Wild Card Weekend Preview: Kansas City @ Indianapolis

Jamaal Charles had a stellar campaign for the Chiefs in 2013

The first of this weekends four Wild Card games is an AFC tussle in Indianapolis between the AFC south champion Colts and wild card post-season entrant Chiefs. While the Colts prevailed 23-7 when these two teams met a fortnight ago this match-up promises to be a close one between a pair of teams who finished with equal 11-5 regular season records. Keep reading to find out what to look for when each side has the ball as well as some background on their respective seasons.

The Match-up

Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (11-5)

Lucas Oil Stadium

4.35 PM (ET) Kick Off 

When Kansas City has the ball..

Quarterback Alex Smith was acquired in the off-season from San Francisco by first year Chiefs coach Andy Reid and Smith certainly hasn’t disappointed. Smith threw for over 3,300 yards in the regular season as well as tossing 23 touchdown passes as he’s effectively managed the Kansas City offense and limited game changing mistakes. Smith has good mobility for a quarterback (431 yards rushing on the season) and as a veteran player he also has experience of playing in the play-offs from his time with the 49ers. He does however lack a big arm, which can often lead to the Chiefs offense being less dynamic than Reid would ideally like.

Running back Jamaal Charles is the biggest weapon on the Chiefs offense and his ability to pose a threat in both the running and passing game makes him a nightmare to game plan for. Not dissimilar to Brian Westbrook, a running back Reid drafted and developed in Philadelphia, Charles has game changing speed and the vision to spot the smallest of openings when carrying the football. He’s amassed 1,287 yards rushing in 2013 in addition to leading the team in receptions (70) and adding 693 yards through the air. Charles also has 19 all-purpose touchdowns this year so if the Colts are to keep KC in check they’ll have to keep more than one pair of eyes on #25 throughout.

The Indianapolis defense has at times proved leaky although encouragingly they finished the season strong by allowing just 10, 7 and 3 points to the Jaguars, Chiefs and Texans respectively. Robert Mathis finished the season with an NFL leading 19.5 sacks so the Kansas City offensive line led by last April’s first overall draft pick Eric Fisher will have it’s work cut out trying to keep Smith upright. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman also had a good season for the Colts D, racking up 126 total tackles and forcing six fumbles as well as recording two interceptions. Those two aside the group is unheralded and relatively unknown so this could be a big opportunity for someone in the unit to really make a name for themselves.

When Indianapolis has the ball..

The Colts struck gold when they selected quarterback Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III with the first overall pick in 2012 and although the young gunslinger lost his first play-off start last season he has so far been a huge success in the NFL. Even with star wide out Reggie Wayne lost for most of the year Luck amassed 3,822 passing yards and threw 23 touchdowns opposed to just nine interceptions. The former Stanford QB also rushed for 377 yards and four touchdowns, helping to demonstrate his ability to make plays with his feet as well as his arm.

Indy made noise before the trade deadline when they sent a first round pick to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson but unfortunately that transaction hasn’t worked out nearly as well for the Colts with the sophomore averaging a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. Donald Brown has proved far more effective, scoring six times on the ground while accumulating 537 yards rushing at an average of 5.3 YPC. Without Wayne Luck is slightly short of options on the outside although T.Y Hilton did top 1,000 yards receiving on the season.

The Kansas City defense was almost the polar opposite of Indianapolis’s, beginning the year strong before faltering down the stretch. While the unit only gave up slightly more than 19 points per game during the regular season they shipped 27, 23 and 31 points in their final three games. Statistics aside the Chiefs defense boasts a number of stellar names including safety Eric Berry, cornerback Brandon Flowers and outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (11 sacks each). Berry especially is a player to watch as he frequently made plays in 2013, running two interceptions back for touchdowns and racking up 4.5 sacks.

Special Teams

Kansas City’s returners had an excellent year with Dexter McCluster bringing two punts back to the house and both Quintin Demps and Knile Davis returning kick-offs for scores. Kicker Ryan Succop had a steady year although that was overshadowed by his miss from 41 yards against San Diego last week, a kick that would’ve seen the Chargers eliminated from play-off contention and Pittsburgh gain the sixth seed.

The Colts didn’t return any punts or kick-offs for touchdowns this season but they did give up one score on a punt return, something that will encourage McCluster in particular. Indianapolis does however probably hold the edge at kicker with Adam Vinatieri being widely recognised as the best kicker in NFL play-off history after the Patriots won three Superbowl’s largely on the back of his last minute efforts.

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