By Matt Derrick
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It didn’t seem to matter if the Indianapolis Colts need an inch or 30 yards on Sunday night, they simply took what they needed whenever they wanted on the ground in a gritty 19-13 victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Colts rushed for 180 yards against the Chiefs on 45 carries, paced by Marlon Mack with 132 yards. It felt like more than 200 yards to defensive end Frank Clark.
“It’s no mystery what these teams are coming in here to do,” Clark said. “Any time that you look at the box score and you rushing yards and stuff like that as other teams, we understand what other teams are going to look at.”
What other clubs see right now, safety Tyrann Mathieu said, is a Chiefs defense they can dominate on the ground.
“Teams are going to do this every week to us until we figure it out,” Mathieu said. “They’re going to run the ball down our throats.”
The problem starts at the point of attack on the defensive line, head coach Andy Reid said.
“When you win it starts there,” Reid said. “When you lose it starts there too.”
The Chiefs started Sunday night’s game down one starter on the line. Defensive end Alex Okafor did not play with a hip injury. Then a parade of injuries took their toll on the line, with defensive tackles Chris Jones and Xavier Williams both knocked out of the game. At one point Clark exited the game, leaving only four linemen available for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
The injuries took a toll, Clark said.
“These guys, we count on them to make plays and hold down the inside,” he said.
The Chiefs surrendered just 19 points, which normally is enough for a win with a Patrick Mahomes-led offense. But the Colts played keep away from the Chiefs in the second half, holding the ball for a staggering 22:31 seconds compared to 6:29 for the Chiefs. The Kansas City offense had just four second-half possessions.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne, who made his Chiefs debut Sunday night after serving a four-game suspension, said the success of the offense has spoiled the Chiefs. The defense need to pick up the offense on occasion, he says.
“If we could have made one more turnover, give them the ball back one more time or made this stop or that stop, it could have been a different outcome,” Claiborne said. “When they’re not rolling, it’s up to us get them rolling.”
There was nothing pretty about how the Colts offenses manhandled the Chiefs in the second half. The game-defining drive for Indianapolis started with 1:14 left in the third quarter. The 14-play, 45-yard drive ended in a field goal, but consumed more than 8 1/2 minutes off the clock.
The Colts ran the ball 11 times on the drive. The Colts had one of their two pass completions on the drive erased by a pass interference penalty. Twice the Colts converted on fourth-and-1 to keep the drive going.
Clark said opposing offensive coordinators don’t need a deep playbook when the Chiefs consistently allow rushing yards on first and second down that creates easy conversion opportunities.
“What they want to do then?” Clark asked. “Now it’s an easy run, a quarterback sneak tonight as you’ve seen. That makes it easy for the offense.”
At times the Chiefs defensive front found itself overwhelmed by the Colts run game. At moments it looked like the Chiefs had plays bottled up, only to see runners escape their grasp for extra yardage.
Mathieu doesn’t believe the defense’s failings due to coaching or the scheme. It comes down to attitude and pride, he explained.
“As a defense, you’ve got to take pride in being in those situations, being challenged, having some adversity,” Mathieu said. “I like our group, I think we’ve got some tough players, some prideful players, so hopefully this will all stick with us for a while so we can continue to start fast, finish strong, make critical plays, not make critical mistakes.”
Cornerback Morris Claiborne agrees.
“You’ve got to want to go down and tackle,” Claiborne said. “We all as a collective group missed a lot of tackles, left a lot of plays out there that I know we wish that we could have back, but we can’t.”
The NFL is a passing league, but run defense still matters. The Chiefs rank No. 30 against the run, yielding a staggering 155.8 yards per game. The bottom five run defenses in the league own a combine total of five wins. Four of those victories belong to the Chiefs, and the Arizona Cardinals own one. Washington, Cincinnati and Miami all remain winless.
“I’m not really worried about any other team right now because we’ve got our own problems and that’s stopping the run,” Clark said. “At the end of the day, we got to stop the run, man.”
The Chiefs have another difficult challenge next week with Houston coming to town. The 3-2 Texans sit atop the AFC South tied with the Colts after blasting Atlanta 53-32. They rank No. 10 in the league averaging 129.4 yards rushing per game. Carlos Hyde, whom the Chiefs traded to Houston for offensive tackles Martinas Rankin prior to the start of the season, leads the Texans with 310 rushing yards.
If the Chiefs run defense wasn’t already on alert, Claiborne believes Sunday’s performance will serve as a wakeup call.
“I honestly feel in my heart that we will be better, we’ll be better for this loss,” Claiborne said. “We’ll be a better team next week and here on forward.”
If there’s a silver lining for the Chiefs, it’s this: only one playoff team in the 16-game schedule era of the NFL yielded more rushing yards per game than this year’s Chiefs defense. That was the 2006 Indianapolis, who allowed 173 yards per game on the ground on their way to a Super Bowl title.
But the Chiefs know their championship odds become longer unless they find a solution to their ground-game woes.
“We got to pick it up if we want to go where we want to go as a team,” Mathieu said.
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and a contributor for Sports Radio 810 WHB. Follow him on Twitter @mattderrick.