Wildcard Preview: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics WriterJanuary 3, 2007
This Saturday, the Wild Card Weekend will kick off with two high-powered offenses going against each other when the Kansas City Chiefs battle the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs were able to just barely squeeze into the playoffs after a ton of things went their way in Week 17, but head coach Herman Edwards believes that his team deserves to be where they are at. Meanwhile, the Colts are disappointed to have to be playing in the first round after falling to the third seed in the AFC late in the season. The Colts began to struggle after teams discovered they could run the football all day long against them. Peyton Manning knows that he must score as much as possible, and Larry Johnson knows that he will have to pound the Chiefs into the next round of the playoffs.
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Trent Green: 121 of 198 for 1342 yards, 7 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 24 sacks. Damon Huard: 148 of 244 for for 1974 yards, 11 touchdowns, 1 interception, 16 sacks.
Note: Based on these statistics, you're probably wondering why in the world the Chiefs are starting Green over Huard. Every time Huard has come in for Green, he has done nothing but produce. Herman Edwards is staying faithful to his veteran though, and that may not be such a bad idea. The Chiefs need to utilize the clock by running the ball in order to win, and I think they are more inclined to throw the ball if Huard were in the game. Green has much more experience in the league and is the safer pick to lead the team for now. On the same note, if Green gets hurt, they're still in good shape under Huard.
Peyton Manning: 362 of 557 for 4397 yards, 31 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 14 sacks.
Note: There's no doubt that Manning is perhaps the best and most intelligent quarterback playing football today, but he still has the bug of not winning a Super Bowl. This year has been a little different for Manning, because he's had to adjust to life without Edgerrin James, and he hasn't had a third option to throw the ball to in the passing game. The pressure has been on Manning all season long to keep his team on the field due to the defense's vulnerability, and he's stepped it up. Surprinsingly, he's also run for four touchdowns on the season.
Note: If you're looking for a workhorse in the NFL, look no furthur than Larry Johnson. The amount of carries that Johnson had this season is unbelievable, and he's the primary reason the Chiefs were able to get "lucky" and end up making the playoffs. He will be on the field very often, but the Chiefs do like to spell him with Michael Bennett. That has worked well, because Bennett is a very quick back who can catch the Colts poor tackling defense off guard for a big gain. Expect a heavy dose of LJ in the passing game as well.
Note: The Colts have gone back and forth between Addai and Rhodes this season, with Rhodes getting the start most of the time. Although both backs will get their fair share of carries, if it comes down to it, don't be surprised if Addai gets more action. Manning will utilize both of his running backs in the receiving game, much like the Chiefs do with Johnson. Addai makes for a better goal line back than Rhodes, but whoever is in there depends on the package the Colts are running at that point of the game.
Note: Although he doesn't get a ton of publicity, Eddie Kennison has been a fairly reliable receiver for Green and the Chiefs for several seasons now. He's not an icebreaker for opposing defenses, but he's capable of making the big play down the field. The Colts must watch out for Tony Gonzalez, who everyone knows is one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. If the Colts committ too many men in the box, Green won't hesitate to throw to Gonzalez off of playaction any time the Colts leave him in one-on-one coverage.
Note: With Brandon Stokley out most of the season and Dallas Clark battling injury, Harrison and Wayne have stepped up their game once again. They are the best one-two punch of receivers in the NFL, and can always find a way to get open. Manning and the Colts were thrilled to see Clark finally get back on the field in Week 17 and produce, meaning that he should be able to play against the Chiefs. If the Colts get behind early, Harrison and Wayne provide Manning with the ability to score a touchdown within five plays almost at will it seems.
Note: The Chiefs don't have the greatest defense in the NFL, but they are tremendously better than what they used to be. They used to be in a similar situation that the Colts are in now, in the sense that no matter how many points the offense would score, the defense would give up a few more. The Chiefs can penetrate well with their defensive line, led by rookie Tamba Hali and veteran Jared Allen. However, with the outstanding protection Manning always receives, they'll have a tough time reaching him. The Chiefs secondary is full of veterans, but they may all be past their prime. The Chiefs defense will have a tough time stopping the Colts from picking them apart slowly, and will have to rely on someone like Derrick Johnson to stop any third-and-short running plays that Indianapolis runs if they want to force the Colts to punt.
Note: The Colts are ranked second in the league in pass defense, but unfortunately that's only really due to the fact that teams know they can beat the Colts by running the ball. Teams like the Texans and the Titans have been able to shove guys like Ron Dayne and Travis Henry down the Colts' throat, but that doesn't mean that Johnson will be able to exploit them easily. The Chiefs must have a set gameplan, so that they don't fall into the same indecisive trap that the Bengals fell into a couple of weeks ago against the Colts. Indianapolis will have Bob Sanders back in the lineup in all likelihood, which should help the defense from allowing Johnson from getting big runs excessively. The defense needs Manning to put points on the board early, because they're most effective when teams are forced to throw the ball when they're behind, allowing guys like Dwight Freeny and Robert Mathis to pass rush.
