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Two leading offenses collide

The Colts and Chiefs can put points on the board, but will that hold true in the playoffs?

ROGER MILLS
Published January 11, 2004

At one point - nine games into the season to be exact - there was talk that the Chiefs could, should, would run the table and finish with the league's first unbeaten season since 1972.

Months later, however, Kansas City seems mortal. In particular, the Chiefs appear vulnerable to teams committed to running the ball and willing to take a couple of shots at a big play downfield.

That was how the Bengals beat them. That was how the Vikings and Broncos beat them. And entering the second round of the playoffs, that might be the best way for the Colts to beat them.

"The bottom line is that we have to make plays when we get a chance to make plays," cornerback Eric Warfield told the Kansas City Star. "When you're facing a good offense like that, with a quarterback like Peyton (Manning), you're not going to get too many chances, so you have to make them count."

But before the Chiefs can worry about Manning and his receiving corps, they must stop Indianapolis' running game. The Chiefs have allowed 5.2 yards per carry, the highest in the NFL. They allowed 356 yards per game, ranked 29th in the league. In their three losses, Kansas City has given up an average of 38 points.

None of this bodes well for the AFC West division winners because Colts running back Edgerrin James appears to be in form at the right time. James has 249 rushing yards over his past two games.

"The fact that he's had four games where he's been really held (in check) and they've lost all four of them and he's been over 100 yards (six) times and they've won all of them, you have to start somewhere," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. "We, more often than not, try to stop the run although we haven't done a very good job of it."

The Chiefs face the task of slowing an offense that is one of the league's best at a time when it seems to be kicking into high gear.

Kansas City can rely on its ability to put points on the board, its penchant for creating turnovers and the tough outdoor environment in which the Chiefs are 8-0 this season.

The best way to keep the Colts offense from erupting is to keep it off the field. In the regular season the Broncos dominated time of possession, holding the ball for almost 45 minutes in a 31-17 win Dec.21.

Behind the running of Priest Holmes, the Chiefs offense is quite formidable, finishing the regular season averaging 369.4 yards (second in the NFL), just ahead of the Colts' 367.1 ypg (third). Holmes' productivity leads to sustained drives which help the Chiefs defense as much as anything.

"I think when Priest is able to run the ball effectively, it gives everybody confidence," quarterback Trent Green said. "It helps us move the ball. His ability as a receiver has increased over the last couple of seasons. It isn't necessarily handing the ball off to him all the time. It's finding ways to get him the ball in open space."

Speaking of open space, there's the issue of Arrowhead Stadium, which many consider the toughest road venue in the league.

"I don't know what it is about playing here, but it just seems like we're more aggressive and play with more confidence," said linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who played four seasons at South Florida. "Any time you can be at home, it's going to help a defense and hurt the offense you are facing."

Colts coach Tony Dungy said the keys to playing good offense on the road are tuning out the noise and relying on the experience of your players.

"The big thing is that when you go on the road, you have to play offensive football," said Dungy, whose Colts were tied with the Eagles for the best road record in the league at 7-1. "I don't think your defense suffers too much, but most of the time, it's a struggle on offense. ... We have a veteran offense. We can deal with the noise. It hasn't really been a problem for us. We've been able to score points on the road."

So, given the Chiefs' ability to score and the Colts' success on the road, will today's game be high scoring?

"I kind of doubt it," Vermeil said. "If you look at us, we haven't scored 45 points in every game, especially against great defensive teams or real good ones. Nor has Indianapolis. They've played eight games where they scored 23 points or less and won five of them. So, I think we could all be misled if it was going to be a game like we saw them play against Denver."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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