This early in the season, it’s easy to overreact to the win-loss record next to each NFL team’s name. Not every 2-0 team is top-tier and not every 0-2 team is destined for a high draft pick next spring.
However, sometimes a winless team has looked dreadful, and that’s the case with the Indianapolis Colts this year. They’ve scored a league-low 20 points, and the defense hasn’t done much to help their chances in either matchup. They haven’t exactly faced world-beaters either, playing the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
None of that matters to someone like Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. It’s his job to keep his players motivated, avoiding any overlooking of the next opponent. Yet, this isn’t a case of Bieniemy overstating his respect for the team they are playing. He knows the Colts are a more competitive foe than they’ve shown this year.
“At the end of the day, Jacksonville played a better game than the Indianapolis Colts did,” Bieniemy acknowledged to reporters after practice on Thursday. “I expect the Colts to be better, because obviously they have a great head coach in Frank Reich, he’s done a hell of a job. We’ve seen (defensive coordinator) Gus [Bradley], we know Gus, he’s done an excellent job since he became a defensive coordinator in this league. We expect them to come out and be better than what they have shown the previous two games.”
One of the main reasons the Colts have struggled early on is the health of their roster. Key players like linebacker Shaquille Leonard and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. have missed significant time already, but both are expected to play this week.
It would be Leonard’s first game of the year, and Bieniemy knows how much that can boost Indianapolis’ defense.
“He’s one of the most premier linebackers in this game,” Bieniemy praised of Leonard. “Since he’s been in the league, I think he leads the league in punch outs. So he has caused a lot of turnovers, he has made a lot of splash plays, he is a hell of a player. He’s making his grand return, we just want to make sure it’s not too grand.”
In front of Leonard, the Colts boast a defensive line with some notable names — although the members of the front have only combined for two sacks through two games. Yet again, Bieniemy knows that group can be more productive and disruptive than they’ve been.
“The game is won up front,” Bieniemy emphasized. “Those guys got some studs up front, they got the kid number 90 (defensive tackle Grover Stewart), obviously they got big (defensive tackle) [DeForest] Buckner as a three technique, they got (defensive end) Kwity Paye, they have Yannick [Ngakoue].”
It may not be the same level of challenge that the Los Angeles Chargers posed in Week 2, but it’s the next step for the offensive line as they look to reach their potential as a group.
Right tackle Andrew Wylie is embracing that journey, sharing with reporters that the five-man front is actively working towards their ceiling.
“The offensive line is really trying to take big strides forward this year,” Wylie stated. “Protecting Pat and then excelling in the run game. I’d say we’re off to a good start.”
“It’s just a constant elevation of play,” Wylie continued. “We’re pretty harsh on ourselves in the film room, with (offensive line) coach [Andy] Heck. We’re just trying to improve all facets of the game.”
There’s plenty of time for improvement; we’re still only in the third week of an 18-week regular season. So each game is another chance to get better for a playoff run.
That said, this game is more than just that opportunity. It’s a conference game, against a team that is constantly in the mix for a playoff spot. They’ve had slow starts to seasons before under Reich, and then next thing you know, they look like one of the AFC’s best teams.
Bieniemy won’t be overlooking them, and neither should anyone else. He expects a hard-fought battle, with the Colts desperate not to fall to 0-2-1.
“Obviously they haven’t had the best of luck for the past two weeks, but they’re playing at home,” Bieniemy pointed out. “This is going to be a rallying cry.”