After having a chance to watch the tape of their game against Jacksonville, the Chief offense really still begins and ends with RB Larry Johnson--and it should. He runs with tremendous vision and balance and seems to know where to go even when an opening isn't there. But he really had two big runs last week against the Jaguars and was kept mostly in check other wise. If the running game gets off to a good start, look for lots of play action calls. The Colt ends are taught to get up field and stop the run on the way to the quarterback so play action is a great way to neutralize them.
The problem their offense is having is finding another option in the passing game besides TE Tony Gonzalez. Veteran WR Eddie Kennison is coming off of a big game against Jacksonville who played man coverage exclusively last week. While the Colts don't play a true cover-2 scheme any more, they still play a zone so the Chiefs won't be able to get deep as much, they'll have to make plays underneath in coverage. This is where they could use FB Kris Wilson a little more in the passing game. It's too bad key backup TE Jason Dunn was put on IR last week. They could really use him as an inline blocker with Wilson working in the passing game underneath.
There isn't any question that QB Trent Green hasn't played that well since he's been back from his head injury. His mechanics have been a little off with his foot work and his follow through on some throws haven't been as crisp. That was very evident watching last week's game. The good news is his revamped offensive line with two new tackles (LT Jordan Black and RT John Welbourn) played well last week against a stout Jaguar defensive line. Black, in particular, played very well. The Colt defense is one of the most vanilla in the league as they use a straight 4-3 scheme and they rarely blitz. So if Welbourn and Black can control DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Green will have time to throw the ball.
We're expecting Johnson to run the ball as much as the offensive coordinator Mike Solari will call his number in the game against the league's worst run defense. But they'd better hope they win the coin toss to they can get a lead in this game. The Chief offense isn't built to play from behind.
The Colt offensive line doesn't give up many sacks and blitzing QB Peyton Manning is a waste of time because he gets rid of the ball so quickly with his three or five step drops. The bottom line is the Chiefs will have to win the battles up front with four man pressure. DEs Jared Allen, who is coming off of a terrific regular season, and rookie Tamba Hali will have to win some of their battles.
You can expect the Chief cornerbacks, Ty Law and Patrick Surtain, to get physical with the Colt receivers. That's the only real chance they have to slow them down. But the Surtain and Law don't have enough speed to keep up with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. It's essential that they get help over the top and to keep those receivers in front of them.
The Colts can take whatever approach they want in this matchup because Kansas City doesn't match up well against them. The key for the Colt offense to get the balance in the run and pass game that they're used to having. As we noted above, teams aren't likely to blitz Manning much because he gets rid of the ball so quickly.
But a key for the Colt offensive line will be the matchup between LT Tarik Glenn and RDE Jared Allen. Allen is their best pass rusher and will have to have a big game for Kansas City to have any chance to slowing down the high-powered Colt offense. The Chiefs don't have to necessarily have to get sacks but they have to make Manning get rid of the football before he wants to when he goes back to pass. The Colts don't use a traditional fullback so it's imperative that RBs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes handle their pass protection assignments. Addai has surprisingly been mostly pretty solid in pass projection this season. That's yet another reason why the coaches were willing to get him on the field sooner than most rookie backs. Teams simply won't put a rookie back out there if he can't block. That was a major problem for Larry Johnson earlier in his career.
If the Chiefs use a safety over the top to take away the deep pass, look for TE Dallas Clark to be more active in this game as well and the receivers would also run shorter routes which is something they could certainly do. Keep in mind the team lacks a reliable third receiver with veteran WR Ricky Proehl out so Clark could see more of that role. The backs could also get more involved in the passing game with dump off passes and screens if the down field passing game is taken away.
If the Colts can get their crowd behind them in the noisy RCA dome, that certainly could make it difficult for the Chief offense on Saturday. As well as the Chief tackles have played of late, they haven't faced the speed and edge rushers like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. No end in the NFL jumps the snap count better than Freeney (we still can't understand why no other ends in the league have been able to do what he does in that area) and LT Jordan Black will have his hands full. Freeney will cause his share of false starts for Black will have to be disciplined all game especially if he can't hear the signals.
But the Colt run defense is where it all begins and ends with their problems. They simply don't have the depth or talent at defensive tackle to slow teams down. Most teams like to rotate four and some times five tackles throughout a particular game so that the key players don't wear down. With DTs Montae Reagor and Corey Simon out of the picture, the team only dresses four tackles and starter Raheem Brock is a natural end who really should be playing outside, not inside. While not making an excuse for the Colts, it's very hard to overcome that. They simply don't have the bodies to keep Brock and Anthony McFarland fresh. That's why the Chiefs will pound the ball inside all game if possible to get the Colt interior defenders gassed. And the Colt linebackers are undersized. WLB Cato June, according to league sources, is around 210 lbs currently.
What the Colts want to is to get off to an early lead and take Kansas City out of their identity which is clearly to run the ball. The Colts have a bend but don't break defense and with FS Bob Sanders expected back for this game, it will be even harder to make any big plays in the passing game. Sanders also is an excellent run defender and the Colt run defense is over 20 yard better when he's in the lineup. Just look at the impact he made in their win at New England this season. He's the one true difference maker that their defense has besides Freeney.
Predicted Score: Indianapolis 27-17.
Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks
For a 17-minute audio preview breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of
both offenses and defenses,
For Dallas, one thing we wanted to add is that we expect them to use a lot of three receiver sets because of the injuries in the Seattle secondary. This will force Seattle to use deep backups who shouldn't be on the field.
Predicted Score: Seattle 31-27.