What we’re watching for: It’s time for Colts to start stacking wins
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium:
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stacking wins: OK, we’re repeating ourselves. For a third time in seven weeks, the Colts backed away from the ledge by securing a “must win,’’ this time against the Titans. As important as it was, it loses its impact if they can’t find a way to follow it up with another win. This is where we point out Indy has yet to win consecutive games and as Chuck Pagano has pointed out, “stacking wins’’ is critical to any team with serious playoff aspirations.
“The fight for consistency is a focus,’’ Andrew Luck said. “We know that and we know we have to put games together, winning games together, positive games together.’’
The Chiefs are on a serious roll. Since opening last season 1-5, they’ve won a league-best 15 of 18, including the playoffs.
There’s no overstating the importance of the Colts interrupting Kansas City’s impressive run. A win would even their record at 4-4 and could lift them into a three-way tie atop the AFC South with Houston, which is 4-3 heading to Sunday’s home game with Detroit, and Tennessee, 4-4 after embarrassing Jacksonville Thursday night.
Taking care of business: The Colts still insist on making things more difficult than they need to be. To stretch their winning streak over the Titans to 10 straight they had to overcome 1) 12 penalties for 131 yards, 2) at least four dropped passes and 3) rookie Chester Rogers’ misadventures returning punts. Here’s where we mention the 131 yards in penalties were the third-most in team history and the drops upped Indy’s total to a league-high 16.
That simply cannot continue, especially against a team the caliber of the Chiefs. Unlike the Colts, Kansas City rarely beats itself. It is among the least-penalized teams in the league (33 as opposed to Indy’s 58 in one more game) and is a plus-7 in turnovers.
More option for Luck: The Luck-led offense ranks No. 9 in total yards (372.4), No. 7 in passing (273.6) and No. 4 in scoring (27.7). And let’s remember Luck passed for 353 yards and three TDs against the Titans without Dwayne Allen, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett.
Allen will miss a second game with an ankle injury, but Moncrief and Dorsett return against the Chiefs. We’ve considered Moncrief’s five-game absence with a fractured left scapula a major blow to the offense, which has found a way to be productive without the 2014 third-round draft pick.
Now, Luck’s options in the passing game increase, and that’s never a bad thing. T.Y. Hilton is looking forward to playing with a stronger supporting cast.
“I won’t get as much coverage my way,’’ he said. “It will be great to have them back; I know they can’t wait to be back.
“I can’t wait to have (Moncrief) out there, have his excitement out there making plays. It will be different at first, but once he gets going I just can’t wait to watch him.’’
Even though Moncrief and Dorsett should lift some of the load off Hilton’s shoulders, he must remain a factor. The Chiefs secondary features cornerback Marcus Peters, who leads the NFL with five interceptions and has a league-high 13 over the past two seasons. He’s returned two for touchdowns.
Hilton ranks 5th in the league with 45 receptions and 3rd with 689 yards, but we’d like to see him climb off the roller coast. His game-by-game yardage total: 79, 41, 174, 42, 171, 49, 133.
What of the ‘D’?: It’s been said if you’ve got nothing nice to say about someone or something, say nothing. But we can’t ignore the defense. No matter how much success Luck has against a deceiving Chiefs defense – 23rd in yards allowed, tied for 11th in scoring – it will be mitigated if Ted Monachino’s bunch is unable to deal with quarterback Alex Smith, running back Spencer Ware and wideout Jeremy Maclin.
Despite the looming challenge presented by the Chiefs, Monachino is more concerned his defense cleaning up its act.
“It’s going to continue to be about us and how we solve our own issues and how we take care of what we need to take care of to get better,’’ he said. “We have to play with great discipline in this game just like we have to all the time.’’
The defensive front will be without two key components. End Kendall Langford’s streak of 135 consecutive appearances, the NFL’s longest among defensive linemen, ends due to a lingering knee issue. Henry Anderson will miss a second straight game with a knee injury.
History lesson: Two stats that will mean absolutely nothing shortly after kickoff but are interesting nonetheless. The Colts have won 13 of the last 15 in the series with the Chiefs, including the epic 45-44 decision in a 2013 wild-card matchup in the most recent meeting. And while Smith has a 74-57-1 record as a starter, including the playoffs, he’s 0-4 against the Colts.
And the winner is: Colts 30, Chiefs 20. We don’t trust the defense even a little, but the offense has shown recent signs of being potent enough to carry the load. We don’t expect Smith and the Chiefs to keep up.