Chiefs vs. Colts: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in AFC Playoff Showdown

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IJanuary 2, 2014

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 20:  Outside linebacker Tamba Hali #91 of the Kansas City Chiefs is congratulated by outside linebacker Justin Houston #50 after sacking quarterback Case Keenum #7 of the Houston Texans late in the 2nd half of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on October 20, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In Week 16, the Indianapolis Colts went into Kansas City and whooped the Chiefs, 23-7. Now the Chiefs have to go into Indianapolis on Saturday, Jan. 4 and win a playoff game. 

So, the first key for the Chiefs is to play far better than they did in Week 16. That starts with protecting the ball. In Week 16, the Chiefs had four turnovers. They didn't get a single takeaway, but they did drop a couple of potential interceptions. 

Obviously, not losing the turnover battle by four is going to be key for every team in every game. I'll dig a little deeper for my next keys, but the turnover discrepancy highlight the Chiefs' potential to inspire a much closer game. 


Chiefs' Keys to Victory

Bring Their Best Pass Rush 

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 30: Tamba Hali #91 and Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate after a sack against the San Diego Chargers during the game at Arrowhead Stadium on September 30, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chargers won 37-
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

When the Colts triumphed in Week 16, they did not see the Chiefs' defense at full strength. That is because pass-rushing maestro Justin Houston missed the game with injury. Houston has not played since Week 12, but all signs point to him getting back on the field for this game: 

Along with Tamba Hali, Houston gives the Chiefs the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL. In his absence, the Chiefs have had to blitz more often and expose the rest of the defense.

Houston's importance to this defense can be felt in these numbers: 

Of course, there is now concern over Hali's availability for this game: 

In Week 16, the Chiefs registered just one sack on quarterback Andrew Luck, and they did not do enough to keep him from getting comfortable in the pocket. If Houston and Hali are firing up the field at 100 percent in this game, Luck won't be able to get too comfortable this time around. 


Get Dexter McCluster Involved

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Dexter McCluster #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs jumps over safety Jahleel Addae #37 of the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 29, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Image
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

I don't want to get anything twisted here. Running back Jamaal Charles needs to be the straw that stirs the drink in this game, but there is little concern of that not being the case. 

On the season, Charles led the Chiefs in rushes, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. 

The importance of Dexter McCluster's involvement is to help take away some of the attention off of Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe. In Week 16, the Colts made sure to blanket Charles and Bowe in the passing game, and the Chiefs could not make them pay. 

Outside of the modest, 84-combined receiving yards from Bowe and Charles, the Chiefs caught just 69 yards worth of passes in Week 16. 

The Chiefs have to find a third weapon in the passing game, and McCluster is a good place to start. The Chiefs can run a few short and easy passes for McCluster early and then watch him try to make something happen in space. Even if he can't break free, at least it will give the Colts defense something else to think about. 


Colts' Keys to Victory

Protect the Left Side of Their Defense

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 22:  Running back Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball across the goal line for a touchdwon during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Arrowhead Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Kansas City, Missou
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Chiefs have found great success running behind the right side of their line, and the Colts have struggled stopping anyone on the left side of their defense. 

As Matt Callinan of ESPN points out, the Chiefs are in the top five in the NFL in terms of yards per rush and rushing touchdowns when they rush to the right. Meanwhile, the Colts defense is in the bottom five defensively in those categories when teams rush to the right of the offensive line.

In Week 16, Charles wound up with 106 yards on 13 carries.

Unless the Colts plan on winning the turnover battle by four again, that ease of rushing for Kansas City will be problematic for the Colts. 


Protect Andrew Luck

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 23:  Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts in action during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 23, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This one goes in concert with the Chiefs' first key, but it is important enough that it is worth hitting from both sides. 

Luck has not enjoyed good protection often in his time at Indianapolis. He did, however, enjoy that in Week 16. 

As I mentioned, he was sacked just once on the day, and as Callinan points out, the Chiefs only had six total quarterback pressures in that game. 

That is the fewest amount of times that Luck has been pressured all season. 

If the Colts give Luck this kind of protection once again, he will find ways to break down the Chiefs defense. If the Chiefs can force him to hurry some throws, their defense will stand the chance of getting quickly off the field.