Can the Colts Win On the Road Again vs. the No. 1 Seed Chiefs?
Before the divisional round of the playoffs, Andy Benoit is giving a blueprint for the four underdogs to win on the road. Here’s his plan for the Colts in Kansas City.
Here’s exactly what coordinator Matt Eberflus should tell his overachieving Colts defense this week: We are not letting MVP Patrick Mahomes and his superstar targets, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, beat us. We’re going to play the Cover 2 that we’ve been honing since day one. At times we might align a little softer in it than usual because we’re letting no one over the top. The Chiefs will have to earn their yards in small doses. And if our lightened two-deep looks give up a bunch of five-yard runs to No. 3 tailback Damien Williams, so be it. Yes, he’s running with good vision and deceptive power right now, but we trust that our All-Pro linebacker (Darius Leonard) can make a splash play or two. (This will have to be true in the screen game, too, where Williams is a weapon, especially on misdirection throws away from Hill’s motion.)
The Colts’ biggest concern is Mahomes extending plays, which is why they’ll be staying in that Cover 2. The good news is that Mahomes, great as he is, remains a somewhat inconsistent passer. He’ll miss on a few throws and he’ll have a reckless gamble or two. The Colts must get turnovers here.
What Eberflus can’t say to his players, but that he’ll say to his assistants is: Their lack of edge rushers could be a problem. It already was at times late in that Houston game. They got away with it even against a gifted play-extending QB like Deshaun Watson. But Watson doesn’t have such speedy targets around him. And, let’s be honest, Watson has only a fraction of Mahomes’s arm talent. So it is absolutely critical that Colts linebackers and safeties stay disciplined. They should keep them in Cover 2 often so that the field stays balanced; Mahomes can throw from anywhere to any location. They can send their usual stunts and twists after the Chiefs, but can’t count on those getting home. This game will be decided by whether their coverage survives late into the down.
Mistake-free football should be all it takes for Indy to move up and down the field. Quite simply, this is a bad Chiefs defense. It employs matchup zone coverage that play out like man-to-man even though Eric Berry’s injury woes have left them thin at safety, and even though a lack of talent behind top cover artist Kendall Fuller (who has been up and down this year) leaves them vulnerable at No. 2 and No. 3 corner. (We saw what Indy’s No. 2 receiver, route running aficionado Dontrelle Inman, did to Houston’s shaky corners.)
Kansas City’s run defense is stale and predictable with inconsistent linebackers Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens playing behind two-gapping D-linemen. The Colts rushed for 200 yards against an uber-athletic Texans front seven. As long as their soaring O-line can handle Justin Houston on the edges, the Colts should approach that number again (if they so choose to commit heavily to the run). The ground game is key because, as stellar as Andrew Luck & Co. are in the spread quick-strike passing game, this offense is most dangerous on deep-shot throws that derive from run looks. That’s where burner T.Y. Hilton lifts the defense and where tight end Eric Ebron wins on zone-beating corner routes.
Chance of an upset: 55 percent — and that’s not as bold a prediction as you think. Yes, it’s a 6 seed vs. 1 seed, but that 6 seed is 10-1 in its last 11 games. (That 1 seed, for what it’s worth, is 8-3.)
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