By Dave Anderson – Indianapolis Colts Writer
If the Colts were looking for a measuring stick of their progress from last year, it could not come in a more appropriate form than a trip to Arrowhead Stadium to face the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs in prime time.
The stadium hosted these two teams on a snowy day back in January in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs. The Colts went into the game flying high, having turned their season around from a 1-5 start to reach the play-offs and then plough right on through the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. Quarterback Andrew Luck was back to his best, having already cemented his position as NFL Comeback Player of the Year and, in his first year as a Head Coach, Frank Reich looked like he had been in the role for years. The Colts were media darlings and, on paper, this game looked like it was going to be one for the ages.
The outcome was a beat down of the highest order. The Colts could not replicate any of the traits that made them the form team in the league, as the offensive line was manhandled, the run game was non-existent and the young playmaking defense struggled to make a tackle. Admittedly, the weather conditions were a factor, but this was the same for both teams. The Chiefs ran out 31-13 winners, and even that score was not a true reflection of how far apart the teams were on the day.
Reich now brings his team back into Missouri without Andrew Luck and off the back of a demoralising defeat by the Oakland Raiders in the Colts’ own back yard. The former pastor will know that this has the makings of another humiliation, but the one thing we know about the former Bill quarterback is that he never knows when he is beat.
Make no mistake, the Colts will need to play the game of their lives to beat one of the best teams in the NFL, if not the best. The Chiefs were given a scare in last week’s 34-30 win over the Detriot Lions, so Patrick Mahomes and co will be looking to re-establish themselves as the league’s scariest offense as Halloween approaches.
Although Jacoby Brissett has come in for some criticism from the Colts’ fanbase, there is little justification for him being singled out as a scapegoat as he tries to emerge from Luck’s looming shadow. Brissett is the only QB in the league with multiple touchdowns in every game this year and is tied with Mahomes and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson for the league lead in Touchdown passes on ten. Not bad for a ‘back-up’.
There is no doubt the Chiefs’ defense can be exploited and the Colts will be boosted by the return of their talismanic playmaker TY Hilton, who looks as though he will be good to go after missing last week’s horrible defeat by the Raiders. It remains to be seen, however, whether the wide receiver will be as effective as he can be coming off the injury.
The Colts cannot just rely on Hilton to catch every Brissett pass though, and rookie speedster Parris Campbell will miss out this week (abdomen) meaning there is even more pressure on Deon Cain to finally live up to the hype he has seen building since he was selected in the 2018 Draft. His Rookie season was curtailed by injury, but the Colts have huge expectations for the young wide receiver and his role has been boosted further with free-agent acquisition Devin Funchess recently being placed on IR. There will also be pressure on tight end Eric Ebron, who had three drops last week, something that plagued him in his time with the Detroit Lions before the Colts picked him up and made him a star last year.
How do you plan for Patrick Mahomes? It is a question that has stumped everyone in the league since he took over as starter from Alex Smith in 2018.
Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus will have his work cut out and 2019 has seen a poor start from Eberflus’ young group. The Colts finished last year as the 10th best defense in the NFL according to Football Outsiders, which was a big part of their success. In a year where there were big hopes for rookies and free agent acquisitions like Justin Houston, the same metrics have the Colts at 31 out of 32.
Justin Houston will be hoping that he and his young cohorts improve against his former team, but the Colts enter the game without arguably their two most important defensive players in linebacker and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Darius Leonard, and ball-hawk safety Malik Hooker. Look for the Chiefs to try and exploit Leonard’s absence with tight end Travis Kelce while also utilising their speedy wide receiver crew and the cannon arm of Patrick Mahomes to gain big plays against the young and inexperienced Colts secondary.
Admittedly, I am very much a glass-half-full Colts fan and and am always on the optimistic side of the scale. But I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror if I told you all that I expected the Colts to win in Arrowhead on Sunday night.
I have faith in the abilities of Reich and Brissett but, with the key injuries on the defensive side of the ball and the undeniable talent the Chiefs have on offense, I can’t see the Colts being able to score enough points to keep up with Mahomes and company.
Prediction: Colts 27, Chiefs 34