ReFo: Chiefs @ Colts, Wild Card Round

Khaled Elsayed breaks down notable performances from the Colts' thrilling wild card comeback over Kansas City.

| 3 years ago

ReFo: Chiefs @ Colts, Wild Card Round

2013-REFO-WC-KC@INDWell that was crazy. The blowout that wasn’t a blowout as the Indianapolis Colts rallied from a four score deficit to beat a battered and bruised Kansas City Chiefs who couldn’t believe what was happening.

It had started so well for Andy Reid and his men, racing into a lead that nobody felt could be overturned. But after losing Jamaal Charles on the opening drive the team would see Donnie Avery and Brandon Flowers leave and not return before the same fate befell Charles’ backup Knile Davis. Those injuries, especially that of Flowers, and some more conservative defensive game planning allowed the Colts a foot back in the door and Andrew Luck went on to do as Andrew Luck does; puts a poor first half behind him to rally the most amazing of comebacks.

Here are our performances of note.

Kansas City — Three Performances of Note

Hail the First Half of Hali

It was big news for the Chiefs when Tamba Hali (+4.3) was declared active as the Chiefs looked to break their horrendous stretch of playoffs defeats. Partnering him with the fit again Justin Houston (+2.3) promised big things and in the first half both men delivered in a big way. Hali delivered a hit and hour hurries in that first half and dislodged a ball from the arms of Trent Richardson that he would bobble in fumble as the Chiefs raced away with things.

But then the Chiefs entered protect mode. After being on the field for the Andrew Luck interception to start the second half, KC looked to rest their pass rushing pest as he missed the entire next drive (Frank Zombo replaced him though he would miss no more snaps) with the Colts able to regain some momentum with a score. From there, Hali struggled to make much of an impact picking up one clean up hit and one pressure as the season and injuries caught up with him. As was the story of the game it was a tale of two halves for Tamba Hali as the table shows.

Half Pass Rushes Pressures Pressure %
1st 18 5 27.78%
2nd 19 2 10.53%

Smith Undone

It was all going so well. It wasn’t quite a flawless display from Alex Smith (+0.7) in the first half with a couple of overthrows there for all to see, but it was pretty close. He had plenty of success getting the ball into his playmakers’ hands and had the big touchdown with 14.49 to go in Q2 that had the Chiefs in a promising position.

But then it went wrong. When it mattered most Smith delivered two plays that he’ll think back on today and wonder what could have been. Firstly, there was the momentum-changing strip sack that owed a lot to the hustle of Robert Mathis, but even more to the carelessness of the quarterback. In the NFL you need an internal clock that tells you when you need to get rid of the ball and you need to understand that when you vacate a clean pocket you’re giving edge rushers like Mathis a far easier path to you. Smith failed in both these regards as he drifted and then scrambled to the left, holding onto the ball for a ridiculous 5.3 seconds before it was knocked loose.

Then as the Chiefs fought to overcome the injuries and Colts pressure he had the play call and defense he wanted. The Colts often used an early downs nickel defense that has LaRon Landry come off the field with Darius Butler moving to safety, with Erik Walden kicking out to line up over a man in the slot. It allows Josh Gordy onto the field but the Colts defense was in a panic as Cyrus Gray was split out wide and following the snap he ran his go route with Butler blowing the coverage and allowing Gray a free run down the right sideline. Smith missed and the Chiefs punted to a Colts team who would score on their next possession to make it a one-score game.

The grade tells you Smith didn’t play bad because he didn’t play bad. But he had the chances and if he was a little more accurate or had a little more pocket awareness the outcome could have been very different.

Secondary Struggles

Andy Reid and Bob Sutton saw it. On the Colts opening drive they had success against Dunta Robinson (-3.1) with the former Falcon missing a tackle on a crossing route that led to a 24-yard gain for Indy and then being culpable on the touchdown that rounded off the drive. After seven snaps he was gone from the lineup and looked unlikely to return.

