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How the Chiefs defense beats the Colts offense

The Nerd Squad breaks down the Colts offense — and a concept we might see on Sunday.

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After a grind-it-out game against the Detroit Lions last week, the Kansas City Chiefs take on a banged-up Indianapolis Colts team in Week 5.

Even though this Colts team doesn’t have Andrew Luck at the helm, Jacoby Brissett is more than capable of moving the ball on offense. The Colts tout a stellar offensive line, a strong rushing attack and a couple of vertical threats that are not to be taken lightly.

Let’s dig into the Colts personnel and a concept we may see on Sunday. Then we’ll discuss how the Chiefs defense can try to slow them down.

The personnel

Oakland Raiders v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Brissett is starting to find his groove in 2019, throwing for 575 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception in the last two games. He’s got a strong arm that can hit every level and enough mobility in the pocket to be difficult to bring down. He’s a solid, steady presence on the Colts offense.

Marlon Mack is the Colts primary running back. Steve Spagnuolo called him a “game-wrecker.” He’s an effective runner outside and between the tackles — and he can catch the ball well. But because of an injury, his status for Sunday is up in the air.

If he can’t go this week, expect Nyheim Hines to get plenty of runs. Hines is more of an outside runner, using his speed to get to the edge — and then outrun linebackers for extra yardage. Jordan Wilkins will also likely get some snaps; he’s more of a plant-and-go runner.

T.Y. Hilton — the other player Spagnuolo described as a “game-wrecker” — has also been limited in practice this week. He’s an incredible receiver that can do damage underneath but thrives in the vertical passing game. Second-year player Zach Pascal has been getting primary reps in Hilton’s absence. Friend-of-the-site Zach Hicks covered Pascal this week in his film room.

Second-year wide receiver Deon Cain is a dynamic player on the outside that could get some looks to put him in space. Rookie Parris Campbell also figures to see some time. He’s a receiver with speed to burn — similar to the Chiefs’ own Mecole Hardman.

At tight end, the Colts have Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox. Both are great blockers and can do damage over the middle — although nothing like saw from the Lions’ tight ends last Sunday.

But it is the Colts offensive line that is the focal point of the offense.

Starting the same five players from last year’s stud grouping, this offensive line can do just about everything asked of them at an incredibly high level. 31-year old Anthony Castonzo will line up at left tackle. He continues to play at a very high level. Second-year right tackle Braden Smith has quickly developed into a very solid bookend as well.

The interior of the Colts offensive line consists of last year’s first-round pick Quenton Nelson, stud center Ryan Kelly, and Mark Glowinski. This year, Nelson has picked up right where he left off in 2018, helping to keep Brissett clean and giving the running game acres of space. Kelly might be the most underrated player on this line — and when healthy, is a dominant center. Glowinski might be the weakest link of the bunch, but he’s still an excellent player.

The offensive concept: Crack sweep

The Chiefs defense has been poor against the run — particularly on stretch runs. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the Colts like to get outside through power runs, outside zone and the concept for this week: the crack sweep.

Frank Reich and the Colts like to operate out of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers) to keep the defense in their nickel and dime packages. They also like to spread the receivers out to keep the defense from putting an extra defender in (or near) the box on early downs.

With the defense spread out, the Colts will motion a play side receiver or tight end back into the formation. Post-snap, the motioned player cracks down on the play side defensive end while the offensive tackle and center pull to the flat. On the play side, the second receiver drives inside to block the linebacker, and the quarterback pitches the ball to the back — with blockers in front of him.

The Colts offensive line is athletic enough to get out into space quickly and keep the smaller defensive backs in front of them to pave the way. Since the pitch is so quick, the defensive end can’t close on the back unless he immediately gets out into the flat — something the blocking receiver impedes.

This is a tough play to quickly identify and try to limit. One thing that can help is for the defensive end to try to impede one of the pulling blockers. Knowing he’s not going to be chasing the play with a blocker in front of him, the defensive end can attempt to knife upfield diagonally, disrupting the second pulling blocker.

Ultimately this comes down to the two defensive backs and the linebacker on that side of the field. As neither are blocked initially, these players have to identify the run quickly and get upfield to either slip the offensive linemen or force a cutback into the heart of the defensive pursuit. The linebacker has to be alert to the receiver’s block and either slip laterally to the flat or run through the receiver in his pursuit.

The bottom line

This has the potential to be a tough matchup for the Chiefs defense.

If Marlon Mack and T.Y. Hilton are healthy and play Sunday night, the Chiefs will have to deal with two dynamic players who are a poor matchup for the Chiefs’ biggest defensive weaknesses.

If Mack and/or Hilton aren’t able to play, the Chiefs defense could find themselves in a bit of a get-right game. Nyheim Hines can stretch the field horizontally but doesn’t pose the same threat between the tackles, allowing the Chiefs defense to shift alignments and try to take away the sidelines. If Hilton can’t play, the Colts will still have speed at wide receiver but they won’t threaten underneath in nearly the same way.

Frank Clark mentioned that Brissett “holds the ball longer than his offensive coordinator would probably like,” so look for Spagnuolo to try out some more delayed blitzes and longer-developing stunts. Spagnuolo has found some success with trap coverages. Against the Colts, he may be able to simulate pressure to force some bad throws.

The Chiefs will have to put a big focus on tightening up their zone spacing this week, because Reich and Brissett like to attack Cover 2 and Cover 3 zones with high/low combinations that stress the underneath defender. Reich has done well designing the route combinations to give Brissett good throwing windows against those zone looks.

If there is any week where the Chiefs defense needs to get on the same page, this is it — particularly with some of the injuries the Colts could be facing in this game. A tighter run defense — and better coverage on the back end — might help push this defense down the right road through the rest of the season.

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