Any Given Sunday
The weekend's biggest upset goes under the Football Outsiders lens.

Any Given Sunday: Colts over Chiefs

Marlon Mack
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

We've come up with some games in Any Given Sunday this year that really stress what you thought you knew about a team. Detroit and Tampa Bay had execrable pass defenses last year, and now they are both much improved. Seattle's passing offense has proven to not be as limited as thought, and DK Metcalf factors into that. Lots of the upsets we've looked at are about things actually changing.

This upset? This upset was about something staying the same.

After drafting Quenton Nelson with their first-round pick in 2018 and Braden Smith with their second-rounder in that same class, the Colts created something they had never previously enjoyed in the Andrew Luck era: a dominant offensive line. It took a bit for Nelson and Smith to adjust to the speed of the game as rookies, but once they did, the Colts began running over opponents:

Indianapolis Colts Run Offense DVOA, 2018-2019
Per Game
2018 (Weeks 1-6) -13.5% 83.5
2018 (Weeks 7-17) 17.7% 125.8
2019 (Weeks 1-4) 10.5% 133.5
2019 (Week 5) -14.6% 182.0

Now hold on a second, McCown -- I imagine you saying as if you're reading this over my shoulder -- why did the Colts kick ass in the run game and get such a low DVOA? Well, imaginary reader, it's because the Colts were playing a team that DVOA has marked for death. The Colts actually wind up with a 5.8% rushing VOA in this game, but because of opponent adjustments, that figure take a different shape. Kansas City's run defense DVOA was 11.1% over the first four games, a figure that not only puts them second-to-last, but that is 3.1% higher (meaing, worse) than 30th-place Miami.

This is with Jordan Wilkins in the game instead of Marlon Mack. Nelson gets the key block at the point of attack, pushing Derrick Nnadi (91) out of the play entirely. Anthony Castonzo (74) leads into the hole and locks down the linebacker on his side, Ben Niemann (56). Mo Alie-Cox (81) completely stalemates defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon. Darron Lee (50) runs to the line quickly, realizes he's got the wrong read, and barely recovers in time to make a play on the ball. Wilkins is still able to fall forward for extra yards.

It's pretty rare that we get to have the time of possession pep talk, but here we go. Sometimes, when a team loves itself very, very much and doesn't want the other team to have the ball, they are able to run massive swaths of clock off and force their opponent into way fewer drives and snaps than they'd normally have. The Chiefs averaged 5.7 yards per play to Indy's 4.5, and had six explosive pass plays to Indianapolis's zero. But the Colts also ran 74 total plays to Kansas City's 57, and when Kansas City came up short on some key downs -- more on this shortly -- they were able to hold the Chiefs off.

The Colts had already started to establish this part of their strategy last season. It helped them become the first team to run for more than 125 yards against the Texans all of last season in the playoffs. When Luck retired, it forced their hand -- this became their main strategy. They're over 167 rushing yards in three of their first five games this season, and using those heavy base sets to get in a ton of play-action. Only San Francisco had run more play-action passes than the Colts through the first four weeks of the season. The Colts lead the league in using 13 personnel -- they have 28 plays in it, while the Titans have 26, and nobody else has more than 14.

Jacoby Brissett may or may not develop into the kind of quarterback that the Colts want to keep -- his contract gives them time to figure that out -- but while he's under review, the Colts have developed the kind of run game that can give them an edge over most of their competition in the AFC South and wild-card race.

Where the Game Swung

If it feels like this game really went dark for the Chiefs in a hurry, well, that's because it did. Our overlords at EdjSports never gave the Colts even a 50% Game-Winning Chance (GWC) until near the end of the third quarter.

Patrick Mahomes' ridiculous touchdown throw in the second quarter, which I am posting here because I like pretty things, was worth 7.3% GWC.

The next major blip was the 53-yard pass interference penalty that Bashaud Breeland brought by mugging Deon Cain downfield. That was 5.7% GWC. Brissett's interception cost 13.5%. Andrew Wylie's unnecessary roughness on third-and-2 from the Indianapolis 37 forced a punt, so it was worth 11.7% GWC. The huge spike right there towards the end of the chart is Kansas City going for it on fourth-and-1 with 5:06 left and failing. Since it was at their own 34, blowing that play alone cost the Chiefs 27.2% GWC.

Kansas City also didn't exactly push the pedal to the metal when they could -- by punting on fourth-and-6 at the Indianapolis 42 with 1:51 left in the first half, they cost themselves 4.7% GWC.