But then Brandon Flowers went down and after him holding T.Y. Hilton to 15 yards on two catches into his coverage, it was open season. The first ploy of the Chiefs was to return to Robinson but that just wasn’t a practical option. He missed another tackle (this time on LaVon Brazill) and allowed two more first downs as he struggled to keep up with the sophomore speedster. The next option saw them take out Husain Abdullah from playing essentially as a fourth linebacker and put him over Hilton. He spent 9-of-10 snaps lined up in press over Hilton and, while he was more successful, he still got beat for a first down.

So the slot was a big problem with all bar five of Hilton’s yards coming from there. But it wasn’t just the responsibility of the slot cornerback as Kendrick Lewis (-4.0) had a torrid second half, finishing with him allowing Hilton in behind him for the go ahead score. Injuries played their part in the team finding themselves in that situation, but given the experience of the players involved you would have expected more.

Indianapolis — Three Performances of Note

Luck Turns It Around

The headlines were written already. Andrew Luck (+1.9) was a man who fluffed his lines in the playoffs with a first half so poor that he essentially put his team in a position from which they couldn’t come back.

But as he has so often done, Luck turned the tide with one of the most remarkable turns of form I’ve ever seen and one that our grades highlight perfectly. The table below shows how Luck performed for his first 22 pass attempts (including plays nullified by penalty) where the last play is his pick at the start of the third quarter. The remaining 24 attempts occurred after that.

Game Period Pass Attempts Passing Grade
Start to Q3, 15:00 22 -4.0
Q3, 13:39 to Finish 24 +3.9

As bad as Luck was in throwing a ball that could have ended up as a pick-six for Husain Abdullah (Q3, 15.00) or throwing into a passing lane occupied by Justin Houston (Q2, 9.21), he redeemed himself with chain-mover after chain-mover and, of course, the most heads up of plays that saw him turn disaster for Indy, into a devastating blow for KC, picking up the fumble of Donald Brown and turning it into a touchdown.

What’s more is how he reacted to pressure. On the 17-of-49 occasions he was pressured, his yards per attempt rose to 12.9 (just 8.3 without pressure) to show the unnerving nature of the young man. Colts fans will rightly be delighted with him but they’ll wonder if he might want to rev up the engine a little earlier next week.

The Need to Get Healthy

What’s worse than starting one cornerback who doesn’t look healthy? Starting two. In fairness to Vontae Davis (-0.5) he did get better as the game went on and had the critical third down stop of Dexter McCluster that prevented a crossing route getting the kind of yardage to pick up the first down or make the fourth down attempt manageable.

But Greg Toler (-3.6)? Well, the talented cornerback looked like he had no right to be on the field (he’d played just 26 snaps since Week 7 entering the game) and was finally spared further embarrassment/ victimization/ punishment when he was sat down after 21 snaps that saw him targeted three times with two receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown.

That Josh Gordy came up with some big plays is encouraging, but you have to wonder if Toler is anywhere near ready for the test that awaits, or how Davis will respond to what was a physical game. The Chiefs’ passing attack had hardly lit the league up previously and if the Bengals beat the Chargers what can they expect from Peyton Manning and company in Denver?

Hilton Delivers the Goods

While plaudits were placed at Luck and Robert Mathis for their game changing plays, let’s not forget who the true star of the show was. T.Y. Hilton has quietly had a very productive start to his NFL career and now he’s made some real noise with a monster playoff outing. With the Colts operating nearly exclusively in 11 personnel, Hilton ran most of his routes from the slot (87%) and picked up a stunning 219 of his yards from there. Not bad considering his number for the regular season was at 516.

He ended up picking up nine first downs and two touchdowns as the Chiefs failed to contain him, especially when Brandon Flowers went down with only 53 of those coming when Flowers was covering the slot. Truly there aren’t words to do justice to his play that saw him catch balls all over the field, going 2-of-3 on deep passes and adding a further five intermediate grabs while only dropping the one pass on a ball that was thrown behind him.

