Into the Hornet's Nest

Posted Oct 9, 2010

Questions of Indianapolis' vulnerability seem silly to Chiefs

Are the Colts more vulnerable right now than ever before? Well, at least more vulnerable since the Jim Mora era ended?

“If they are I don’t see it,” Chiefs head coach Todd Haley answered.

The feeling inside the Kansas City locker room is mutual as well.

It’s seems like a silly question considering the Colts history. For so long, the answer has been a simple one: There’s never been a good time to play the Colts, especially on their turf. The place is loud, the team is talented and, then, there’s also Peyton Manning.

All of those factors are still in play, but this year the Colts seem to be portrayed a bit differently. Indy is sitting with a modest 2-2 record and is 0-2 in the AFC South looking up at Houston. They’re also injured, down to their third option at safety and listing 16 players on this week’s injury report.

Some think that makes a team more vulnerable. Others see a Colts team that has averaged just 3 losses in each of the past seven seasons, see two already hanging on the board, and then do the math.

During his conference call with the Kansas City media, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell hesitated after he was asked the very same question about his team’s vulnerability. The pause, and the extended answer that followed, was understandable given Indianapolis’ current place in the standings.

This landscape represents a new territory for the Colts. Only one time since 2002 has Indianapolis had a losing record after five games. They were 3-4 in 2008 before ripping off nine-straight wins to end the season with an AFC South title.

For a veteran like Brian Waters, Indianapolis’ current situation makes them more dangerous; not vulnerable.

“I think that they’re kind of in that caged cat mentality right now,” Waters said. “This is definitely a new era for them to be in. Over the last 10 years, I don’t know how many times they’ve had a losing record at any point. So, I definitely think this is something that they’re looking at and saying, ‘this is definitely not us.’”

The Colts struggles have come in stopping the run. Indianapolis ranks 29th in the NFL, allowing their opponents to run for nearly 150 yards against them each contest. Last weekend, the Jaguars carved their way to 174 yards on the ground. It’s an area that both Caldwell and DE Dwight Freeney have addressed as needing an immediate solution before the Chiefs come to town.

“It’s inconsistency,” Freeney said. “Sometimes we’ll play great and then all of a sudden a guy is out of his gap and doing something that he’s not supposed to be doing. That becomes a problem when you’re playing against teams that run the ball. You have to be consistent and we haven’t been.”

“Obviously we certainly have to go back to work, there’s no question about that,” Caldwell added. “We’ve been very inconsistent in that area.”

Running the football is exactly what the Chiefs do. The league’s third-best rushing attack will play a key role in keeping Manning and the Colts top-tier offense off the field (411.0 avg. yards per game). Time of possession, third-down efficiency, Red Zone efficiency and playing smart football will all be key factors in Sunday’s contest.

“They are a good team and I think the one thing that we can’t do is get behind and be trying to play the catch up game,” Chiefs QB Matt Cassel said. “We have to be able to control the ball offensively and play a balanced game. It is going to take all the defense, offense and special teams to play together because this is a good team who is playing at home and they have historically been very good at home.”

What won’t be a key factor in Sunday’s game is the current state of the Colts.

 Indianapolis, self-admittedly, is upset with their start to 2010. But they’re also a team that’s accustomed to winning. Winners fight through adversity and know that there isn’t a better place to right a ship than in front of the hometown crowd. They also know not to make rash decisions during troubled times. They’ve had a formula for winning and it would be a shock to see them stray from those plans on Sunday.

“Obviously we’re upset, but we do a good job around here of correcting the problems and moving on,” Freeney said. “You can’t keep dwelling on the past and you have to keep moving on to the next matchup. That’s what we’re going to do.

“Some guys may use that loss last week to motivate them more this week, but I know the way it is around here. We’re already motivated every week. We don’t’ need any extra motivation to win. We understand the urgency of winning every week.”

Since 2000, only three teams have orchestrated 0-4 to 4-0 turnarounds in consecutive seasons. If the Chiefs are going got become the fourth, it won’t be because of a vulnerable Colts team. It will be because the Chiefs are able to put together yet another team victory on the road; one that meshes all three phases of the game.  

As for the Colts, they understand and respect the Chiefs mindset as well. Undefeated teams don’t go down easy; the Colts know from experience.

“The way they’re playing, I don’t think they mind who they play at this point,” Caldwell said.

With the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and the gameday circumstances in play, this Sunday is shaping up to be a great matchup.

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