The Indianapolis Colts head out west to face the Denver Broncos, a team they have bested in three of the past four meetings.
The Colts are going to have to lean on their offense for a second straight week if there is any hope of avoiding an 0-2 start. That means that coach Chuck Pagano is going to have adjust his expectations for the defensive unit, make adjustments, and let the offense fling the ball around. Surely anyone who studied tape from last week’s loss to Detroit would recognize the same thing.
But of course, that won’t happen because Pagano never learns.
He stated that he had enough faith in his defense to get a stop last week with 37 seconds (and three Detroit timeouts) left to play. That was his rationale for not burning more clock when the Colts offense had the ball inside the 15 going for the go-ahead score. This was the same defense that have been eviscerated by Matt Stafford all afternoon.
The good news for the Colts is that the Broncos offense probably isn’t as good as the Lions, and Trevor Siemian definitely isn’t on the same level as Stafford. The bad news is they’re on 10 days rest having knocked off the Panthers and their very talented defense. The worse news is that the Colts defense is even less healthy than a week ago, if that’s possible.
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We knew a week ago that the secondary would be a liability, but going back to watch tape it was the linebackers who were the real issue. All of those players have been starters for multiple years and weren’t just guys signed off the street for a week or two. To make matters worse, the Broncos love to use running backs as receivers, and will likely pick the Colts apart underneath.
There is hope for the Colts, but it rests on the offense being brilliant against a damn good defense. They’ve had success against the Broncos and have won the past two meetings, but neither game was a high scoring affair.
Here’s what fans should be on the lookout for:
- Ghosts of November. The Colts played their best game of the season against Denver last year, beating them at home. It looked like a turning point for the season and then Andrew Luck started peeing blood and the season was all but over. Luck is going to have to repeat last week’s performance for the Colts to leave with a win (and even then it might not be enough). But will Luck be a little gunshy against the team that lacerated his kidney 10 months ago?
- The Test. The Broncos had the best pass rush in the NFL in 2015 and it looks just as good this year. The Colts rebuilt offensive line looked much better against the Lions last week, but Denver will be a completely different challenge. It will be much harder for Luck to attack the Broncos vertically as he won’t have nearly as much time in the pocket. The line has to hold up but Luck also has to show a quicker release against Von Miller and company.
- Tackling. Yes, tackling, one of the fundamental components of football and something the Colts sucked out loud at last week. The Lions had 231 of their 340 passing yards AFTER the catch. The Broncos clocked in with 97 YAC of their total 278, but again that was against a very good defense. Most of the blame falls on the linebackers, who have a combined 57 years of experience in the NFL. It would have made more sense had it been a few rookies whiffing, but these are experience starters who failed time after time. If they can’t get better at the fundamentals, expect this to be the worst defense in the NFL. The Colts also need a pass rush, but that seems like a pipe dream right now, especially if Robert Mathis is less than 100 percent or out Sunday.
- No Legend. It has probably already hit you that Peyton Manning isn’t playing, but it’s not like we haven’t seen him on Sundays. He’s still in more commercials than any other NFL player and keeps popping up in the booth at various games. But this matchup is his former two teams squaring off without him on the field for the first time. It is sad he’s not on the field anymore, but he wasn’t the same player for the past season and a half.
The Colts have a chance on Sunday because of Andrew Luck and a relatively healthy offense. But they’re going to have to carry the workload with three starters on defense out and five more questionable.
It is tough to see how the Colts, who have been historically worse defensively on the road, can leave Denver with a win. If Luck drops 350-plus yards and four or five touchdowns then it’s possible. But that is a tall order against such a good defense.