A lot of things have changed for both teams. The Chiefs completely overhauled their defensive staff and player personnel — including the release of current Colts defensive end Justin Houston. Meanwhile, the Colts lost their star quarterback Andrew Luck to retirement during the preseason — but have adjusted well so far in 2019.
Here are five things to look for while you watch the Sunday Night Football matchup:
1. Pass rush vs. the Colts offensive line
While the turnover in pass-rushing personnel this offseason has led to a dip in production in 2019, the Chiefs are still 10th in the league with 11 sacks. Rotational defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah leads the way with 2.5. The rest are pretty evenly distributed: eight Chiefs players have at least one sack. Ogbah also leads the team with six quarterback hits. The unit is currently 20th in the NFL with 19.
The pass rush may be facing its toughest test of the season. The Indianapolis offensive line has only allowed six sacks this year — sixth-least in the league. They have also given up the ninth-fewest quarterback hits. Their line is anchored by second-year All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson. The battle between Nelson and Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones should be one of the best individual matchups of the game; each may be the best player on their side of the ball.
In last season’s AFC divisional round battle, the Chiefs were able to disrupt the Colts’ passing game with constant pressure. They accumulated three sacks and four passes batted down at the line — three of those coming from Jones. Overall, the defense was dominant and did not allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. Look to see if this season’s unit can replicate that penetration of the Colts pass protection. If so, the game could look very similar to last season’s contest.
2. The running game
The individual running backs on the Chiefs have all shown good flashes at one point or another; it just hasn’t resulted in impressive team rushing statistics. Week 5 could boost those numbers.
For all the talk about how bad the Chiefs run defense is, the Colts are right there with them. Indianapolis has allowed 5.5 yards per rush this season and has given up the second-most first downs in the ground game. The latter should emphasize how easily teams have been able to convert in running situations; the Colts have only had to defend the 20th-most rush attempts in the NFL.
Veteran running back LeSean McCoy has played as well as anyone could have hoped when the Chiefs signed him before Week 1. He leads the backfield with 5.4 yards per attempt and three total touchdowns. He also has 49 touches — the most on the team. Damien Williams — who hasn’t played for two weeks — is second with 31.
Speaking of Williams, he should be ready to roll after missing the last two games. He was a full participant in both practices this week.
Along with the emergence of second-year running back Darrel Williams — who found the end zone twice in Week 4 — the running game should be at full force in Week 5. The last time the Chiefs played at home, they had their best rushing performance of the season with 5.6 yards per carry against the Baltimore Ravens. Look to see if they can duplicate that against an even poorer rush defense.
3. Covering Colts tight ends
No matter who has been quarterbacking for the Colts in recent seasons, they have loved looking for their tight ends. Last season, Colts tight end Eric Ebron had the second-most receiving touchdowns in the league with 13. In fact, 21 of the Colts’ 39 passing touchdowns last year were caught by a tight end. The trend has continued into 2019. The players with the third and fourth-most targets for Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett are tight ends Jack Doyle and Ebron.
Injuries could be playing a factor in this distribution. In the opening week, they lost wide receiver Devin Funchess for the year. Star wideout T.Y. Hilton missed the last game with a quadricep injury and was a limited participant in practice on Thursday. Rookie receiver Parris Campbell has not practiced this week due to an abdominal injury.
With the success the Colts have had on the ground, it is likely that they will deploy multiple tight end sets frequently against the Chiefs; they set up their tight ends well to help in the run game.
The Chiefs defense has struggled with stretch runs this year, and this week may not get easier.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) October 3, 2019
IND could implement a crack sweep, sending the TE in motion before cracking down on the DE. The WR climbs to the LB and the OT and OC pull into space to block DB's. pic.twitter.com/eWybN8Ro1Z
They can also use play-action from these looks to attack where most Chiefs’ opponents have been attacking: the Chiefs defense has allowed the most targets and receptions to tight ends in the league, resulting in the fourth-most yards to that position. Safety Tyrann Mathieu and linebacker Damien Wilson have both been playing well in coverage, so look for them to play key roles in shutting down the Colts’ passing attack.
4. Producing big plays
The Chiefs’ Week 4 game was very abnormal. The offense seemed out of sync — and the big chunk plays through the air to which fans had become accustomed were completely eliminated.
Patrick Mahomes was efficient when targeting the short to intermediate part of the field, but failed to complete a deep pass (20+ air yards) on 9 attempts.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 29, 2019
It was Mahomes' first game of his career without a deep completion.#KCvsDET pic.twitter.com/erVnJ2Nlyo
It was quite the shakeup from the first three weeks of the season. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes had thrown a touchdown pass of 39 or more yards six times in the first three games; his longest completion in the Lions game ended up being just 30 yards.
It ultimately didn’t matter. Mahomes was still able to lead a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter — but it should be a motivation for all players involved in the passing game to bounce back strongly against the Colts.
The Colts have only given up one touchdown pass of over 30 yards — and it came on a screen pass. Their secondary is banged-up, though: starting safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker did not practice either day this week. Look for the Chiefs to take advantage and attack the deep part of the field with their dangerous wide receivers.
5. Arrowhead Stadium in primetime
There are few things better than a night game in Arrowhead Stadium. There’s all the time in the world to tailgate... the lights from the Chiefs’ red helmets... the additional energy of the crowd — knowing the game is being broadcast to a national audience.
The atmosphere is somehow crazier than it usually is — and the team has shown that they respond to it.
Since Andy Reid arrived, the Chiefs are 7-3 in regular-season primetime home games. They have won those games by an average score of 30-19. While there are some heartbreaking losses in there, they have won their last six regular-season primetime opportunities (played on any day besides Thursday) dating back to 2014.
If that isn’t enough to get you fired up, then check out this video.
It sounds like the pre-game festivities will literally be lit — so if you’re attending the game, make sure you follow instructions and maintain Arrowhead’s reputation as the best home-field advantage in the league.