INDIANAPOLIS –When Chuck Pagano and his staff lay out the attack plan for each game, the priority list is small – run the ball, stop the run, third-down efficiency and turnovers.
While there may be something that varies per opponent (when playing Denver an emphasis was possession time), those are among core principles for performance – particularly turnovers.
"You try to avoid the friendly fire and not shoot yourself in the foot," says Pagano. "If we take care of the cents, the dollars will come."
If turnovers are currency in the league, the Colts are finding more money in their pockets than a year ago.
This time last year when the 9-5 Colts were visiting 2-12 Kansas City, Indianapolis was in the throes of a minus-12 turnover season (15 takeaways:27 giveaways).
While the record is the same now, Indianapolis is plus-seven (21:14), and its league ranking has jumped from 26th to ninth.
"I think we've improved in that area. I've improved in that area," said Andrew Luck. "(I'm) still not perfect by any means. After games you think, 'Man, that interception, or those interceptions, that really hurt us. That fumble, I can't give up a fumble in the pocket.'
"I do think we've done a better job this year. I think that's been one of the reasons we've won some games."
The Colts have had five turnover-free games this year, the most for the franchise since 2010 and exceeded only by six in 2008 for the most in the past 16 seasons.
Only twice this year have the Colts had multiple turnovers in an outing and 14 for the season is putting Indianapolis on a pace to post only the eighth season in franchise history with fewer than 20.
Indianapolis was one of three 2012 playoff teams that had a minus-ratio, but the other two were minus-one.
"Other than the score, turnover margin is the next biggest tell in wins and losses," said Pagano. "When you finish plus-three, historically you can go back 10, 20 years and you win probably over 93 percent of the time."
A case in point will be seen Sunday across the scrimmage line. Kansas City languished at the NFL bottom last year at minus-24 in ratio.
The Chiefs had 13 takeaways and 37 giveaways, one reason for a 2-14 finish. Kansas City's numbers were matched exactly with Philadelphia's, which finished 4-12.
The Eagles' 2012 field leader, Andy Reid, now patrols the Kansas City sidelines. The Chiefs have made a dramatic rebound in the turnover category and lead the NFL at plus-21 (35:14).
"I'd tell you turnovers, giveaway/takeaway and points are the biggest primary stats that I ever look at," said Reid. "If you score enough points to win the game, that's important. It doesn't matter if it's one point or 10 points.
"Normally, there's a correlation between points allowed and scored with giveaway/takeaway ratio."
Kansas City's 35 takeaways lead runner-up Seattle by two, and the Chiefs rank fourth in scoring defense (18.2).
The Chiefs' 11 return touchdowns are two shy of the NFL seasonal record, and six have come defensively. Kansas City's 140 points off takeaways top the NFL and account for 35.1 percent of the team's overall points.
Pagano is conditioned to look at areas of a stat sheet when he wants to know the story behind a game's outcome.
"Turnovers, first and foremost. Turnovers are (a) huge (category)," said Pagano. "Week-in and week-out, if you look at who usually rushed for more yards in a game, the team that rushes for more yards generally wins the game. Turnover margin and rushing would be two (main indicators)."
FEWEST AND MOST COLTS SEASONAL TURNOVERS
The Colts and Chiefs lead the league with only 14 giveaways. Pagano usually avoids deep discussion on the topic, but praises Luck this year for his protection of the ball.
"Ball security, he's done a great job of that," said Pagano. "He's making great decisions and taking care of that football."
Luck battled Kansas City last year and knows the importance of continued success in the area.
"It's a phenomenal team," said Luck. "They're number one in the league in turnover margin. Coach Pagano preaches turnover margin is a greater indicator of win-loss. I think Coach Reid is doing the same to them.
"They do a great job of creating tough plays for offenses (with) their defense. It will be a great challenge."