The Chiefs officially enter the single-elimination portion of the season on Saturday. A loss ends the season, and a win moves them a step closer to the Super Bowl and ending a drought that dates back to 1970 (1969 season).
The Indianapolis Colts, winners of 10 of 11 including last weekend’s playoff game, visit Arrowhead Stadium with a track record of success against the Chiefs. The Colts have won all four playoff games between the franchises, including the most recent in January 2014.
Here are the keys for the Chiefs to snap the streak and prevent history from repeating itself.
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Keys to victory
1. Defend the tight end
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw 20 of his 39 touchdowns to tight ends this season, the most in NFL. Eric Ebron caught a team-high 13 touchdown passes, and he ranked second in targets on the team with 110 during the regular season (66 catches). Chiefs All-Pro safety Eric Berry and rookie hybrid linebacker Dorian O’Daniel might not play because of injuries, which could leave the Chiefs with vulnerable matchups.
2. Eliminate turnovers
The Chiefs committed nine turnovers in their four losses during the regular season, including the five-turnover affair on Monday Night Football against the Los Angeles Rams. Two of the turnovers in that game resulted in defensive touchdowns. Turning it over this weekend will give the Colts more opportunities to dominate time of possession and play keep away from Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense.
3. Win first down
The Colts offense rushed for 200 yards last week against Houston, and they converted nine of 14 third downs. Where does the Chiefs defense start in order to slow down this efficient attack? They must hold their ground on first down in order to give itself a chance of getting off the field on third down. The Colts averaged 6.04 yards per play on first-and-10 this season.
4. Mahomes must make plays
The Colts defense has not faced many of the top-flight passing attacks in the NFL this season. In fact, their defense benefited from playing seven of the 10 worst pass offenses according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be crucial to besting a defense which held five opponents to 10 points or fewer this season.
Frank Reich played 14 seasons as a quarterback in the NFL, primarily as a backup for Hall of Famer Jim Kelly on the Buffalo Bills, where he was part of four AFC championship teams. He also played for the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Detroit Lions. The first-year head coach served as offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles the past two seasons under former Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. Reich helped guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship last season. He’s spent 13 seasons climbing the NFL coaching ranks as an offensive assistant.
Colts first-year offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni worked on the Chiefs’ staff from 2009 through 2012, including three seasons as an offensive quality control assistant and one season as wide receivers coach. Reich and Sirianni have implemented a system that emphasizes an effective rushing attack, play-action passing and the short passing game — Andrew Luck had the seventh-fastest time to throw in the NFL. Not unlike the Chiefs, the Colts offense will design plays to get their skilled, fast playmakers the ball in space. The Colts also utilize multiple personnel groups, including a lot of multiple tight end sets, including splitting them out as wide receivers, to create mismatches.
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is also in his first season with the Colts after spending the previous seven with the Dallas Cowboys. Part of his tenure in Dallas entailed coaching linebackers, including current Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens. Eberflus runs a 4-3 scheme with a lot of two-deep safety coverage with linebackers and cornerbacks playing zone underneath similar to the Tampa 2 concepts Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy used as coaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That system places a premium on speed and coverage ability at the linebacker spots. The Colts have gotten creative as far as disguising coverages pre-snap in order to confuse opposing quarterbacks or disrupt their reads.