Game Notes

–  Of the Colts’ 13 designed runs (not including quarterback kneel downs) they’d use as a backside blocker pulling to the front side on five occasions. They also used an option run with Andrew Luck for the first time this year.

–  Of the incompletions thrown by Alex Smith, five were overthrows, six were throwaways, two were batted passes, one was a drop, one was a hail mary, another a pass defense, one caused by a penalty and one other a catch out of bounds.

–  With the Colts spending the near entirety of the game in 11 personnel it meant Mike Devito and Tyson Jackson saw a combined 19 snaps and six of those were with the Colts in victory formation.

PFF Game Ball

You can’t ignore the heroics of Luck in stepping up when the team needed him the most, but this was a game where T.Y. Hilton made himself a star.


Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled

  • Matt Dickson

    Smith completed 30-of-46 passes (64% pcp) for 378 yards, 4 TDs and ZERO INTs. Aside from two errant plays, he was outstanding. I’m not sure your article does his performance justice.

    Consider this, in the history of the NFL playoffs there have only been 14 QB performances like Alex Smith had last night. Only 14.

    Of those 14, he’s the only QB who’s team lost. But how can you put this on one or two plays? When he had countless others that were outstanding. Four TDs and ZERO INTs for almost 400 yards? 64% pcp? Puh-leaze…

    This failure lies squarely at the feet of the defense which gave up 35 second half points. You mentioned this, but I think your analysis did Smith an injustice.

    He proved last night that he’s more than a game manager. His pass to Bowe in the final seconds of the game on 4th down, to put them in FG range was pin point perfect– where only Bowe could catch it.

    But Bowe forgot he’s playing in the Bigs and only bothered to get one foot down in bounds.

    Point is, Smith played a career game last night which any team would be envious of.

    I’m looking forward to his development under Andy Reid in year 2.

    • Madi

      Well said. So he got sack/fumbled on a play where he should have seen the guy coming and didn’t. So he overthrew a ball “when it mattered most.”

      The thing about “when it mattered most” is that if your team loses, any mistake you make is “when it mattered most.” Otherwise, you might say his perfect pass on 4th and 11 that would have absolutely won the game if not for a receiver error was when it mattered most. Or (and this is really crazy) you might say that regardless of what quarter it happened in, spending most of the game putting up 44 points is when it mattered most.

      Smith’s grade is insulting, and the overall theme of the comments in the article (“Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t play BAD, he just couldn’t get it done and blew it big time”) are ignorant. I thought the whole point of these grades and articles was to sift through all the nonsense. Smith outplayed Luck hands down, and was just playing on the wrong team – or do you want to imagine what the score would have been if Smith had thrown all those picks?

      • redmid17

        The intentional grounding penalty didn’t help either

        • This is US

          As Peter King pointed out on MMQB, his options were a sack (terrible protection) or intentional grounding. 3rd and 15 vs. 3rd and 17.

          • redmid17

            Who calls out the protection for the KC line? The number of players blocking wasn’t higher than the number of playings rushing the passer. Unblocked rushers are almost always a result of the playcall. If Smith had ability/permission to adjust blockers or audible, that one is on him.

            FWIW, I haven’t really seen anyone dismiss the grounding other than King, so I might be overly harsh.

        • Madi

          All of our points still stand. Want to run through each individual incompletion, while you’re at it? In any case, he did his part in making up for that intentional grounding, by delivering a perfect pass on 4th and 11 to win the game.

          • redmid17

            It was a good pass, not a perfect pass. Even Bowe could take a perfect pass and catch it. He proved that earlier in the game on the 69 yard catch. Smith did more than enough to get the W. This loss isn’t on him, but his play at certain junctures did hurt the team.

