INDIANAPOLIS – In what will be the final home game for the Indianapolis Colts almost one month, the Kansas Chiefs bring a 1-3 record into Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
Before embarking on a three-game road swing, the Colts will look for their first win of 2011 after three straight one-possession losses.
The injury bug hit the Colts in the past week with four different players (all on the offensive and defensive line) leaving the Tampa Bay game Monday night due to injury.
Rookie offensive tackle Ben Ijalana was put on injured reserve with a knee injury on Tuesday and the Colts signed former 2006 draft pick Michael Toudouze to help the offensive line. Ijalana was playing in relief of left tackle and first-round draft pick Anthony Castonzo, who left the Buccaneers contest with an ankle injury. The club used Mike Tepper at right guard in the latter stages of the game after he had been brought up off the practice squad earlier in the day. Defensively, the club lost Drake Nevis (back) and Eric Foster (ankle) during the game.
It remains to be seen what line configuration will be used as the Colts attack the Chiefs. Through Thursday, the club had not announced its starting quarterback as well. Third-year pro Curtis Painter opened the Tampa Bay game in place of Kerry Collins. Collins was felled with symptoms related to a possible concussion two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. Collins was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly opening the door for a second consecutive start by Painter. Should Painter start, it would the second such opportunity of his career and only his fifth regular-season game. It would be his first start in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Painter threw two touchdowns against Tampa Bay and his 87-yard strike to Pierre Garcon was the fifth-longest pass in franchise history and the longest since Peyton Manning's 86-yard touchdown against New Orleans in 2001.
One of Painter's targets Monday night was Reggie Wayne and with his 59 reception yards he became the 24th player in NFL history to pass the 11,000-yard mark.
Defensively Monday night, the unit spent almost two-thirds of the game on the field trying to contain the Bucs offense. Linebacker Kavell Conner led the team with career-high 18 tackles including 14 solo stops. Conner's 42 tackles on the season rank second in the NFL, seven behind fellow linebacker Pat Angerer. The third starting linebacker, Philip Wheeler had his own career-high Monday night with 10 tackles as the trio combined for 36 total stops.
Opposing the Colts Sunday afternoon will be Head Coach Todd Haley's Kansas City Chiefs. Even though the Chiefs offense has struggled at times in 2011, Haley brings with him an extensive background on that side of the ball. In 2010, Haley and the Chiefs had a six-win turnaround while capturing the AFC West and improved in many statistical categories.
Quarterback Matt Cassel bounced back from struggles in the first two weeks of the season with back-to-back passer ratings of topping 100.0. Cassel also has excelled in the month of October with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his last four starts during this month.
At the skill positions for the Cassel is a young crop of versatile athletes. Running back Dexter McCluster is averaging 5.9 yards a carry in 2011 and ranks sixth in the AFC with 23.8 yards per kickoff return.
Pro Bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe leads the group of receivers and since 2010, his 17 touchdown catches rank second in the NFL.
In his weekly radio show, Colts vice chairman Bill Polian had high praise for the Chiefs' 22-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
"(Wide receiver) Dwayne Bowe and (quarterback) Matt Cassel had a good day," Polian said. "He's coming into his own throwing the ball. Their offensive line is much improved. They've got Thomas Jones in the running game now and, of course, (Dexter) McCluster, who's a dynamic guy in the return game and from scrimmage, running and passing. But if Cassel picks up the efficiency in the passing game, they will win a lot of games. They have a good defense and what they really lacked last year to go far in the playoffs was a top-notch passing game. So if Matt Cassel is back to what he was when he played in New England, he'll be pretty good. Certainly they're a tough test for us with how banged up we are."
On the other side of the football, the Colts will see a familiar face at defensive coordinator in former New England coordinator Romeo Crennel. The Chiefs play a 3-4 defense and are led on the outside by linebacker Tamba Hali. The unit has allowed 52 fewer points in the past two weeks compared to the first two games with Hali leading the AFC with four sacks.
The special teams are coming off a strong week with kicker Ryan Succop tying a franchise record with five field goals. Cornerback Javier Arenas ranks second in the NFL in punt return yardage.
One key to the game the Colts will look to attack is the minus five-turnover ratio the Chiefs have after four games.
As is normally the case, the Colts have broken the season up in quarters and even though they are off to a rough start in 2011, the course will not change.
"We made some steady progress," Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said. "If you're looking at progress just in terms of improvement, then I think you can see a number of different areas where the guys have literally been in pretty much every ballgame but one. They fought, and they fought extremely hard, and it was a great effort. We've gotten to the point where we've been leading games at halftime, but we have not been able to close them out and finish. We've started decently, we've played good defense, our first halves have been pretty good first halves here lately, but now we have to be able to finish it all. Certainly if we have a lead, (we need) to be able to extend the lead or to be able to keep them at bay. That's something we haven't been able to do as of yet. All-in-all the improvement and everything is great, and that's something we'll build upon, but the bottom-line is winning. We divide this thing into quarters. The first quarter is over with, and there's nothing we can do about that. Now we get the start of the second quarter, and let's see if we can improve. Like anything else, we're going to look at it one game at a time and then add them up in the end."
Colts 19, Chiefs 9 – October 10, 2010
In a contest between two of the NFL's best offenses, it was all about the defense at Lucas Oil Stadium with a little help from Colts running back Mike Hart. Filling in for running backs Joseph Addai (who left the game with an injury) and Donald Brown, Hart ran for 50 yards and scored the game's only offensive touchdown with just more than four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Kickers Ryan Succop and Adam Vinatieri each hit three field goals as the Colts defense dominated the undefeated Chiefs. Even though the Colts were neutralized offensively, four receivers still caught at least five passes. The Colts had seven more first downs than the Chiefs and held Kansas City to one-of-10 on third-down conversions. The win gave the Colts 10 wins in their last 11 games against the Chiefs.
