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Chiefs-Colts: 5 questions with the enemy

We welcome Stampede Blue for answers to five questions about the Indianapolis Colts before Sunday’s Week 3 matchup

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Indianapolis Colts. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas City is favored to win. We welcome Chris Shepherd of Stampede Blue — our sister SBNation site covering the Indianapolis Colts— for Five Questions with the Enemy.

1. Without making yourself too upset, briefly explain what has gone wrong for the Colts so far this season?

Well I could be brief or I could actually explain it and why would I get upset? It’s week three. After three weeks last season the Panthers were 3-0, the Sam Darnold reclamation project was all but done and PFF graded him as the seventh best QB in the league. The Panthers finished 5-12 and Darnold eventually split playing time with the corpse of Cam Newton. I’m not sure the Colts are going to be any good at all, but it’s week three and my life is pretty good. Why get upset?

Also, this is hardly the first time this has happened for Colts fans, when you change quarterbacks every off season for five years in a row, this is what you get. Frank Reich’s offense is complex and highly structured. Reich talks about his offense “staying on schedule,” which means getting positive plays on first and second down, setting up a manageable third down that your offense should convert.

Reich isn’t trying to set up third downs. He’s trying to ensure he gets the ball in the hands of his playmakers with the hope that they can make a play and pick up a big chunk of yards. But the offense does its best to make sure that if no one makes a great play, if everyone just does their job, they’ll get positive plays to set up a manageable third down so they can convert and get another three cracks at creating an explosive play. To do this Reich needs to understand what his quarterback needs to distribute the ball effectively and he also has to figure out how to use his new skill position players to stay on schedule. Right now, if they get “off schedule” and find themselves in 3rd and 7+, Reich hasn’t figured out what to do with the team he has this year. Matt Ryan hasn’t figured out who he’s going to rely on when the chips are down and the side effect of those two things is that 3rd and 9 might as well be 3rd and 45- it’s not technically impossible but it feels that way. If you have the same quarterback year after year with the same play caller this process doesn’t have to happen every year, but this is the post Luck era in Indianapolis and that’s been the reality, year in and year out.

Further, the offensive line, a strength of the team since halfway through 2018, has been bad. They have two new full time starters; right guard Danny Pinter and left tackle Matt Pryor. Pryor has had issues dealing with speed around the edge but that’s not the biggest issue the unit has had. In week two they were completely unable to handle stunts and twists from the Jaguars defensive line in the first half. At some point they decided to communicate and started to handle the twists and looked much better- though it was too little, too late. If you look at the stat sheet you’ll see that Matt Ryan was sacked twice, if you watched the game it was because Ryan was desperately trying to wait for the likes of Ashton Dulin and Mike Strachan to get open and because there’s a reason you’ve never heard of those two receivers, they never got open, Ryan held the ball long enough to bake cookies and took a couple of sacks. The good news is that all of the Colts problems on offense seem fixable. The bad news is, they don’t have that much time to figure it out.

On defense... Well most Colts fans online hated Matt Eberflus and were glad when he left. Most Colts fans online are idiots. I’m not convinced Gus Bradley is going to be able to match what ‘Flus did but it’s still too early to know. The problems we’ve seen seem less fixable on defense, time will tell.

Too long; didn’t read: Same stuff, new year.

2. Colts GM Chris Ballard is highly thought of amongst Chiefs fans. How would you rate his performance as a GM so far?

He’s drafted three all pro’s and traded for another. Scouting and drafting, he’s an elite GM but he has failed to fix a couple of issues despite consistently trying to improve them. The biggest being the pass rush. There have been a lot of second round edge defender whiffs from Ballard.

Also there’s this idea that Ballard doesn’t sign free agents, which is false. He does, he just doesn’t do dumb things like pay Christian Kirk, QB money. Legitimate sources linked multiple pass catching free agents to the Colts and I know at least one passed on Indy because at the time the only quarterback on the Colts roster was Sam Elingher, which is a separate issue one that was out of Ballard’s hands.

All in all, Ballard is a fantastic GM. I hope he’s in Indy for a long time to come.

3. Michael Pittman Jr is back in practice after missing Sunday’s game. How vital is he to the Colts passing attack? And who do you expect to pick up the pieces if he can’t go?

How vital is he? He’s the only receiver on the roster with more than 40 career receptions. There are toolsy and talented receivers behind him, Alec Pierce, a second round pick out of Cincinnati seems to be on his way to developing into a good pro but the only stat he’s logged so far is a dropped pass. After he dropped his first pass (a wide open route in the end zone) Matt Ryan threw him a hospital ball over the middle and a Texans safety forgot it wasn’t 2001 anymore and Pierce missed week two with a concussion as a result.

Behind Pierce there’s Parris Campbell, another former 2nd rounder, who just keeps getting hurt. So far he’s been healthy this season but he hasn’t shown any kind of chemistry with Matt Ryan, but that shouldn’t be that surprising given the circumstances.

Behind Campbell there’s a walking, talking lottery ticket- the aforementioned Mike Strachan (pronounced Strawn, somehow). Strachan is a massive receiver who is too big to be as fast as he is. His body control is great too. He’s in his second season out of division three Charleston and while he absolutely dominated the DIII level, he didn’t do it with technique. If he develops, he has the tools to be special, but if we’re being honest most lottery tickets end up being more fun thinking about the possibilities than actually checking to see if your numbers hit.

Then there’s Ashton Dulin, 6’1” 215 with legit 4.43 speed. That said he’s best used running vertical routes and as a blocker on the edge. It’s not often you hear of receivers being touted for their blocking ability but Dulin excels.

So yeah... this offense, really, really needs Michael Pittman Jr.

4. Are there any rookies or unsung players that the Chiefs should be aware of?

If you haven’t heard the name Grover Stewart, the big 1-tech DT makes chicken wings in his sink and so far this season he’s the only Colts defender that’s shown any signs of dominance. This clip is from the preseason but his level of play has carried over.

5. The Colts have lost each of their last 10 games at home as underdogs. At - 6.5, do you expect that trend to continue?

Obviously. The Colts have a strong history of playing poorly early in the season only to improve later. Patrick Mahomes has a strong history of being the best quarterback in the NFL. Anything could happen but I wouldn’t bet on the Colts to win this game with your money.

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