          • Madi

            Well, you win that argument. Are you going to repeat the same sentence for the other 89 players that suited up for that game? And every player from every other game? Because you could.

            By the way, Bowe could ruin a perfect pass too. He’s proven that throughout his career. The only reason that catch wasn’t a catch is because he was lazy. By the end of it he didn’t fall down and kept his footing. Good for him, but his team lost as a result. When coming down with the ball, get your feet inside as far as you can get them like a man and win the game. He didn’t even try. Smith’s pass was perfect, because it accounted for all scenarios of Bowe’s placement. If Bowe hadn’t been pushed to the sideline by the CB, the ball would have been right over his shoulders, out of reach from the defender. As it was Bowe had little room to work with, and the ball still hit him perfectly in stride. Bowe’s placement on the field and where he needed to put his feet in order to adjust are 100% his responsibility. He blew it.

      • joebuckster

        Well said, both of you. I just finished ripping Peter King a new a-hole for exactly the same kind of ‘surface optics’ gushing analysis that this site is supposed to be immune to. Luck, as his name would have it, was fortunate that KC lost their 2 best corners and played in prevent or he would be answering questions about his inconsistency. Hilton the same, who had zero TDs in his last 4 games save for 2 in this last one half game of football against backups. Poor, poor analysis PFF.

      • Steve Blank

        I think if Jamaal had been running down the sidelines it wouldnt have been an overthrow….maybe Alex just threw for JC speed when it wasnt on the field?

        • Madi

          Ha, possible. As a Steeler fan I’ve seen Ben Roethlisberger struggle to throw deep balls switching between Mike Wallace and the other receivers. It can happen. But I’m not trying to make an excuse for one bad pass. Those usually happen several times per game, even in such stellar performances as Luck’s.

          One safely thrown incompletion with 15 minutes left in a game in which you scored 44 points and delivered your end of the game-winning play is not the end of the world, in my opinion. In fact, it’s barely worth mentioning. PFF disagrees, and evidently feels it outweighs the unbelievable rest of the game Smith (+0.7) had.

          • scomstock55

            dont get me wrong…I think smith is going to be a pro bowler…very very soon…i just think JC has that extra burst and can catch much better than cyrus….so…if he was in….

    • LouB

      Smith played probably his best game ever and was clearly not recognized for it by most. I expected PFF to recognize this but you really dropped the ball. Think about it, he looses Charles on the first series, who was 40% of the Chief’s offense during the year, and doesn’t miss a beat. Nobody seems to point this out, but it was HUGE. In fact, it was Smith that made up for Charles’ absence with his outstanding running and innovative shovel passes in clutch situations. He basically put the team on his shoulders and played incredible football in the toughest of circumstances. I would say he was the Offensive MVP of the first round of the playoffs, and would have been recognized as such had Bowe stayed in bounds (as he should have) on that last pass.

      Look at Eli Manning and the catch on the sidelines that Manningham made to win the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. Eli gets the Super Bowl MVP because Manningham caught what was a much tougher ball to handle than what Bowe couldn’t complete. Take that catch away and Eli is a footnote in that game.

  • This is US

    Oops PFF…
    It’s even worse than the posters below describe.

    Alex Smith’s 375 yards passing, 4 TD’s, 0 Int’s and more than 50 yards rushing was the first time that’s been done in the playoffs in the history of the NFL.

    • Matt Dickson

      How does a site, purely metric driven miss this? Insane. Just shows that the media (in all incarnations) move like herded sheep… the prologue was established a long time ago about Smith.

      So much so, that even when his numbers and game film scream otherwise, the reflex is to still stutter, “Game Manager”.

    • LouB

      Smith’s QBR for the game was 119.7! Without Charles. Amazing!

      • Steve Blank

        smith is well worth what we gave for him and we should pay him for a long term …he is only going to get better in this offense…i see a few pro bowls in his near future

  • Madi


    This game is being replayed right now on NFL Network. Try again.