The Indianapolis Colts are just three days away from taking on the Denver Broncos. This rematch from last season doesn’t have the same feel as Peyton Manning‘s return home, and the odds are not in the Colts favor.
Last season, the Colts defeated the Broncos off the strength of 1) Robert Mathis playing out of his mind, and 2) a few individual match-ups. This year, Mathis is suspended and it will require more of a team effort to escape with a victory.
Here’s who you should watch out for:
- Peyton Manning vs Not Robert Mathis. Manning might have issued the biggest sigh of relief when he heard that Mathis wouldn’t be playing. Mathis wrecked the Broncos game plan last year with two sacks and four more hits on Manning. Without Mathis, the Colts will have to rely on pressure by committee. Bjoern Werner, who will start for Mathis, has shown flashes of a good pass rusher but can’t land the sack. Manning never makes it easy to land that final hit either and this could be a day where his jersey stays awfully clean.
- Demaryius Thomas vs Vontae Davis. If you go over to Pro Football Focus, you’ll see that Davis has a pretty high grade and is one of the better corners in the league. Well, his rating was skewed last season by one game, when he essentially locked down Thomas for an evening. He was target five times, and caught just one pass (for eight yards) while Davis was on him. Thomas only scored a touchdown after Davis had to come out for a play due to a minor injury, and Manning immediately recognized the matchup advantage. If Davis can takeaway the deep threat again, it will give the questionable pass rush time to develop.
- Julius Thomas vs Somebody. How do the Colts plan to defend one of Manning’s favorite targets? They could stick a safety on him all day, which would be fine if the Colts had a competent safety. The best bet would Jerrell Freeman, but its not an ideal matchup and he is currently the team’s best pass rusher with Mathis sidelined. I expect this Thomas to have a big day as the Colts really don’t have someone who can adequately guard tight ends.
- T.Y. Hilton vs Aqib Talib. There is an idea that Talib has played particularly well against Hilton in the past. It’s not exactly true. While with the Patriots, it wasn’t Talib that limited Hilton but the scheme (that Bill Belichick fellow is pretty good at footballing). When Talib has lined up against Hilton, he’s been merely average. In two games, Hilton has five receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns (both TDs against the Pats in 2012, his rookie year). What Hilton didn’t do was repeat his performance against the Chiefs from the week before in the playoffs. Talib is a very good corner who can limit the effectiveness of Hilton and others, but he isn’t a lockdown player. Expect an improved Hilton to carve up the defense on crossing routes and get plenty of chances in this shootout.
- Anthony Castonzo vs DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos went all in improving their pass defense in the offseason and Ware is a big part of that. He is one of the better defensive ends/outside linebackers in the NFL. Castonzo needs to lock him down or else the offense will fall apart. Andrew Luck is already going to have to contend with pressure up the middle, and if he has to worry about his blindside too, the wheels will come off this car. To compound the problem, the Broncos can overload that side of the line by send Von Miller after Luck too. We might see the young QB scrambling for his life if the protection off the edges (the Colts strength on the line) isn’t there.