Fight For Mediocrity … Game-Day Cup O’Chiefs

Indianapolis, Indiana

In a sport where two teams have 11 players in competition, it’s almost impossible for one player to completely turn the fortunes of his team, whether positively or to the negative.

But don’t tell the 0-4 Indianapolis Colts that. Or, to a lesser extent, the 1-3 Chiefs. They arrive to face each other on this fifth Sunday of the 2011 season each without their best player. Kickoff is 12 noon at Lucas Oil stadium and the TV broadcast is on CBS.

For the Colts, they are missing one of the game’s all-time greats in QB Peyton Manning, down for the count because of a neck injury that’s required two surgeries and still does not have him anywhere close to getting on the field. Whether Manning returns to play does not matter on this Sunday. Manning will be on the field, but he will be on the sidelines in street clothes, not wearing No. 18 in blue and driving the Chiefs defense crazy. That helps Todd Haley and his team.

But, the Chiefs are without RB Jamaal Charles since he blew out his left knee at Ford Field on September 18th. The Chiefs running game has been stuck in neutral without him. They are a team that was built on the run game on offense and that running game is supposed to blend in a complimentary fashion with the Chiefs defense.

Only once in four weeks did the team perform in that complimentary manner and that was last week when the Chiefs beat the winless Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium. Now, they face another team without a victory, a franchise in the Colts that has some of the best players in the game even without Manning. WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark, DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and K Adam Vinatieri are all among the league’s best.

But they are winless without Manning. They’ve lost by 27, 8, 3 and 7 points. The potent Indy offense is now ranked No. 30 among the league’s 32 teams, averaging just 270 yards per game. The offense has scored five touchdowns in four games. Many times in the past with Manning in charge they scored five touchdowns in a game. The Colts defense ranks No. 25.

Manning is out with his neck problem, his replacement Kerry Collins is out after suffering a concussion on September 25th against Pittsburgh. The guy pulling the trigger is now Curtis Painter, who will make his second NFL start on Sunday. In his third season out of Purdue, Painter played in two games as a rookie in 2009 and not again until that game against the Steelers when Collins went down. So including last Monday night and his first start, he’s played in a total of four NFL games. He’s completed 26 of 69 passes for 424 yards 2 TDs, 2 INTs.

The Chiefs expect to see the Colts trying to run a scaled down version of the Indy offense, but obviously they will not be able to call or change plays at the line of scrimmage with all the gyrations, pointing and yelling that was part of Manning’s game.

“They aren’t going to come out and roll over,” said CB Brandon Flowers of the Colts. “Obviously you don’t lose a player like Manning without feeling it, but they still have all those playmakers and they’ll find a way to get them involved.”

Said Haley: “They’re a very complementary football team in that offensively and defensively they complement the way that they want to play and the way that they want to win. They’re a team that has won a ton of games over the last decade, a ton of games, and they’re playing very hard, very physical. They’ve had some of their own adversity, much like us and they’re a very dangerous opponent because of that.”

Dangerous playmakers on offense – that’s something the Chiefs would love to have right now. Other than WR Dwayne Bowe, they’ve not had a consistent offensive force over four games. Last week, the passing game finally began to click. Not so with the running game. The offense is now built around the abilities of Cassel and the capability of his pass protection. Long runs have not been happening, while pass plays of more than 20 yards have increased in recent weeks thanks to the development of WR Steve Breaston.

According to Cassel, last week’s victory was built on success in the second half of the game before, the loss to San Diego. They carried that momentum into the Minnesota game and it’s only grown now thanks to the victory over Minnesota.

“It’s always tough because you work so hard during the week to get prepared for Sunday and that’s your day to go out there and compete and when it doesn’t it go your way – whether you lose by 30 or you lose by three – it hurts,” Cassel said. “But when you get that feeling of victory, it feels good for everybody inside, it lets you know why you play this game and hopefully that motivates us to go out there and continue to work hard and do the things we need to do to be successful.”

That needs to get done on Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.

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