Five to Watch: Kansas City at Colts

Greg Talmage points out the five key Colts players you should pay particular attention to during Sunday afternoon's matchup with the Chiefs at the RCA Dome. See who he picked and why their performance is of strategic importance to an Indianapolis win this weekend.

Dallas Clark: In last season's AFC Wild Card game against Kansas City, Dallas Clark came up huge with nine catches for 105 yards. In that game, the Chiefs opted to use their safeties to help cover the Colts receivers, leaving Clark in match-ups against linebackers. That didn't work out too well for KC.

Gameplan-wise things may not change much this year. Now Kansas City believes they actually have a linebacker who has the ability to match up well in one-on-one situations against even the best tight ends — OLB Donnie Edwards, a physical player who knows how to use his hands to reroute receivers downfield and has a great feel in zones.

Clark is a favorite short and intermediate target in the Colts' passing game. He's quick off the line and has the foot agility and quickness to avoid the press and can come out of his breaks with a good burst to separate from defenders. Clark also has the speed to stretch the vertical seam. Can Donnie Edwards keep up?

The Colts do a great job of creating mismatches for Clark by moving him around in the formation, so Edwards must do a great job in his individual matchup against Clark. Still, the absence of Marvin Harrison should result in more double teams for Clark. The Chiefs will trust Ty Law to slow Aaron Moorehead without much help and leave the safeties to help in their bracket coverage of Reggie Wayne and to double-team Clark.

Expect Tom Moore, like last week, to implement some funky formations like "trips," spreads and possibly even empty backfields in an attempt to get his playmakers the football.

Josh Thomas/Simeon Rice Duo: All eyes will be on these two. With the loss of Dwight Freeney, defensive ends Josh Thomas and the newly acquired Simeon Rice will need to step up and fill some pretty big shoes.

After being cut by the Broncos, Rice seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder and is ready to prove those who gave up on him wrong. Rice said Thursday, "This is about sending a message. I have something to prove. My being injured, the rest of the league started to look at me differently. People weren't sure I could still perform at the high level I always played at. So this is the appropriate place for me to be to send that message."

Josh Thomas will see most of his action on likely running situations, while Rice will sub in as part of the nickel passage. The man who'll block Thomas/Rice, Chiefs' left tackle Damion McIntosh, has been limited n practice this week with a sore Achilles but is expected to play on Sunday. McIntosh is a big, bulky lineman who uses his wingspan and size to engulf defenders. He's tough to move, but doesn't move all that well himself. So he's more susceptible to the speed rush than the bull. I think that's a positive for Rice.

Colts Left Tackle: Tony Ugoh has practiced all week and it looks as if he will be back at left tackle Sunday. If the Colts decide to give Ugoh another week of rest, then Michael Toudouze would likely step in since Charlie Johnson is unlikely to play this week.

Whoever it is, that person will have one whale of challenge in Chiefs RE Jared Allen. Allen has amassed 9.5 sacks in just seven games this season and has even garnered some Defensive Player of the Year talk. Allen is a relentless, intense, high-motor pass rusher with active hands. He uses those hands and his long arms well to counter and shed blocks.

So the key for the Colts' left tackle will be to use Allen's speed and motor against him by forcing the defensive end to take a wide arc and run him out of the play. Ugoh has played better than expected all season. It will be interesting to see how the rookie plays coming off an injury and against one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.

Colts' punter Hunter Smith
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Hunter Smith and Punt Coverage: According to NFL sources, Indianapolis worked out five players Tuesday at the team's practice facility. Four of the players working out were punters — Paul Ernster, Dirk Johnson, Josh Miller, and Chad Stanley.

The leash on punter Hunter Smith seems to be getting shorter and shorter. He had some really bad punts last week, especially the one that Darren Sproles returned for a touchdown. That kick was too low and really compromised an already shaky coverage unit.

If Hunter continues to have similar performances you might see a change. I'm curious to see how Hunter bounces back in the comforts of the RCA Dome. The Colts' 32nd-ranked punt coverage unit can not afford for their punter to be hanging them out to dry.

Jake Scott: Last Saturday, in-game injuries to OTs Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem forced RG Jake Scott to move from guard to tackle for the first time in 3 years. Jake filled in admirably. With Diem possibly out this week and top tackle backup Charlie Johnson questionable, it will be interesting to see who lines up at right tackle.

One thing in particular to watch with Scott in there instead of Diem will be the run game. Last week, the Broncos had success attacking the edges of the Chiefs' defense, using their zone-blocking scheme to seal off the ends for outside runs, and in the process, helping to slow the Chiefs' dangerous pass rush.

Scott is not nearly the edge run blocker Diem is, so the Colts lose a little here. I'm not saying Jake is a bad run blocker. It's just that blocking as a right tackle is a lot different than run blocking as a right guard. Scott's run blocking attributes such as pulling, getting upfield and using his athleticism to make holes at the second level are exactly what an offensive guard needs to do. But using his size to seal the edge or to maul defenders are more of Diem's game than Scott's.

How this affects the Colts' strategy will also be an interesting component. Most teams run away from RE Jared Hall and towards the right side of their offensive line against the Chiefs. With Scott in there, I'll be curious to see if the Colts opt to do something similar.

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