Dante Hall: 22.8 yards per kick return, 8.9 yards per punt return, 1 touchdown. Lawrence Tynes: 24-of-31 in field goals, with a long of 53 yards.
Note: Dante Hall has not been able to reproduce the magnificent return game season he had several years ago, only scoring once this season on special teams. That's not to say he isn't a threat anymore, but teams have figured out his antics and have been able to contain him better. Tynes has been reliable enough for the Chiefs this year, and has the leg to make a kick from beyond 50 yards in the dome. He's already connecting on a game winning kick against the Chargers earlier this season.
Terrence Wilkins: 24.5 yards per kick return, 9.2 yards per punt return, 1 touchdown. Adam Vinatieri: 25-of-28 in field goals, with a long of 48 yards.
Note: Although you don't think of the Colts as having a strong return game, Wilkins has had a couple of nice returns this year. The biggest signing of the offseason for the Colts was Vinatieri, which was set up specifically for the playoffs. The Colts were sick of Mike Vanderjagt choking, and would be absolutely devestated if Vinatieri's postseason success did not carry over from New England. The Colts typically don't attempt 50 yarders, where his range isn't the greatest.
Kansas City Chiefs
With the exception of a great day against the Cleveland Browns, Green has not had the type of success he would've liked since returning from injury. Still, he has showed the signs needed to lead the Chiefs, such as his perfect throw off of the flea-flicker to Eddie Kennison last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. I doubt a change to Huard would be made if Green struggles to start off the first half. If the Chiefs are relying on Green to throw very often though, something's wrong. Why?
Because of Larry Johnson. if the Chiefs win this game, Johnson will have to be the one that carries them there. On paper, I know Chiefs fans have the belief that it will be an automatic 200-yard performance by Johnson. As easy as it may look on film, the Chiefs have to operate a smart gameplan to run out the clock and execute when it counts. With how good everyone knows the Colts offense has been, one punt for the Chiefs could end up meaning a 14-point deficit they are forced to rally from. At that point, the Colts will give them the run to let the clock continue to run.
Kansas City's defense can't rely on their cornerbacks to cover man-to-man if they want to bring the blitz, which unfortunately means they'll have a difficult time stopping Manning from moving the ball down the field. Manning has been forced into a couple of turnovers down near the red zone this season, something the Chiefs will have to try and diagnose closely. Manning gets sacked less than once a game, only making things tougher on the Chiefs defensive line. The issue with the Chiefs defense is that they are finally good enough to play well against non-potent offensive teams, but they don't have enough to stop the elite.
Peyton Manning counts on his offensive line to provide him protection, a big reason he's able to deliver the ball so accurately. The Chiefs' defense will be kept off balanced by the constant audibles that Manning calls at the line, whether it be a run or a pass. The problem with defending Manning is that he's smart enough to go deep if he knows that he has man-to-man coverage, but will always dump it over the middle if teams play zone and give him those routes.
The Colts have gotten much better at establishing the running game as the season has moved along, but it is still not the same as it was with Edgerrin James. If it comes down to it, the Colts would much rather take the chance of Manning throwing the football at crunch time than taking a chance with Addai and Rhodes on the ground. In the playoffs, I expect Manning to try and get points on the board quickly with the passing attack, and then utilize the running game once his defense is able to force a punt.
I know it seems like everyone is making a big deal about Bob Sanders returning to the game. Will it suddenly allow the Colts to stop Johnson every time he gets the ball? Certainly not, but he is one of the team's best tacklers in the open field. As I've said, once Johnson gets past the linebackers, Sanders could be the last guy he has to beat. More times than not, Sanders will be able to at least slow down Johnson.
AFC Wildcard Prediction
Winner - Indianapolis Colts
The Colts are a perfect 8-0 at home this season, while the Chiefs are 3-5. I don't see how this game could possibly be low-scoring, because both offenses match up so well against the opposing defenses. If the Chiefs want to have any chance at winning this game, they'll need Green to play a heck of a game. Everyone already knows that Johnson is a lock to have a big day, but there will be some third-and-longs that Kansas City encounters, whether it be from a penalty or a rare stuff at the line by the Colts. Even with Green executing on third downs, the Chiefs still have to find a way to stop Manning. This isn't the Chargers or the Ravens that Manning has to deal with; the blitz won't reach him and the coverages won't fool him enough. At least for this week, Manning will be able to carry his team to victory. Final Score: Colts 41, Chiefs 30.