INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Line up and trade haymakers with one of the NFL’s true offensive heavyweights? Or go all rope-a-dope?
Have Jacoby Brissett limber up his right arm and keep up with Patrick Mahomes? Shoot, they share the NFL lead with 10 touchdown passes.
Or lean heavily on Marlon Mack and a running game that had been one of the league’s most productive before stumbling in Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders? Structure a game plan that accentuates ball control and limits Mahomes’ possessions and opportunities?
Nick Sirianni didn’t offer a page-by-page breakdown of the game plan Brissett will follow Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts meet the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium, but the second-year coordinator made one thing crystal clear.
That game plan probably will be more aggressive than methodical and will reflect the identity of the offense.
“Our game has never been to try to hold the ball,’’ he said. “It’s not to hold the ball or it’s not to be ultra-aggressive. It’s to play the game that we think we need to play to win the football team as a team, obviously.
“The way we think about that first as an offense is how we are going to beat their defense. But we have to play our game the way we know how to play our game.’’
Brissett agreed. Do nothing special against a special opponent, but whatever you do, do it at a high level.
“It’s honestly just play our game,’’ he said. “You can’t get into the game where you’re playing offense versus offense or defense versus defense. Just go out there and play football. You put your best foot forward.’’
It’s not a leap to assume Mahomes is going to get his. In 23 career starts, including the playoffs, his offense has averaged 33.1 points. It’s generated at least 30 points in 17 of his starts and breached the 40-point mark six times. He’s tossed at least two TDs in 18 games and had a streak of 14 straight games with at least two snapped last week in Detroit when he came up empty.
Lost amid the lopsided nature of the Chiefs’ playoff win was the fact the Colts sacked him four times and held him without a TD pass for just the third time in his career.
Still, he’s the ultimate challenge and a unique one.
“It’s kind of cool to see some of the stuff he does,’’ Brissett said. “Hopefully, he doesn’t do it this week, but the things that he can do with the ball, it’s very impressive.
“You just watch and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I can’t do that,’ but it’s fun to see somebody else do that.’’
The NFL’s reigning MVP is surrounded by high-end talent: tight end Travis Kelce, wideouts Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson, running back LeSean McCoy. And there’s Tyreek Hill, another game-breaker. He’s missed the last three games with collarbone injury but returned to practice Wednesday.
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus noted the Chiefs run a “unique’’ scheme with their pre-snap motion, but added, “they have a skillset that’s unmatched in the NFL. Their speed is on display, and they use space to create for those players and get the ball in space to those players.
“It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for our defense.’’
That in mind, it’s imperative the offense holds up its part. T.Y. Hilton, who might miss a second straight game with a quadriceps injury, insisted it must be a collaborative effort.
“Our defense’s job is to go out there and stop them,’’ he said. “Our job is to put points up.
“It should be a fun matchup.’’
Whether Frank Reich and Sirianni opt to throw it 40 times or run it 30, the overriding issue will be execution.
Do what you do, and do it well.
Oh, one more thing.
Don’t dig yourself a hole.
In the 31-13 loss at Kansas City in the second-round of the playoffs in January, the Andrew Luck-led offense opened with four consecutive three-and-outs. Indy was in a 17-0 hole 3 minutes into the second quarter before Najee Goode blocked a punt and Zach Pascal recovered it in the end zone.
A tight game allows Reich to stick with his game plan, which most certainly includes heavy doses of Mack and Jordan Wilkins. The Colts got away from the running game in the second half against the Raiders, running it nine times while Brissett delivered 25 passes.
In first three weeks, the offense was balance personified: 91 runs, 92 passes.
“Obviously, you don’t want to get into a hole,’’ Sirianni said. “It kind of changes the way you have to play.’’
Regardless the opponent, but especially against the Chiefs, it’s critical to stay ahead of the chains, which means avoiding third-and-long situations which expose Brissett to Kansas City’s pass rush.
The Colts never were able to find a rhythm in January because they never had an answer on third down. After converting a league-best 48.6 percent of their third downs during the season, they were 0-for-9 against the Chiefs. Eric Ebron set the tone by dropping a third-and-2 pass from Luck to stall the opening drive.
Keep it close, execute and, see what happens. The Colts enter the game as 10.5-11-point underdogs.
“You want to stay in one-score games or where you are ahead by one or more scores so you don’t have to change the pace of your game,’’ Sirianni said. “Obviously, we want to be in striking distance or ahead so we can play our game the way we want to play our game.’’
No matter the Xs and Os, look for Reich to be in attack mode from the outset. His aggressive approach probably will be enhanced by the knowledge settling for field goals or punting around midfield won’t be conducive to pulling the upset at Arrowhead.
“Those charts I’m sure will be even more aggressive this week,’’ he said.
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