Colts best defense against Chiefs might be on offense

Sep. 24—INDIANAPOLIS — Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

That could well be the case Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium when the Indianapolis Colts (0-1-1) host the Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) for the home opener.

The red-hot Chiefs enter with the NFL's second-most points scored (71) and fifth-most yards gained (807). They've scored seven touchdowns on their nine trips into the red zone, and star quarterback Patrick Mahomes is completing 73% of his passes with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Indianapolis defense ranks just outside the top 10 with 630 yards surrendered, but it hasn't faced an opponent with this kind of weaponry this season.

Big plays and situational execution will be the order of the day. But the surest plan to contain Mahomes and his mates is to keep them off the field all together.

"No. 1 is gonna be just playing with fundamentals and technique as far as our execution," Colts running back Jonathan Taylor said. "Now, any mistake, they'll capitalize on it, and we already know that their offense is an explosive offense. So for us, not playing great fundamental football, it's not going to end well.

"So we gotta make sure that we do that on offense because we just know that they have a special player over there that can make some things happen."

Indianapolis has scored the fewest points in the NFL (20) and is coming off a shutout loss at Jacksonville. For the offense to turn things around, it needs to perform better in situational football.

The Colts rank 23rd in the league on third-down conversions (8-for-25, 32%) and are 28th finishing drives with touchdowns in the red zone (2-for-7, 28.6%).

Turnovers also have been a major issue. Veteran quarterback Matt Ryan was brought in to bring balance to an offense that had the NFL's second-best rushing attack in 2021 but ranked 26th in the passing game.

The passing offense ranks 10th after two weeks with 504 yards, but Ryan has thrown four interceptions and lost a fumble. It's all part of the general inefficiency that has surrounded the team during another slow start.

"I don't think I'm playing as well as I can, for sure, but I've also learned it's never as far off as you think," Ryan said. "Keep plugging away, get a little bit of momentum and I think we'll be fine. I think the same goes for us as a group. We all need to do our part, just be a little bit better, a little bit tighter across the board, but I have a lot of confidence that we will, and we're going to do that moving forward."

Offensive improvement needs to begin up front.

Ryan has been sacked seven times, and he was under pressure on 40% of his dropbacks last week against the Jaguars. Meanwhile, the running game is averaging 4.5 yards per carry — down from 5.1 yards per attempt last season.

There are two new starters in left tackle Matt Pryor and right guard Danny Pinter, but stalwarts like Ryan Kelly at center and Braden Smith at right tackle have also been part of the problem at times.

The Chiefs rightfully are better known for their offensive exploits, but the defense is opportunistic and tends to make its biggest plays when it gets a push from a front four led by defensive tackle Chris Jones.

"We're only going to be as good as our offensive line goes," Kelly said. "... It's a copycat league, so we put a few things on tape and we've gotta correct them. It starts out there (in practice), and I know we all have the emphasis and urgency to get better."

Stunts and games up front have given Indianapolis trouble early in the season.

It's nothing the Colts haven't seen — and stopped — before, but until they stop the bleeding in the present, they're going to continue to see a healthy diet of switches from opposing defensive fronts.

"As you saw, we struggled quite a bit with the twist game," Indianapolis offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said of the loss to Jacksonville. "That's definitely something we're going to work on this week. We've done well doing that before, but Jacksonville — give them credit. They did well.

"That front four got after us, but we've got to be better up front."

More consistency up front should lead to better results on first and second down. That in turn should make third-down conversions more achievable and keep the offense on the field.

Ball control will be critical in this matchup, but it can't just be time of possession. If the Colts are going to pull the upset and pick up their first win of the season, they'll need to finish drives in the end zone.

This is not a game that will be won with four field goals, and Indianapolis is well aware of the challenge.

Nothing went the way the Colts hoped or expected through the first two weeks. But they're looking at Sunday as an opportunity for a fresh start.

"All the teams go through different points in the season where it's tough," Ryan said. "You've got to come together, you've got to get things corrected and I think we can do it as a group."