The Indianapolis Colts will face down the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The rematch from September’s season opener pits a legend against his former team for the third time in two years.
As far as matchups go this one is a non-starter.
The Colts will need a near flawless performance on both sides of the ball this Sunday to advance in the playoffs. The Broncos will move the ball and put up points, its going to be on Luck and the offense to match that output early (something that didn’t happen in September).
Vontae Davis vs Manning’s Left Side
Davis has a history of shutting down Demaryius Thomas and whoever else he’s defending on the Broncos. In two meetings, Davis has allowed just four receptions for 17 yards in 13 targets.
He is going to take away half the the field from Manning on Sunday. Davis put together an All-Pro worthy season and there is no reason to expect that to change on Sunday.
This will allow the Colts to shift coverage and more importantly, take away one of Manning’s weapons. It will likely be Thomas, when he lines up on that side, or Emmanuel Sanders. Both have had outstanding seasons and both players rank in the top 10 in advanced stats at their position.
Limiting the passing windows against Manning is key and taking away one of his favorite targets is even more important. Winning the outside battles
Colts Pass Rush vs Manning’s Release
Manning might get the ball out of the pocket faster than any QB in the NFL. The Colts might also have the slowest pass rush in the league, despite recording 41 sacks (thanks AFC South!).
Indy recorded just one sack against Manning in the last meeting and the year before had to rely on the brilliance of Robert Mathis (and Davis) to wreck the Broncos game plan.
The Colts have struggled to get to the more talented quarterbacks in the NFL largely because they don’t have a premier pass rusher on the active roster. Bjoern Werner hasn’t developed and the Colts leading sacker in rookie Jonathan Newsome.
They can’t generate pressure without blitzing which is generally a great way to get torched by Manning. The Colts will have to disguise their blitz schemes and wait for the last second in the pre-snap to show their hand.
Stopping Manning is equal parts scheme and execution. Putting both together would be impressive for the Colts defense
Colts’ Wide Receivers vs Broncos’ Cornerbacks
Wayne had one of his best performances of the season that day, but most of his damage was done when Bradley Roby or T.J. Ward was defending him. It also was over a month before Wayne suffered a partially torn tricep. He hasn’t been the same player since.
Hilton was largely shut down in this game and Talib has a history of limiting his big play ability.
This means that the third and fourth options will have extra importance this week. We saw Hakeem Nicks show up for a few big plays against the Bengals and he had a solid game against the Broncos in Week 1 (a touchdown and nearly a second one).
Donte Moncrief as also emerged as the team’s third receiver on the depth chart. He was only on the field for five snaps in the first game and will have a much bigger role on Sunday.
Winning the battle against the Bronco’s third and fourth string cornerbacks could be the most important one of the day.
Luck vs Colt’s Receivers Hands
The Colts lead the NFL in dropped passes by a wide margin with 40 this season. With 660 pass attempts this season, that leads to a drop on six percent of passes.
Against the Bengals, the Colts posted five more drops (three from Hilton alone) all while Luck had one of the best games of his career. Had his receivers been able to hold on to those attempts, Luck would have easily had a three-plus touchdown game last week.
The primary four pass catchers for the Colts (Wayne, Hilton, Coby Fleener, and Moncrief) have accounted for 22 drops this year while Dwayne Allen has added another five (three versus Dallas) and Nicks with four more.
They can’t afford to have drops on promising drives this Sunday, especially if Luck’s play from last week carries over. It will take a near flawless effort to win on Sunday and drops are a sure fire way to kill a drive.
Its been a problem all season, and there is no reason to expect it to change this weekend.