When the Kansas City Chiefs last met the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs were outmatched on both sides of the ball. The Kansas City defense made Donald Brown look like Walter Payton, and Alex Smith was unable to move the ball through the air.
Now that the Chiefs have drawn the Colts for their first round playoff game this Saturday, they’ll have another shot at taking them down. The Colts have been surging entering the playoffs, and the Chiefs will certainly need to change things in all aspects of their game if they expect a different outcome this time around. Here are a few things that must happen if Kansas City wants to advance.
1. Dexter McCluster or Donnie Avery must have a big game.
McCluster and Avery are both speed demons, with the potential to break for a long score at any time. Both have been underutilized for the majority of the season, preventing them from contributing to the Kansas City offense like they have the potential to. While McCluster has been impressive returning the ball this season, the Chiefs must find a way to get him the ball more often as a pass-catcher as well. He’s been more of a possession receiver throughout the year, being called on as Smith’s go-to receiver on third down situations, finishing with only four less receptions than Dwayne Bowe.
Avery, on the other hand, has seen significantly less targets than McCluster, but has done more with the opportunities he has seen. Avery has 13 less receptions than McCluster, but 85 more receiving yards. This shows that on the rare occasions Smith looks to throw downfield, Avery is usually his guy. But, if I’m banking on one of these guys to have a breakout game on Saturday, it’d have to be McCluster off of his sheer volume of looks. Chiefs fans will need to hope one of these guys step up, as Bowe can’t be counted on as the man for the job.
2. Chiefs’ defense must force Andrew Luck to make mistakes.
A Chiefs defense that has looked flimsy in recent weeks will need to force Luck out of his comfort zone if they expect to have a chance to win Saturday. Indianapolis is 8-1 this season in games that Luck doesn’t record an interception, but only 3-4 in games that he throws one or more. With Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers lurking in the secondary, I like the Chiefs’ chances for one or more.
Although they were unable to record one in their previous meeting against Luck and the Colts, a week of game film from Week 16 should enable the Chiefs to make the corrections necessary to put more pressure on Luck this time around. With Justin Houston returning from injury, expect an improved Chiefs’ defense to be all over Luck, and force him to make some ill-advised decisions. Whether or not the Chiefs capitalize on Luck’s gaffes will be the difference.
3. Chiefs’ special teams need to win the field position battle.
Kansas City has excelled on special teams this year, ranking first in the league in kick returns with an average of 29.9 yards per return. Quintin Demps and Knile Davis have consistently set Smith and and the Kansas City offense up with great field position to work with. They’ll need to continue this for Kansas City to avoid relying on Smith’s arm, rather than Jamaal Charles‘ legs.
The Chiefs are no slouch in the punt return department either. With Pro Bowl selection McCluster leading the way, the Chiefs are sixth in the NFL with 11.8 yards per return. Indianapolis is in the middle of the pack in both punt and kick returns, ranking 14th in both.
But, the most crucial aspect of Kansas City’s special teams will be their punt and kick coverage. Forcing Luck to work with a long field will increase the chances of a misfire from last year’s No. 1 pick. Indianapolis is prone to mistakes on offense, and forcing them to work with longer drives will maximize the possibility of these mistakes occurring. If the Chiefs’ special teams continuously force Luck to work from inside his own territory, Kansas City should have a slight edge in this one.
Kyle Pappas covers the Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @KylePap.