Colts defense faces big challenge against Chiefs
Published on -12/19/2013, 10:15 AM
By MICHAEL MAROT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Robert Mathis described Jamaal Charles in many ways.
Explosive. Problem. Mismatch. Someone to track on every play.
He's seen it most of this week when dissecting all the scary film of the Chiefs, and the Colts linebacker and NFL sacks leader must come up with a way to stop the AFC's top runner.
"He can make you pay running the ball, passing the ball, whatever the case may be. He can make you pay," Mathis said.
Contending with Charles is only part of the problem Indianapolis (9-5) faces Sunday in what could be a playoff preview.
The AFC South champs are the No. 4 seed going into Sunday's games.
The Chiefs, still in contention for the AFC West crown, would be the No. 5 seed. If the standings are unchanged when the season ends, Kansas City will visit Indy for wild-card weekend.
With Charles in charge, the Chiefs (11-3) have been rolling. They've scored 101 points over the past two weeks against Washington and Oakland, defenses ranked 20th and 18th. The Colts are No. 19.
And after an inconsistent stretch in which the Colts went 3-3 and were outscored 114-24 in the first halves of those six games, they finally appeared to get back on track with Sunday's 25-3 win over reeling Houston, the front-runner for the No. 1 draft pick.
Now, people are waiting to see if the Colts can do it all over again against a playoff-bound foe with one of the league's premiere weapons.
"He's everything. He drives the bus. Quarterback is the guy, but everything goes through him. As he goes, they go," coach Chuck Pagano said of Charles. "The guy is first and foremost public enemy No. 1."
Injuries could make the challenge even more imposing.
Starting linebacker Pat Angerer went on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday. Angerer was third on the team with 87 tackles despite playing most of this season with a troublesome knee.
Kavell Conner, who was inactive for three consecutive games before Sunday, is expected to replace Angerer.
Two other starters, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (foot) and cornerback Greg Toler (groin), have not returned from their injuries.
Indy's makeshift offensive line is a mess, too.
Starting center Samson Satele (elbow) and starting right guard Jeff Linkenbach (quad) did not practice Wednesday. Joe Reitz, who replaced the injured Linkenbach against the Texans, also didn't practice because he was diagnosed with a concussion.
That's certainly not the ideal way to go into this game.
"I remember last year them having a great defense. They have a lot more wins this year," Luck said, recalling Indy's 20-13 road win over the two-win Chiefs. "They do a great job of creating tough plays for offenses (with) their defense."
In the past six quarters, Luck appears to have finally found a connection with his young receivers and it's resulted in six touchdown passes and just one interception over the past six quarters.
This week, it's the defense that has the bigger test.
Charles is coming off an historic five-touchdown game, averages an impressive 4.8 yards, leads the AFC with 1,181 yards rushing and leads the league in total TDs (18).
Alex Smith is fourth in the AFC in passer rating (91.0) and after losing three straight, the Chiefs have rebounded with back-to-back wins by a combined margin of 60 points.
"They run the ball very well. They do the little things right. That's a tribute to their head coach," Mathis said. "They make you pay if you're not bringing your 'A' game."
All of which begs the question about which is tougher: Stopping Charles & Co. or proving they can finish the season with enough momentum to make a deep playoff run?
"I think it goes hand-in-hand," linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. "He (Charles) is definitely a Swiss army knife. He does it all, and he's definitely tough to stop, so it will be a great challenge for us."