Offensive star power headlines Colts-Chiefs showdown
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eric Ebron has seen the forecast for Saturday’s divisional playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs, where even the most optimistic of meteorologists are pegging the chances of rain or snow at about 50 percent.
It doesn’t bother him. The Colts tight end played in plenty of cold games in the NFC North.
“You get past it once you get out there,” said Ebron, who started his career with the Detroit Lions and remembers frigid games in Green Bay and Chicago. “The worst is the TV timeouts. Once that’s over, you will warm back up, but other than that it should be fun. Snow, whatever — I love snow games.”
Even if the cold, wet weather puts a damper on two star-studded offenses.
Most of the attention this week has been on the quarterback showdown between the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Colts’ Andrew Luck, and rightfully so. Mahomes shattered records by the dozen this year, throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns, while Luck tossed 39 touchdown passes while taking the Colts from a 1-5 start to the second weekend of the playoffs.
But neither quarterback would have posted such gaudy numbers had he not had a plethora of weapons at his disposal, along with creative offensive minds to design plays to get him the ball.
Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill set a franchise record with 1,479 yards receiving this year, pulled in 12 touchdown passes and had a league-leading 22 catches of at least 25 yards. Five times he had plays of at least 50 yards, including a 91-yard punt return touchdown against the Chargers in Week 1.
Hill should have his top running mate back, too. Sammy Watkins practiced this week after missing a handful of games with a foot injury, potentially giving Kansas City its No. 2 wide receiver again.
Then there’s Travis Kelce, the All-Pro tight end whose value comes both as a blocker and a dangerous downfield target. Kelce had 103 catches for 1,336 yards this season, briefly setting the NFL record for a tight end, and has caught at least one pass in 79 consecutive games.
“I have a big advantage here that I have a lot of great teammates that can make a lot of plays. I don’t have to try to do too much,” Mahomes said. “Just get the ball out of my hands. Get it to Tyreek, get it to Kelce, get it to all these guys who can make plays and let them do what they have been doing all season long. That’s the biggest thing, not trying to do too much.”
Especially considering what they’ve done all season has been good enough.
“I mean, just their weapons — they’ve got several All-Pro players. They have a lot of good players that didn’t get that recognition,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “There’s a lot of skill on that side of the ball. The scheme is a little bit unique, too, in terms of what they do and how they do it. It’s going to be a big challenge.”
It’s not unlike the challenge the Indianapolis offense presents to the Chiefs, who have been ferocious at rushing the passer but have struggled in just about every other aspect.
T.Y. Hilton shredded the Chiefs defense with 13 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns during their 2014 playoff game, when the Colts rallied from a 38-10 second-half deficit. He had 76 catches for 1,270 yards and six touchdowns in another Pro Bowl-caliber season.
His running mate, Dontrelle Inman, has scored in three consecutive games.
And much like the Chiefs, the Colts have one of the league’s most versatile and dangerous tight ends in Ebron. He had 13 touchdown catches during the regular season, trailing only the Steelers’ Antonio Brown for the league lead, and added another in the Colts’ playoff win in Houston.
Making it all work? An offensive line that allowed just 18 sacks this season.
“Based on the numbers, it’s going to be very challenging,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “It’s like anything, we will have our chances. We have to take advantage of it.”