*Colts offensive line against the Chiefs front seven: *The talk around the Colts all week has centered around the offensive line. In Monday's 24-17 loss to Tampa Bay, the Colts finished the game with only one healthy back up offensive lineman. Two players were signed this week, and it is still unknown who will be the five come Sunday. The Chiefs have two former top-five picks at defensive end in LSU products Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson. The play-maker of the defense comes at the hybrid position of the 3-4 with linebacker Tamba Hali. On the year, Hali has four sacks, including two in the Chiefs' 22-17 win over Minnesota last week. One advantage the Colts could have come Sunday is in the running department where the offense has excelled early in 2011, while the Chiefs rank 26th in the NFL in rush defense. Another factor in this match-up is the Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel used to hold the same position with the New England Patriots. He has strategized against Indianapolis on many prior occasions, and Crennel is among the best in the league.
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel against the Colts defense: After having a successful 2010 season in leading the Chiefs to the AFC West title, quarterback Matt Cassel has struggled early on in 2011. His five interceptions are tied for third-most in the NFL and his quarterback rating of 75.2. However, Cassel looked to be back to his old self last week throwing for 260 yards and one touchdown in the Chiefs first win of 2011. He still is in the top half of the league in completion percentage and did not turn the ball over last week. The Colts defense has looked solid in 2011 but injuries hit the defensive front hard last week. The secondary is young and will be tested with big-play threats in the passing game in Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster.
-The Colts have won 10 of their past 11 against the Chiefs.
-The Colts rank third in the NFL with 24 wins during the month of October since 2002.
-Colts running back Joseph Addai can move up to fifth all-time in rushing touchdowns in team history with two on Sunday.
-The Chiefs game marks the final home game for the Colts until Atlanta comes to Indianapolis on November 6.
-Chiefs offensive guard Ryan Lilja was a member of the Colts from 2004-09.
-Chiefs cornerback Donald Washington is an Indianapolis native who attended Franklin Central High School.
-The Chiefs had eight fewer turnovers in the last two weeks compared to the first two weeks.
-Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali leads the AFC with four sacks.
-Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop tied a team record with five field goals against the Vikings last week.
-Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has made playoff appearances with five different NFL teams.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on the small margins of losses by the Colts this year):
"If you check the records and you look back, and I've made the statement where we've been 9-0 or 8-0. There is a very thin line between being 8-0 or 0-8. In the same situation with us, I think it's in line. You look at the stretch of games we had in 2009 where it took us two interceptions against Baltimore to win that particular game and keep the streak going. It took a missed field goal against the Texans to keep that streak going. You just go on and on. There were so many things that happened in those close games where if they would have gone the other way (it) could have been losses. That's where we are today. We're very close and the guys are fighting and scratching. I think we're doing a lot of things well, but not consistently enough. There is a very thin line between winning and losing, and we have to tip that scale."
Colts quarterback Curtis Painter (on what Kansas City presents from the defensive side of the ball):
"They have a good defense. It's going to be a challenge for us much like Tampa Bay was. They aren't an exotic team like the New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens, but they are very solid. They do their stuff very well. It will be a challenge for us, and we'll take this week to find ways to attack it. It will be about us playing good football."
Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney(on the Kansas City Chiefs):
"Obviously, from a record standpoint they are struggling. They have a lot of the same guys they had last year that made the playoffs. We're not worried about what their record is. It doesn't matter to us. All we know is that they are our next opponent and we have to win. If we can get that, we'll move on to our next one."
Colts tight end Dallas Clark(on his general thoughts about the injuries at Tampa Bay):
"That's the ugly part of this game. You never want to end up in a situation like that. Every now and then it happens and, unfortunately, it was that way for us this week. I think the guys that came in did as good as they could considering the circumstances. It's tough to have musical chairs on the offensive line and expect the level of play to stay from where we were in the beginning of the game. That's their job. 'Next Man In' has been our motto."
Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley(on the Chiefs being in a similar position as the Colts record-wise):
"We've had a bunch of adversity ourselves, and we're really just trying to continue to do the things that we know we have to do to keep improving. That's one of our keys. Each and every day and each and every game we keep making progress. I feel like we've done that to this point, and we just have to keep focused on that and understand that we're playing a team that knows how to win football games. (The Colts) have a number of really good players and a bunch of great ones, too."
Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley(on not getting mercy from opponents considering records and injuries):
"You feel for the players that go down because these guys invest so much in their teams. Our guys here invest so much on being part of this team and making it a good team. When you see guys like Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki, anybody that's gone down, you feel first for them because this is what they've worked so hard for, and now they don't get the opportunity to get out on the field and help their teammates. As far as the outside, nobody really does care. You don't get a 'pass-go card'. You have to figure out a way to get results in a result-business."
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel(on being in a similar situation to Curtis Painter when he backed up Tom Brady in New England):
"It was tough at first because at first. You're really trying to establish yourself with your teammates. From there, once you start playing and showing those guys you can play, the trust level goes up. Everyone starts to believe in you and you go from there. I know that (Curtis Painter) is probably going through a lot right now in his situation, but he's done a great job throughout his career, and I'm sure he'll continue to do a great job."
Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel(on Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis):
"You have to take them into account of every single play. They are two outstanding players on opposite sides of each other. They just happen to be on the same team. I think every offense that comes to (Lucas Oil Stadium) or (plays them at their home) you have to take account for them, be aware of them and not be foolish with the ball."