There’s no need to go crazy and say that the Colts spent last night drawing up the blueprints for how to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, or that running the ball is suddenly the key to winning in the NFL. This was just one game, but it was fun as hell, and it’s worth spending some time today luxuriating in just how comprehensively the Colts spent four quarters flattening everyone in front of them.
The box score reads like it was imported from 1997. The Colts, who won the game 19-13, ran 74 plays and possessed the ball for over 37 minutes. They ran the ball 45 times for 180 yards, rushed for a first down 12 times, and fed running back Marlon Mack 29 carries, which he turned into 132 yards. Who knew it was even still possible for a running back to get 29 carries in a single game in 2019?
If you want to capture the story of this game in a single drive, look no further than the one the Colts started at Kansas City’s 48-yard line with 1:14 to play in the third quarter. Indianapolis used 14 plays to travel just 35 yards down the field, twice converting on fourth-and-short, and they sucked 8:34 minutes off the clock while they did it. Eleven of the 14 plays on that drive were runs, and only three of them went for more than five yards. The Colts just kept handing the ball off and relying on their running backs and offensive line to move the pile, and when that drive was all said and done, they had a 16-10 lead and had denied Mahomes the ball for more than half of the fourth quarter.
Nobody who watched that game could come away from it thinking that any team other than the Colts has the best offensive line in the league. It’s a line that was originally built for the purpose of protecting the constantly unprotected Andrew Luck, but now that Luck is enjoying retirement with what’s left of his good health, this line has become the Colts’ greatest offensive weapon. Stud guard Quenton Nelson and the rest of his beefy teammates didn’t spend the game executing blocking schemes so much as they spent it committing repeated maulings against their opponents.
None of this would have worked if the Colts’ defense hadn’t also spent the night hitting and pressuring Mahomes, who tweaked his ankle and limped is way through the lowest-scoring start of his career. The likelihood that any team will be able to hold Mahomes, hobbled or not, to just 13 points is slim, which means that future Chiefs opponents shouldn’t get too excited thinking that all they need to do to win the game is run the ball 45 times. But give Frank Reich and the Colts credit for understanding their own strengths, and playing exactly the type of game the situation called for.
All anyone can hope for when taking on a team as offensively powerful as the Chiefs is that some combination of forces will yield an opportunity to beat them. It takes a good, well-coached team to recognize that opportunity when it arrives, and do what’s necessary to seize it. Reich saw his chance, and he saw the power of offensive line and running backs, and he rightfully kept sticking the ball right into the pile.