By the (D)VOA

IND 3.3% -23.5% 7.1% 33.9%
KC -18.2% -0.8% 0.4% -17.0%
IND 6.3% -9.3% 7.1% 22.7%
KC -12.1% 0.4% 0.4% -12.1%

As you might have expected, the Indy defense gets a huge bump for what they did against the Chiefs. The difference between DVOA and VOA is not quite as pronounced on the other side of the ball, but you can see the run-heavy game plan playing into the weighting since the Chiefs have been a solid pass defense.

The Degradation of Patrick Mahomes' Supporting Cast

Patrick Mahomes is playing hurt. I know this isn't exactly a universal sentiment because pockets of team-first fans feel different ways, but I think among national writers there is no player more beloved right now and this all sucks out loud.

The bigger issue than Mahomes' injury, though, is the lack of help he's gotten from his supporting cast in the wake of Tyreek Hill's injury and how that has impacted Kansas City's offense.

We actually got some in-season Sports Info Solutions splits for you. Here they are:

Patrick Mahomes: Man Versus Zone, 2019
  Cmp Att Yards TD INT Sack Positive Play%
vs. Man 48 92 674 1 0 4 44%
vs. Zone 55 74 957 8 0 3 64%

Oops, clumsy me, we also added some offensive line tables:

KC's Pass Rush Gets Whipped
Week Pressure
1 21.9%
2 16.9%
3 34.1%
4 25.5%
5 44.6%

We all expected the Kansas City line to take a step back when Mitch Morse left for Buffalo. But with Eric Fisher also hurt, and now Andrew Wylie added to the list of the walking wounded, the Chiefs are down to Mitchell Schwartz, that french doctor, and guys who a year ago wouldn't have been in anyone's plans. Browns washout Cameron Erving has been playing left tackle.

Erving, seen here not being able to pick up a cornerback on a blitz, has been one of many problems for a depleted line. That play also showcases some of the man coverage looks the Chiefs dealt with in this game. Nobody was really open as the play started, and so the play called for winning later in the down. It's a pinwheel with these things.

Meanwhile, with Sammy Watkins missing most of this game, and the Chiefs unable to get easily open players against a heavy man-to-man look from the Colts, Mahomes had to be even more Mahomesian to find his casual 300 passing yards and no turnovers. Mahomes took four sacks, more than doubling his sack rate on the season. In 2018, he took 26 sacks all season. His only single game with more sacks taken was against the Cardinals in Week 10 of last season, when he took five.

Listen, the Chiefs will be fine long-term. Mahomes is still every bit the dominant force he has always been, and their receivers and line will return to health. But they got caught in an ugly spot on Sunday night and the short-term outlook, at least until Hill is back in the fold, will be a little bit murkier than usual. As murky as these things can go when you've got the best young quarterback in the league, anyway.


4 comments, Last at 09 Oct 2019, 3:54pm

1 MASH unit

By the end of that game KC had a hobbled Mahomes, and was missing 2 starting DL, starting MLB, 2 starting OL, WR1, and WR2.

And they were still a 4th and 1 from (probably) taking the lead.

2 The chiefs resemble the 2006…

The chiefs resemble the 2006 Colts. Spoilers...despite the run defense being last in the league, it ended well for them.

4 Where is their Eraser?

The D was a work in progress all that season, especially wtih Bob Sanders injured for like the middle 14 games.  (I think benched former 1st round MLB Rob Morris ended up being a key leader and sub at OLB late in the year as well) I know that statistically, Sanders's presence didn't significantly improve their D output, but the players all seemed to say it made them better as individuals and as a team.  Intangibles?  Self-destructive tackling?  Super speed?

Where will the Chiefs find that in Week 16?

Remember, that D was a major contributor to Manning's first SB win, shutting down multiple dominant run games en route, while the Colts O was efficient but just okay, below the Manning/Moore standard of other years.  The D had one or two picks in the SB (Grossman plus torrential rain... enough said).

3 First six games of 2018

Regarding the first table, for the record, Marlon Mack missed all but one of them with an injury--I think he popped up in the middle of that run, had a very good game, then sat out a couple more.
Also, Braden Smith was playing RG or backup early-on. When Glowinsky solidified his hold on RG and Smith moved to RT (week 5 or 6) and Mack came back, it all fell into place.

To be fair, it's not consistent--some great days and some okay ones....