The Herald Bulletin

December 22, 2013

Frightful weather, fearsome Chiefs confront Colts

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

INDIANAPOLIS — The weather outside is projected to be frightful today in Kansas City.

Forecasts call for a high of 24 degrees with a 30 percent chance of snow. That follows a blustery Saturday that included freezing rain among its precipitation.

Perfect elements for the power-running style that Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano believes is necessary for a team to advance through next month's playoffs. The catch is Indianapolis' health at the moment is far from perfect — particularly along the offensive line.

Jeff Linkenbach, Joe Reitz and rookie Hugh Thornton have been ruled out for a 1 p.m. kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs (11-3). That guarantees the Colts (9-5) will start their seventh different combination on the offensive line this season — and the fifth new alignment in the past five games.

That could be a recipe for disaster against a stout Kansas City front led by second-year nose tackle Dontari Poe, but Pagano is in no mood to focus his team's misfortune.

"It's like everybody else. We're not the only team that's pregnant right now," Pagano said. "We got what we got. We got a job to do, and we're going to get it done. Try to find a way."

The only certainty is that Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus will start at the tackle positions, as they have for the previous 14 games this season. Samson Satele appears likely to return to his starting spot at center after missing last week's win against Houston with an elbow injury.

Mike McGlynn — who has replaced Satele at center for the Colts' three best rushing games of the season — likely will return to his regular position at right guard. That leaves Xavier Nixon — a converted tackle who played most of last week's game at right guard after Reitz left early in the first quarter with a concussion — rookie Khaled Holmes and Thomas Austin — a natural center called up from the practice squad Saturday morning — in the running for the fifth starting spot.

Whichever lineup eventually gets the nod will be charged with protecting quarterback Andrew Luck and keeping Indianapolis' recent offensive roll going. Luck has been sacked just once in the past eight quarters, and the Colts are averaging 26.5 points per game in the past two weeks.

"It's really a testament to the resolve and the resiliency of that bunch," offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said of the line's ability to improve in recent weeks despite the rotating bodies. "Coach (Joe) Gilbert has done a good job of keeping guys together and working hard to develop some continuity. Unfortunately but fortunately, we've really just had the policy of playing the best five that are available. And we look to have continued success moving forward."

Now is the time for consistency.

The regular season ends next week at home against Jacksonville, and the Colts remain mathematically alive for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. While the scenarios to make that happen are unlikely to unfold, the No. 2 seed — and an accompanying first-round bye — is a realistic possibility.

But Indianapolis must get past the Chiefs today for many of the scenarios to remain viable.

A year after a 2-14 finish, Kansas City is tied with the Denver Broncos for the AFC's best record. If the Chiefs win out and Denver stumbles against either Houston or Oakland, the league's most recent Cinderella story would enjoy the conference's top seed.

And Kansas City appears to be catching fire at the right time. The Chiefs have scored 101 combined points in blowout victories at Washington and Oakland over the past two weeks. In the most recent win, a 56-31 decision against the Raiders, running back Jamaal Charles scored five touchdowns.

Four of the scores came through the air, as head coach Andy Reid is not afraid to move the speedster around the field to find favorable matchups. Charles found plenty of mismatches last year against Indianapolis, rushing 22 times for 226 yards.

The Colts survived the onslaught by limiting the running back to just one touchdown, escaping with a 20-13 victory that clinched the team's surprising playoff berth. Indianapolis is expecting a similar challenge today.

"Jamaal Charles is the key to this offense," Colts defensive end Cory Redding said. "We all know that. We saw what he did last week against the Raiders. He's capable of being that type of player every single week. We have our hands full.

"We got to stop the run. The defensive line has been doing good this year. We faced a lot of tough backs. So we're ready for the challenge again and looking forward to facing them."