspires to be above average, but he is certainly no Jordan Black. And the list goes on.
The issue this season is that Kansas City's staff seems to be under the impression that all of those former greats still play for the Chiefs, particularly in the running game. Early in the season, they called the same counters and traps that worked so well for them back in the day, but with considerably less success. Their current crop of offensive linemen is a talented group, but lack the speed, dexterity, and power of their predecessors. With Priest Holmes back as the starting tailback, they seemed to have realized the error of their ways and are now dialing up plays that are tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of their current roster.
The new plays are more straightforward, involve less pulling and trapping, and play directly into the strengths of the Colts defense, ravaged by injury though it is.
While Indianapolis is hopeful that Raheem Brock will be healthy for Sunday's game, Keyunta Dawson filled in well for him against the Chargers and Ed Johnson has been solid, if unspectacular, all season. They will be able to hold up to the interior blockers of Kansas City. Newly signed end Simeon Rice has improved in run defense and should be able to handle McIntosh. And Robert Mathis actually has a favorable matchup, since he gives up far less in terms of height and weight to Terry than he has against most other right tackles he has faced.
For the Colts' defensive line, it will be a simple matter of holding the point of attack, clogging the rush lanes for Holmes, and allowing the linebackers to swoop in and make plays.
In the passing game, the Chiefs have insulated their offensive line all season by keeping their running backs and tight ends in to block. Tight ends Kris Wilson and, to a lesser extent, Jason Dunn have actually served as a "fullback in tight end's clothing" on some running plays and most passing plays. Now that Brodie Croyle is going to be behind center and Priest Holmes is a far more accomplished pass blocker than Larry Johnson, expect this to intensify on Sunday.
Losing Dwight Freeney for the season hurts, but Rice, Mathis, Dawson, and Johnson must step up and pressure the quarterback with just the defensive line, as injuries to the Indianapolis linebackers make rushing too many men a dicey proposition.
Kolby Smith is garnering some attention this week, but Indianapolis is more likely to see a steady diet of Priest Holmes. Given the conservative nature of Herm Edwards, look for both to get their fair share of carries unless the game gets completely out of hand.
However, if the Colts are able to stay in their rush lanes and clog up the line of scrimmage, neither man has the speed, agility, or quickness to bounce the play to the outside and gash them for a big gain.
Smith did have two receptions against Denver, but the running backs, especially Holmes, figure to play a more prominent role as blockers in the passing game than receivers.
It's yet to be determined if Holmes is prepared to carry the load in this offense. He certainly appeared to wear down as last week's game progressed, occasionally looked sluggish hitting the hole, and his yards per carry certainly diminished after he reached 15 carries. He ended up with just 65 yards on 20 carries against the league's worst rush defense before Kansas City abandoned the running game in a failed comeback attempt.
That said, Edwards will look to shelter his young quarterback early in the game and the Colts should commit eight men to the line, daring the Chiefs to beat them through the air.
WR Dwayne Bowe
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Brass tacks? The Chiefs have two weapons: Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe. In order to be successful against Kansas City's passing game, they need to cover Bowe deep and Gonzalez in the intermediate-middle of the field.
Gonzalez no longer possesses the speed he once did, but he is very intelligent, can find the soft spot in the zone, and is a nightmare matchup against any safety or linebacker on the Indianapolis roster. The Colts must therefore spread into a slightly deeper zone with their linebackers and have Bob Sanders help the linebackers the deeper Gonzalez gets. If they are able to keep the talented tight end in front of them, they will get the best of this matchup. If the zones from the linebackers get too soft and Sanders is unable to fill in, Croyle will take every last easy pass over the middle to his trusty security blanket that he can.
Simply put, Bowe cannot get deeper than Antoine Bethea and Kelvin Hayden or Marlin Jackson need to jam him at the line in order to give the defensive line additional time to pressure Croyle. The philosophy behind the Cover 2 is to keep everything in front of you. If Bowe gets behind the secondary, the results could be disastrous. The last thing Indianapolis needs is for Croyle to start getting confident.
Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker were never elite players, even in the heyday of this offense. Now, they are without Trent Green and are two years older and slower. If the Chiefs somehow manage to beat the Colts with Kennison and Parker, they deserve the victory.
Conventional wisdom says that you rattle a young quarterback by blitzing him relentlessly and bringing as much pressure as possible &mdash preferably up the middle. Conventionally, the Colts have produced pressure with their front four and blitzed only on occasion, preferring to make the quarterback work in order to beat them.
Which philosophy wins out? Hopefully, for Indianapolis, they will stay in their conventional Cover 2 defense. Not only will Herm Edwards drill Croyle on hot reads until he is worn out, young quarterbacks don't seem to understand that they should relent to the pass rush, hit the deck, and take the sack.
If the Colts overcommit to blitzing Croyle, he may bounce out of the hands of the first defender and head down the field. Or worse yet, Croyle could keep his eyes upfield and hit Bowe deep behind the coverage
While Dwight Freeney has a fantastic reputation and is a tremendously talented pass rusher, losing him for the season to the injured reserve list does not kill the season... or the pass rush. Indianapolis can still get to the quarterback, regardless of how many players they keep in to block.
Like most young quarterbacks, Croyle holds the ball too long. If he does not have a compelling reason to release the ball, such as a defender in his face, he will continue to hold it and look down the field, hoping something opens up. In the event that the Colts defense holds up, he will not have an easy completion in sight. In a perfect world, Indianapolis would make Croyle earn every yard that the passing offense gains.
The evidence has shown that it is easier to make a young quarterback concentrate and make intelligent decisions for four quarters than it is to attempt to rattle him with blitzes and pressure up the middle. In a blitz situation, Croyle will simply fall back on his hot read &mdash most likely Tony Gonzalez. But, he may break contain and look for a wide open Bowe deep.
To prevent that from happening, the Colts need to play straight defense in passing situations, rushing four and dropping seven. They must force Croyle to be consistently efficient to move his offense down the field and score points
When Croyle drops back to pass, his reads will go, in order, Gonzalez-Bowe-Gonzalez. If none of his options are open and Indianapolis has not already collapsed the pocket, he will either look in the direction of Parker and Kennison or start over from the beginning with Gonzalez.
If the Colts are able to stack the box, force Croyle to beat them, and force him to be consistently effective, all they need to do is wait. A battle against a young quarterback is a war of attrition: You simply need to wait them out, and eventually they'll flinch and make a mistake.
Should Croyle flinch and make a mistake, the Colts need to take full advantage of that and convert that opportunity into turnovers and punts. Even though they're banged up on defense, they should be able to withstand a young quarterback, an old running back, and a number of lackluster wide receivers.
If they can't stop this Chiefs offense, this foretells disaster against a more potent offense should the Colts make the playoffs.