Kent Sterling studied the Chiefs and Colts matchup, predicted the Colts win, although by a smaller margin, and identified five keys for a Colts victory. The NFL isn’t calculus, so predicting winning the turnover margin as a benchmark for winning isn’t worthy of a gold star from a fifth grade teacher, much less wild applause from football fans.
But for the sake of examining whether Kent has a grasp on the fundamentals of the NFL, let’s take a look at those five keys, and see what effect they meant in the grand tapestry of the ass-kivking the Colts administered today in Kansas City:
1 – Win the turnover battle – The Chiefs are third in the league with 20 picks and #1 in forced fumbles. Oddly, the Chiefs lead the league the turnovers forced and are tied for the lead in least turnovers allowed. As you might guess, they lead in turnover margin with +21. If anyone asks you how the Chiefs have gone from 2-14 to 10-3 in one season, tell them their turnover margin was -24 in 2012 and +21 in 2013. Forty-five turnover turnarounds will bring a few extra wins. Good news for Colts fans is that the team the Chiefs are tied with for least giveaways is the Colts, but the Colts are in the middle of the pack with 21 forced turnovers.
The Colts won the turnover battle 4-0. Two of the turnovers led to Colts touchdowns. Check #1
2 – Get pressure to Smith He doesn’t beat himself very often. The Chiefs top in the NFL with only seven interceptions thrown, and are sixth in fumbles lost. Just because he isn’t going to beat you deep very often doesn’t mean he isn’t going to beat you. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Smith has the NFL’s lowest Average Depth of Target at 6.9 yards. Donnie Avery can get behind people, but Colts fans will remember his sub DHB hands. Let Smith pick you apart underneath, and the chains will move all day long.
Colts pressure caused a rare Smith interception, and caused what sure looked to me like an odd strip sack by Robert Mathis that was ruled an interception. The Colts were credited with four sacks that all seemed to come at the worst time for the Chiefs. Check #2
3 – Keep Luck clean If Luck gets time, he makes good throws. Sunday’s weather forecast in Kansas City is for a high of 26 and winds or 17 mph. Luck doesn’t play in the cold and wind very often, but the Colts aren’t built as a finesse team that requires a precision passing game. Give Luck lanes to run and some time to find check downs, and he will be fine. Hali and Houston are hellraisers, and with a lot on the line, they will be on a mission. Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilous need to keep them out of Luck’s grill.
The Colts allowed one sack that came on the review of a play that was initially called an incomplete pass. Luck’s knee hit the turf just prior to the release. Other than that, for a patchwork offensive line, the Colts did a very solid job of keeping the Chief’s off of Luck. It was a bonus that Justin Houston sat, but solid work by the Colts. Check #3
4 – Cover Dwayne Bowe, Dexter McCluster (who is expected back from injury), and Donnie Avery without help – If the Colts are going to succeed defensively, they need to focus their attention on Jamaal Charles as a rusher and receiver out of the backfield. That means the fewer resources needed to shadow Bowe, McCluster, and Avery, the better chance the Colts defense will have to minimize the space Charles needs to hit the turbo button. Charles has 1,836 yards from scrimmage this season which makes him priority one, two, and three, but if that leaves the other receivers wide open underneath, that’s target practice for Smith.
Bowe, McCluster, and Avery combined for nine catches, 89 yards, and zero TDs on 17 targets. The relentlessly efficient Smith was 16-29 for 153 yards, no TDs, and a passer rating of 41.3 his lowest mark of the season by more than 15 points. That’s good coverage and solid pressure combining to make Smith miserable. Check #4
5 – Get Trent Richardson with ball with somewhere to go – Richardson looked pretty good last week with over 100 yards from scrimmage, and they need to open some holes for his Sunday, or utilize him as a receiver more regularly. Not sure whether the refitted offensive line or if the Texans’ docile defensive pursuit accounted for the improvement in Richardson’s stat line, but the Colts better hope the line is capable of moving guys because taking chances throwing into the secondary leads to turnovers (see number one). If Richardson is going to be productive, somebody needs to block Mike Devito who is excellent against the run.
Okay, this was written before it was a certainty that Donald Brown was going to play, so we’ll allow a enough wiggle room to replace Richardson with “Colts running backs.” Even given that change, the Colts had trouble move the ball on the ground minus the 51 yard touchdown run by Brown. Without that big play, the Colts ran the ball 33 times for 84 yards. That one run made them well in a lot of ways. Check #5
Before this game, it was easy to look at the Colts, post Reggie Wayne’s injury, as a team that could only beat the sub-par competition in the AFC South, but this was the kind of win against a playoff bound team on the road that serves as a great measuring stick for Super Bowl contention.
To earn checks in all five key areas means the Colts are a team on the come who must be counted as a contender for postseason success.