Chiefs LB Anthony Hitchens on preparing for the Colts
This season, defensive lineman Chris Jones has reshaped his body, revamped his diet, set sack records and put himself at the forefront of the minds of opposing offensive line coaches and coordinators. But he hasn’t forgotten his personal pain and bitter disappointment of the last postseason.
Not only did the Chiefs fall after building a 21-3 lead against the Tennessee Titans in last year’s playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium, but Jones has carried the added agitation of torn knee ligaments suffered before halftime.
“It’s huge for me to overcome what happened last year against the Tennessee Titans,” Jones said. “I still wear that heavy on my heart. That was a big thing last year. Me going down, I felt like I let the team down. It still bothers me.”
A second-team All-Pro interior lineman, Jones has been waiting a year to truly make amends. He’ll get his chance on Saturday, leading the Chiefs’ pass rush in hot pursuit of star quarterback Andrew Luck.
“Be aggressive. Attack them. Stop the run, make them one-dimensional,” Jones said of the Chiefs’ keys to success against the Colts.
Jones, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound third-year pro, set an NFL record with at least one sack in 11 consecutive games this season. He recorded a team-high 15½ sacks, the third-highest total in the league.
The Chiefs’ defense tied for the NFL’s team lead in sacks (52) with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Meanwhile, the Colts’ offensive line has allowed the fewest sacks (18) of any team in the league this season. Last week, they kept a Houston Texans defensive front that included All-Pro pass rusher J.J. Watt and Pro Bowl selection Jadeveon Clowney without a sack in the AFC Wild Card playoff game.
“You’ve got the team that leads the NFL in sacks and the offensive line that leads the league in fewest sacks, so a great challenge, good on good,” Colts coach Frank Reich said during a conference call with reporters. “Obviously, I’m just like any other head coach. You feel like games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage, so that certainly is going to be a big part of the game.”
Colts rookie guard Quenton Nelson earned a Pro Bowl selection in his first professional season out of Notre Dame and has already garnered analysts’ praise as one of the top linemen in the league.
“He’s a great athlete,” Chiefs rookie defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi said. “I met him briefly — I don’t think he’d even recognize me — when we were at the (NFL scouting) combine. I could tell he was going to be a good player.”
Asked what stood out last winter about Nelson, rugged run-stuffer Nnadi answered plainly, “He’s a big, strong man.”
Indy’s offensive line has allowed Luck to pass for 4,593 yards and 39 touchdowns after a severe shoulder injury sidelined him for the entire 2017 season.
The Chiefs’ defense applied pressure to opposing quarterbacks on 28.1 percent of dropbacks without blitzing (fifth-best in the NFL), according to ESPN.
“Any time you’re playing a really good quarterback like Andrew Luck is, the more time you can (affect the quarterback) with four, the better off you’re going to be,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “You definitely have to be able to bring more than that on occasion, for a lot of reasons.
“It affects protections. It affects who they can help with, who they can’t help with. This is true in our league: Most of the time when you bring the extra guy, it isn’t so much you get a free runner or he makes a sack. It’s that he affects the other guys — a center can’t help here, a back can’t help there.”
Finding the right mixture of pressure and coverage schemes will be a primary focus for Sutton. Creating one-on-one matchups for Dee Ford, Justin Houston, Allen Bailey and/or Jones has worked in the Chiefs’ favor all season.
“That offensive line, people can argue with you that it’s the best in the National Football League,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You look at the receivers, they’ve got good receivers, they’ve got good tight ends, you go all the way around, their running backs. You’ve got to bring your best.
“That’s what the playoffs are all about. This is the best in the National Football League, which is the best in the world, and you have an opportunity to do that. That’s an exciting thing, but you better bring your best every play.”