The line of demarcation is fairly clear, and says that the Chiefs had one of the NFL’s best defenses right up to the point where Justin Houston was hurt late in the first half in the first Chargers game.
We’ve talked about this before, but the Chargers scored three points in the 28 minutes or so of that game before Houston’s injury, and 38 points in the 32 minutes or so after his injury^.
^ Tamba Hali, you might remember, was hurt earlier in the game.
Anyway, the whole trick of this Chiefs’ playoff game/run is whether their defense is being exposed by good quarterbacks or they are so reliant on a heavy pass rush that the whole thing sort of crumbles without Houston and Hali rushing around the edges.
Houston is healthy again, and it’s reasonable to assume Hali will play even as he’s bothered by a swollen knee. Having both players at or near full strength is just one reason Saturday’s playoff game in Indy will likely look very different than the regular season game at Arrowhead two weeks ago.
If you’re looking for the key for the Chiefs, watch how often they get off the field on third down. If Houston is back to his wrecking ball self, the Colts should have more third-and-longs, and more third downs where Andrew Luck is under pressure.
If you’re looking for good signs for the Chiefs, watch the second Chargers game again^ and you can see some subtle differences in the way they played the crossing routes that’ve been like poison for the defense over the last two months.
^ Also, if you haven’t already, check out Terez’s film room stuff . It’s terrific, like always.
Rivers still had a good day against the Chiefs’ backups — 22 of 33 for 229 yards, three touchdowns and one interception — but it wasn’t nearly as good as his emasculation of the Chiefs’ starters a month or so earlier.
Also, it’s worth noting that the interception came on a crossing route that Ron Parker jumped. Without knowing assignments and such, it’s dangerous to get too detailed, but there were a few other plays the Chargers ran with receivers crossing and/or picking that were defended very well by the Chiefs. One, in particular, came in the second half near the goal line. Saved points.
To me, the Colts are favored for good reason. Winning a playoff game on the road is always difficult, but if you watch the Colts closely, they seem to have made some critical adjustments in the last month or so that have them playing much closer to The Good Colts (wins over the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos) than The Bad Colts (a 38-8 loss to the Rams at home).
Most of the attention there has gone to the offense opening up and playing faster, but the defense (Robert Mathis is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate) has surrendered 20 points total in the last three games.
The Colts have flaws too, of course, and the Chiefs have some significant strengths. The Chiefs can win.
They just haven’t shown that they can be trusted to win this game.