Can't Run on the Colts?
What Happened in First Two Games
There's a lot of talk, mostly by national media types picking the Indianapolis Colts to win Sunday, that the Colts defense has found the missing link and is playing monumentally better in their two playoff wins than they did the entire 17-week season.
Let's take a look at the offenses the Colts played and Indy's defensive performances.
Kansas City Chiefs. Running back Larry Johnson was runner up for the regular season rushing title behind LaDainian Tomlinson. Against the Colts, Johnson ran the ball 13 times for 32 yards with a long of 6 yards.
The second leading Chiefs runner was Dante Hall, a wide receiver, who had 2 carries for 14 yards.
During the season, Johnson carried the ball a league-high 416 times, an average of 26 carries per game. Hall carried the ball 3 times for a total of 11 yards, including one 9-yard gain.
In total, Kansas City ran the ball 17 times, including a 3-yard loss by Trent Green.
Speaking of Green, he was 14 of 24. Let's see, 24 passes, 17 rushes. That's not a lot. That's because the Chiefs were 1 of 11 on third-down conversions.
Know who the leading receiver was?
The running back.
Johnson had 5 receptions for 29 yards. Tony Gonzalez had 4 catches for 25 yards, and tight end Kris Wilson, who had 15 catches all season, had 2 receptions for 29 yards.
K.C. had 107 yards receiving, 44 rushing and a loss of 25 on sacks: 126 net yards of offense.
So what happened here? Did the Colts, who had the worst rushing defense in decades, figure out something in the two weeks between allowing a career-high 153 yards to Houston's Ron Dayne and the Wild Card game?
The Colts did have a good game plan, but was Kansas City that allowed them to stick with it.
Indy stacked the box with defenders, and Chiefs coach Herm Edwards decided to keep running Johnson into the wall. In their 3 first quarter possessions, Johnson ran on first and second down on two of them, and on just second down (after an incompletion) on the other. Two more came on the Chiefs first two plays in the second quarter, and two more on their first possession in the second half. He ran 8 times in the first half, 4 in the third quarter, once in the fourth.
That strategy put them in obvious passing situations, which the Colts recognized, and Green certainly wasn't good enough to complete important passes -- or many. In fact, he missed guys who were wide open a few times.
So, the Chiefs brought an inflexible game plan and left an overmatched quarterback in the game.
It was much the same story against the Baltimore Ravens.
Jamal Lewis, who didn't have nearly the year that Johnson did but still accounted for about a quarter of Baltimore's offensive output for the season, carried the ball 13 times for 53 yards. Backup Mike Anderson, who had 183 yards on 39 carries all season, rushed for 18 yards on 4 carries.
The two lead running backs averaged nearly 4.2 yards per carry, but, all told, the Ravens rushed just 20 times, and that includes a run by Steve McNair, who ran only once (compared to his glory days). Lewis himself ran the ball an average of just under 20 times per game during the regular season.
Oddly enough, with the previous weekend's film as a guide, Baltimore came out and ran Lewis straight up the middle on first and second down on their first possession (gains of 1 and 2 yards, leaving them in 3rd-and-long). Too bad Brian Billick fired his offensive coordinator early in the season. I can't imagine what coach would call those plays after watching the Colts' last game.
McNair hardly ran, and he was worse throwing: 18 of 29 for 173 yards and 2 interceptions. McNair got sacked twice as many times as he ran (OK, that's only twice, but still).
McNair had a passer rating of 49.9 -- better than Green.
At least McNair could find a wideout. Mark Clayton, the team's regular season receiving leader, caught 6 passes for 73 yards. Next was Todd Heap, a tight end who was the Ravens' second leading regular season receiver. He had 3 receptions for 28 yards. Third was Lewis, who had just 18 catches all year, and he matched Heap's 3 in this game but came up shy in yardage with 24.
Baltimore looked to pass on their next series. McNair scrambled for his big 6-yard run on first down. He completed a 3-yard pass on second, but Heap fumbled, ending that drive and putting a defense that allowed an 11-play opening drive back on the field.
On their third series, McNair threw a 19-yard catch to Clayton. Wow! That worked! Now what? Up the middle twice with Lewis for short gains. Short pass. Punt.
The Ravens were almost as pathetic on third down as were the Chiefs: 2 for 11.
So what did the Colts do here that was so spectacular?
You could say that, like you hear in these parts quite often, they stopped the run and forced the opposing quarterbacks to win the game.
Yeah, but they couldn't stop the run all season. Why could they suddenly stop it now?
Well, they weren't that bad all season. They played the run well from time to time. Mostly when they knew it was coming, and especially against teams with with below average passing games -- like the Patriots still had in Week 9.
So they stacked the box, brought up d-backs and stopped the opponents' main weapons. And the lesser weapons weren't capable of doing enough damage to re-open things for the main weapons. It's mostly obvious stuff you'd expect almost any coach would notice on game films. The question isn't "What did Indy do?" or "What didn't Kansas City and Baltimore do?", but "Why didn't they do it?"
For that, I have no answer. Maybe just bad coaches.
So what can we expect Sunday?
Sorry. You're going to have to wait for the game preview.