1. What did the Colts do well the last time these teams met that you think they can do again? What can't they replicate from that game?
Josh Wilson:The last time the Colts played the Chiefs a few weeks ago, the Colts defense was very, very good. They sacked Alex Smith five times and forced four turnovers. Additionally, the Colts secondary was very strong that game. The Colts ran an efficient offense that controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes and they did not turn the ball over. I expect the Colts to continue to play efficient football on offense and to limit the mistakes and turnovers, which they have done all season long. I think that the secondary should continue to play well, as long as they are healthy on Saturday. And while I don't think the pass rush will get five sacks again, they should be able to get to Smith enough.
The biggest factor, obviously, is Jamaal Charles and last time the Colts allowed him to rush for 106 yards and a score and average 8.2 yards per carry, and he also caught 5 passes for 38 yards. The Colts didn't really do a great job last time against him, but the Chiefs just didn't use him enough. I expect that to change this weekend, but I'm not sure the Colts' defense of Charles will change much -- in other words, I still expect that to be a struggle this weekend for the defense.
2. The Colts have been slow starters at times. The Chiefs score a lot of first quarter points. Are there any common themes with the Colts slow starts?
Josh: Absolutely. For a six-game stretch midseason, the Colts were outscored in the first halves by a combined score of 114-24. They finished that stretch 3-3, but it was a huge concern -- the Colts started slow every week. But in the last three weeks, the Colts have completely turned it around and have outscored their competition by the combined score of 53-13.
The major reason for the change has been the Colts offensive scheme. For much of the season the Colts maintained a run-first emphasis and were stubborn to that point, and they wouldn't deviate to a no-huddle, shotgun passing game until late in the game when they were behind. The Colts have run the ball well this year statistically, but it hasn't helped them get ahead in many games (with a few exceptions).
Three weeks ago, however, against the Houston Texans, the Colts opened the game in the shotgun and using the no-huddle, and it had startlingly good success compared to the past six weeks. They have continued to use that offense to open games and that has made all of the difference in the world. They have scored a touchdown on their opening drive in two of the past three weeks (with the only exception being the game against the Chiefs), and that is something they hadn't done a single time over the rough six-game stretch (in fact only scoring more than seven points in the entire first half once during those six games).
3. Seems like the Colts have o-line changes every week. What's it looking like for this weekend?
Josh: Honestly? I don't know. When head coach Chuck Pagano met with the media Monday, he didn't know either. The Colts have indeed had a different offensive line combination every week, as in each of the last six games they have used a different starting combination -- most of the time due to injury, but not always. It is looking likely that the Colts will have every offensive lineman healthy this Saturday (minus Donald Thomas, who was injured in Week 2 and placed on injured reserve), and that gives Pagano a choice.
We know for sure that Anthony Castonzo will start at left tackle and Gosder Cherilus will start at right tackle, as they both have started all 16 games at those positions and have easily been the best linemen on the team. If it were up to me, I would then start Jeff Linkenbach at left guard, Mike McGlynn at center, and Joe Reitz at right guard, but that probably won't be the line the Colts go with.
If I had to guess, I would say that the interior line would be Hugh Thornton at left guard and then McGlynn and Reitz at the other two interior spots. But, again, it's a toss up right now and it's hard to tell who Pagano will actually start. The biggest thing is that he has options now, as everyone is expected to be back healthy.
4. Chiefs fans look at their 0-3 history vs. the Colts in the playoffs with lots of bad memories. How do you remember those three playoff games (January 1996, January 2004, January 2007)?
Josh: I'm sure I remember those games differently than Chiefs fans, as those games bring back great memories.
In 1996, the Colts went to Kansas City to play a heavily favored Chiefs team, and the Colts -- without their best player in running back Marshall Faulk -- fought back and earned a tough 10-7 victory. That was huge. Of course, more Colts fans remember the following week when the Colts lost in heartbreaking fashion in the AFC Championship game to the Steelers, but the win against the Chiefs was just as big and very memorable in itself.
Then in 2004 the Colts again went to Kansas City who again had the better record, and they won a shootout by the score of 38-31. That was the second game in the two-game stretch that I still consider to be the best two game stretch of Peyton Manning's career and the best stretch any quarterback has ever had in the playoffs -- in the first two games of the playoffs that year, Manning's Colts beat the Broncos and the Chiefs and Manning completed 78.6 percent of his passes for 681 yards (12.16 yards per attempt), eight touchdowns and zero picks. He threw for three scores in that game against the Chiefs and it was another impressive Colts playoff victory.
Then in 2007, the Colts opened the playoffs by hosting the Chiefs. The Colts defense had fallen apart in the final month of the regular season and their run defense was awful, and the Chiefs had Larry Johnson -- one of the best running backs in the league. Stunningly, the Colts held Johnson to only 32 yards rushing and the Colts ran the ball well themselves, and even in a game where Manning threw three interceptions, the Colts won in dominating fashion by a score of 23-8, the first step towards their Super Bowl championship that season -- and a huge step toward it, too, as it instilled a ton of confidence that the defense could in fact play well.
Yeah, I remember those three games very fondly.
5. What is one stat that will be key for this game?
Josh: The key stat will be found when looking at Jamaal Charles's stat line. If he gets a ton of yards and touches, then the Colts will be in serious trouble. Charles is the key for the Colts to look out for and his stats will be the ones that are most telling as to how this game goes. Outside of that, the two biggest ones for the Colts are the turnover margin and the number of sacks.
The Colts have been very, very good in terms of turnovers this year, finishing with the fewest turnovers committed in the league. Recently they have forced quite a few turnovers as well, and they will need to force some this weekend. The Colts pass rush is really one of the biggest keys to the defense, as when the pass rush is on the defense looks very good. In the past few weeks, the pass rush has been better than it has been all year, and the Colts need to keep that up if they want to have success defensively this Saturday.
Bonus question: What's your prediction?
Josh: I picked the Chiefs to win the first game between the two, but at the time I said I'd take the Colts if they played again in the Wild Card round. I still think so, and in the past three weeks the Colts have been playing their best football of the season. Their offense actually is starting to look dangerous and their defense has been dominant. I fully expect it to be closer than it was the first time these teams played and it won't be easy, but I do think the result will be the same. I'm taking the Colts over the Chiefs, 27-21.