As awful as things looked last Sunday – and it was as bad as it’s been at any point during Frank Reich’s era – the Indianapolis Colts actually aren’t in too bad of a place this week.
The perpetually mediocre AFC South has seen all four teams open the season with identical 2-2 records. That means the Week 7 battle against the Houston Texans following next week’s bye is of significantly more importance to the Colts than Sunday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
And that fact should be freeing to a team that seems to do its best work as the underdog.
Linebacker Anthony Walker alluded to it after the disastrous 31-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders at Lucas Oil Stadium last week.
“I feel like we get stronger when we hit adversity,” he said. “I think that’s a tribute to our team. We are the underdogs, we feel like, every week, every year. Especially this year.”
He was talking about the defense rallying to allow just three points in the second half after surrendering 21 on the Raiders’ first four possessions.
But the Colts are definitive underdogs this week.
The Chiefs are favored by 10.5 points at Arrowhead Stadium. Only two games Sunday have a wider points spread.
The 4-0 New England Patriots are favored by 15.5 over the 0-4 Washington Redskins, and the rebounding Philadelphia Eagles are 14-point favorites against a New York Jets team that still is struggling to field a quarterback.
That’s not great company to be in, but Indianapolis should make the most of it.
Be aggressive. Play as though there’s nothing to lose.
Because, in many respects, there isn’t.
An expected loss Sunday would leave the Colts no more than one game out of the division lead entering the bye week. The showdown with the Texans following that idle week provides ample opportunity to get back into the playoff race.
Win it and Indianapolis would be sitting at 2-0 in a division where tiebreakers are going to have tremendous value.
So the game in Kansas City essentially is a bonus.
Clear out the playbook. Go for it on any fourth down in which it’s a remotely reasonable option. And keep as much pressure on the Chiefs as possible.
Reich really got his players’ attention last year when he went for it on fourth down near midfield as overtime was expiring against the Texans. He could have punted and played for a tie, as many coaches would have.
But he put the ball in quarterback Andrew Luck’s hand and gave him a chance to win the game. It didn’t work out, but it sent a loud message to the locker room that Reich believed in the talent on the roster.
And he will place his bet on that talent at every turn.
The game against the Chiefs is a chance to do that on the macro scale.
There’s little chance of shutting down the Kansas City offense. It’s averaging a league-high 33.8 points per game, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes seemingly is capable of summoning big plays out of thin air.
So be aggressive on defense. Blitz aggressively. Jump routes. Make a play on the ball.
Do everything possible to affect the play and force as many turnovers as possible. It’s a much more likely scenario than forcing the Chiefs to punt repeatedly.
On offense, the game plan should be the same.
Do whatever you can to score as many points as possible. That doesn’t necessarily mean throwing the deep route on every play, but it does require making the most prudently aggressive choice in each and every situation.
If the deep option has a step on the defender, ignore the check down.
By the same token, don’t give up on the running game if it gets hot the way it did at times in Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee.
Take the fight to the Chiefs, and go down punching.
It’s the underdog way.
And it’s the only way Indianapolis stands a chance on Sunday.