Colts vs. Chiefs: 5 things to watch in Week 3

·8 min read

A large cloud of doubt is surrounding the Indianapolis Colts as they head into their home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.

After getting shut out against the Jacksonville Jaguars, most analysts tend to believe that KC will end up routing the Colts on Sunday. Indianapolis has a 1-1 record against Kansas City during the Frank Reich era. The loss came in the playoffs of the 2018-19 season. It wasn’t known then, but that game ended up being the final time we would see Andrew Luck play football.

The win came in the following season—after Luck’s retirement—when a Jacoby Brissett-led team surprisingly upset the Chiefs in Arrowhead. KC would later go on and win the Super Bowl.

While the frustrations are at an all-time high during the Reich and Chris Ballard era, their teams have shown up and played great teams tough when outsiders thought they had no chance. Think of when the Colts beat up on the Buffalo Bills last season.

Could that happen at Lucas Oil Stadium? Only time will tell. Here are five things to keep an eye on during the matchup:

Will the real offensive line please stand up?

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If Indianapolis is going to improve their offense this early in the season then it comes down to their offensive line. I don’t need to rehash the similar talking point I mentioned prior to the Jags game, but this unit is getting paid too much money to have the struggles they had in Jacksonville.

One of the reasons why people like me thought Matt Ryan would make an impact on this team was because he was leaving a poor offensive line in Atlanta and joining a perceived top unit in the NFL.

But that hasn’t been the case in the first two weeks, leading to pass protection issues for the quarterback.

It will not get any easier for the line when they face the Chiefs. Their first daunting task will be to figure out how to deal with Chris Jones. Danny Pinter has dealt with his struggles at the right guard spot and I expect that KC will look to line Jones up against him often. Ryan Kelly should be looking to help out his teammate often with double teams.

Then that does lead to the tackles Braden Smith, Matt Pryor, and Bernhard Raimann having to not get beat as often as they have this season. Kansas City has a few different edge rushers in their rotation that they will need to handle. Frank Clark, Carlos Dunlap, and the rookie, George Karlaftis have to be grinning after seeing how the Indianapolis tackles have looked this season.

In KC’s first two games, the defense has registered five sacks and 14 quarterback hits. If the Colts are going to pull this off then they can’t afford this unit to play like they have to start the year.

Where are the forced turnovers?

Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union

One of the calling cards for the Colts over the last few seasons has been their ability to get takeaways and change the momentum of a game. In 2021, they had the second most with 33, averaging 1.9 a game.

It’s a very small sample size, but in their first two games, Indianapolis only has one takeaway. That lonely turnover happened to be the play that sparked the 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Houston Texans.

It is plays like this that can help salvage a team when everything is going wrong for them. They help create energy and it gets the entire defense fired up to get back out on the field to get another one. Indianapolis had a couple of opportunities against Jacksonville but they just couldn’t bring in the ball to secure it.

The Chiefs have done a good job at protecting the ball to start the season. Patrick Mahomes has yet to throw an interception and they have only lost the ball once. Everyone knows if you want to win a game then look to win the turnover battle.

The Indianapolis defense can help out their offense by giving them great field position if they can get their hands on the ball a couple of times on Sunday.

Can the passing attack deliver?

AP Photo/John Raoux

While the entire team has played a part if the rough start for the Colts, there are a lot more eyes on the performance that the offense has put on the field. They moved the ball just fine against the Texans but would struggle when they got into the red zone.

Last week, they failed to sustain drives, dealt with three-and-outs, and even when they got into the red zone late in the game, they still couldn’t punch the ball in.

Because of the shutout against the Jags, Indianapolis has averaged 10.0 points per game, the lowest in the NFL. Not only does the offensive line have to improve their play, but this is also just as much on Matt Ryan and his pass catchers.

Jonathan Taylor can do only so much for this unit and if they find themselves in a shoutout with KC, then the passing attack needs to deliver.

It should help that Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce look like they are trending in the right way to play on Sunday. Having Ryan’s right-hand man and the starting rookie receiver back in the lineup lets Frank Reich dive into his playbook.

One thing that does need to happen is for Reich to deliver on his word that he was going to get Nyheim Hines involved in the offense this year. Hines only has four rushing attempts and has been targeted 11 times in two games. That just isn’t enough, especially when Pittman Jr. was out against Jacksonville.

With better pass protection, consistent use of Taylor, Pittman Jr., and Hines, along with the role players stepping up and making plays, that is the remedy to success for the Indianapolis offense.

How do they defend Patrick Mahomes?

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The consistent question for teams when facing Kansas City is how are they going to play Patrick Mahomes? While it looked like defenses may have figured out the answer for the most part in 2021, it is all forgotten with the new-look Cheifs offense without Tyreek Hill. Mahomes is already looking to chase after the MVP award with his 73% completion percentage with 595 passing yards and eight touchdowns.

The biggest key for me will be for the Colts to not only get pressure on Mahomes but make sure to keep him inside the pocket to avoid the chunk plays that he can pick up with his mobility. Gus Bradley will need to scheme up ways that his unit can help get pressure on the edge while DeForest Buckner and company collapse the pocket inside.

The next step will be how do they defend Travis Kelce? To no surprise, Mahomes has targeted his tight end a team-high 16 targets for 13 receptions, 172 yards, and a touchdown. The logical answer does seem to be to double-team him to take away Mahomes’ safety valve.

It’s going to be a four-quarter effort from the defense to slow down the star quarterback but if they want a chance to pull it off in the end then they will need to do their best to make sure they are not gassed by the end of the game.

Does Frank Reich regain confidence from the outside?

AP Photo/Gary McCullough

I am not questioning Frank Reich’s confidence in himself as a coach but more so on can he make people believe in him again? Reich has not only been adored for most of his tenure with the Colts by the fans, but he also was one of the more respected coaches among the media and even across the league. Between last year’s season-ending collapse and the poor start to this season, all of the belief in him has been completely erased.

There is an old saying that history repeats itself. Indianapolis certainly hopes that happens with Reich again. It has been a common theme for Reich and Colts during his time. Their head coach has a 3-6-1 record during the first two weeks of the season in his era. They have climbed out of large holes they dug themselves in to either get into the playoffs or at least have a shot at the end of the season.

It will be a daunting task to pull off the win against a team that most have in the top five of their power rankings but if they can or at least make it come down to the wire then I do believe there will be a different tune for the Colts come next Monday. Especially because they play in the AFC South and are currently just a half-game back of the division lead.

“Just, win baby”, as Al Davis once said.

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire