The Indianapolis Colts head out west to face the Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs. The season will begin and end, for one team, in the exact same place.
The Colts lost 31-24 in the season opener, but in reality the games wasn’t that close. Denver jumped out to a 24-0 lead before the Colts scored on a desperation drive before halftime.
The Broncos took their foot off the pedal in the second half and the Colts were able to rally. The Colts had a chance to tie the game, but ended up turning the ball over on downs.
Peyton Manning picked apart the defense as the Colts failed to generate any pressure on him. The Broncos did struggle to run the ball, 32 carries for just 102 yards, but that was before the emergence of C.J. Anderson and their emphasis on running the ball.
Andrew Luck didn’t play all that well in the opener, throwing two interceptions and missed a number of easy throws. The lopsided score forced the Colts to be one dimensional but a better game from Luck could have given Indy the win (and possibly home field advantage on Sunday).
The Broncos on Offense
In traditional stats, the Broncos rank fourth in passing and 11th in rushing yards per game. That puts them fourth overall in yardage and they are averaging over 35 points per game at home.
DVOA has the Broncos third overall in the NFL, featuring the third ranked passing attack and seventh in rushing. PFF gives the Broncos the fifth graded offense in the league.
We don’t really need to quantify Manning, every Colts fan knows what to expect. He’s going to make pre-snap reads to get players in the right position and then get the ball out quick enough that the pass rush doesn’t have time to land.
Manning still ranks near the top of the league, at third per Football Outsiders. PFF has him at tenth overall, just behind Luck. Manning has struggled a bit towards the end of the season mostly due to illness and injury. Expect the extra week off to have done Manning a lot of good and the extra time to prepare doesn’t bode well for the Colts.
Manning has a ton of weapons, but none are as vital as the emergence of the run game due to Anderson. He’s exploded since Week 10 and has been so dominant that in eight games he jumped up to the third graded RB by PFF.
DYAR has Anderson at seventh overall but his DVOA puts him at third. Anderson can explode on any given play. The run game sets up the play action which Colts fans know makes Manning extremely dangerous.
Tight end Julius Thomas was dominating early in the season (and hauled in three TDs against the Colts) but since an ankle sprain in Week 11 he hasn’t been the same player. In the last three games of the season he had just three receptions for 63 yards.
That said, he’s still one of the better tight ends in the NFL. Football Outsiders has him seventh overall while PFF ranks him 13th.
What it Means for the Colts on Offense
The Colts will be able to take away one receiving option with Vontae Davis on the field, but that is likely about it. Indy struggles to generate blitzing without pressure, and the reason for last season’s win against Manning was the brilliant play of Robert Mathis. Generally speaking, blitzing Manning is a great way to get picked apart.
The Colts need a brilliant game plan and flawless play from the defense to come away with a win. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that all season long against quality opponents.
The Broncos on Defense
Denver committed to making their defense a force in the offseason and it has paid off. They are giving up just over 20 points per game at home and are ninth against the pass and second versus the run in traditional stats.
Football Outsiders ranks the Broncos fourth overall where they are fifth against the pass and third against the run. PFF has Denver with the second graded defense in the NFL.
Denver is great against teams first and second option (with Chris Harris Jr and Aqib Talib) but struggle against team’s third options. The Broncos are average against tight ends and running backs in pass coverage.
What it Means for the Colts on Offense
Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen will need to have big games for the Colts as T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne will likely be locked down for most of the game. Anything the Colts can get from Hakeem Nicks would be a bonus too.
Expect the Broncos to spy Dan Herron out of the backfield with the success he had last week. If they don’t, the Colts will likely try to dink and dunk their way down the field. Its unlikely they’ll have much success against the Broncos stout run defense.
It all boils down to what kind of game Luck has on Sunday. If he plays like he did against the Bengals AND his receivers actually catch the ball, then the Colts can make this a very interesting game.