18 Things to Watch During Sunday's Colts/Broncos Game
The residents of Denver are none too happy with the Zombie
Last week, the Colts handled the Titans exactly how we thought they would. This week, the Broncos roll into Indy for quite possibly the last meaningful game the Colts will play until January. The revitalized Broncos desperately need this win to say alive in the playoff race. Be on the lookout for:
1. Watch for the Moon. There are a lot of things that may or may not happen in this game. One thing that will happen is that Peyton Manning will pass Warren Moon for fourth place on the all time passing yards list. He only needs 12 to pass Moon. Manning will have thrown for more yards than Moon despite having played in 19 fewer games (more than one full season less than Moon). Next up on the list is John Elway, who Manning should overtake early next season. The top two spots are Marino and Favre and will take a good many years to catch.
2. Watch the tackles. The Broncos are one of the best teams in the league at bringing pressure. They are 5th in the NFL in sacks, and second in passing defense. For the Colts the question will be how their banged up tackles play. Indy's top three tackles (Diem, Johnson, and Ugoh) are all battling injuries, and none of them have distinguished themselves this year. Diem might not even play on Sunday meaning Ugoh will flip to right tackle. If the Broncos can get pressure off the edge with NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil on Manning, it will be a long day for the Colts.
3. Watch for mirror images. On the season, the Broncos have allowed 202 points and Indy 201. They've both posted a defensive passer rating of 76.6. The Broncos allow 6.2 YPA and the Colts 6.3. Denver has allowed just 10 passing TDs for the season, and the Colts just 11. Indy has allowed the fewest 20 yard passes in the NFL, Denver is fourth. The Broncos have had a few more sacks, and the Colts a few more picks, but at the end of the day, these are two of the elite defenses in the NFL.
4. Watch the party pooper. Kyle Orton was the Bears QB for opening day of Lucas Oil Stadium last year. The Purdue grad played his typical unspectacular, but adequate game. He was 13 for 21 for 150 yards with no TDs and no INTs. Orton is on pace for career highs in TDs, yards, rating, completion percentage and YPA. He'll have to play an efficient game to topple the Colts on Sunday. If he does, he would be responsible for two of the Colts' three losses at the Luke.
5. Watch the underneath route. The Broncos have allowed just one completion for longer than 40 yards all season. As stated earlier, they are among the stingiest teams in the NFL in 20 yard pass plays allowed. The Broncos have been death to #2 and #3 wide receivers on the year. They'll have to match up with Wayne, Clark, and Addai, but the numbers say it could be a quiet day for Collie and Garcon. The key will be the Colts being able to block without keeping Addai or Clark in to pass protect. If they can flood the patterns underneath, there should be yards available.
6. Watch the cornerstones. Freeney and Mathis are indispensable to the Colts, but both have been battling injuries. Mathis claims he's going to play on Sunday, but the Colts have to be judicious with both pass rushers. Any playoff success the Colts hope to have is going to depend on both men being healthy and at their best. Freeney came back from a week off with a sack. If Mathis should play, his effectiveness will be closely watched.
7. Watch the elites battle. Champ Bailey should spend some time on Reggie Wayne Sunday, making for a matchup of elite corner verses elite WR. The Colts will seek to find all kinds of ways to alter that lineup by moving Wayne around the line of scrimmage and by creating pick type plays. Bailey is no longer the unquestioned "best corner in the league", but he's still pretty good. Wayne has had a slow couple of weeks with just 7 catches for 67 yards in his last two games. If he can beat Bailey one on one, Indy should roll.
8. Watch for a pitch count. Joseph Addai has done the dirty work this year for the Colts, but Indy's plan to have him split time with Donald Brown just hasn't worked out. He hasn't exactly been over worked as he hasn't had more than 21 carries in any game (last week), and is on pace for 241 carries (15 a game) which would be second most in his carrer. He also has a career high 43 catches this season. None of that covers the toll that blocking takes on his body either. Addai has had durability issues in the past, and the Colts need him fresh and healthy for the playoffs. Even if the Colts get out to a big lead and face running situations, watch for plenty of Hart and Simpson.
9. Watch for nothing special. Neither Indy nor Denver have had a very good season on special teams. The Colts have an elite kickoff coverage unit (thanks to McAfee's long kicks), and the Broncos are well above average in punt returns (due to playing in Denver so punts sail more, maybe?), but the two teams rank just 20th and 21st in FOs Special Teams rankings with an identical -0.3%. This game will likely be decided by the offenses and defenses rather than by a big play in special teams.
10. Watch the best run blocking line in football. The Denver Broncos have a solid run game that is set up almost entirely by their offensive line. According to FO, Denver leads the league in 'Adjusted Line Yards'. The Broncos combo of Moreno and Buckhalter have combined for more than 1300 yards. Buckhalter is on pace to shatter career highs in both yards and YPC behind this group. The Colts are going to have to shed blocks and force the Broncos into third downs, but there will likely be stretches of the game where the defense gets blown off the ball by this stellar unit. The Broncos have been held under 100 yards rushing just three times this year and all three teams that did it are in the top 6 in rushing defense. Denver will run the ball successfully on Sunday.
11. Watch for a pick. Kyle Orton threw just one interception (a hail mary to end a half) in his first 7 games of the season, but has now thrown 6 in his last five games. The Colts secondary has picked off at least one pass in its last 8 games. Orton has to play mistake free football to pull off the upset, but the Colts secondary is greedy. With Kelvin Hayden returning to the starting lineup on Sunday, the corner squad is primed to be better than ever.
12. Watch the final push. Pro Bowl squads will be announced frighteningly soon, and several Colts need strong statements to get over the top. Guys like Bethea, Bullitt, and especially Clint Session need to use this game to springboard them to getting named to the squad. Of course, we obviously hope that none of them actually play in the game, because it will take place the week before the Super Bowl this year. Still, it's a big honor for these guys, and many of them deserve it. The offense will be sending Saturday, Manning, Clark and Wayne almost for sure, and it's safe to assume that Mathis and Freeney are locks as well. Just six players off a dominant team isn't nearly enough, and a big game from some of these other guys will go a long way to rectifying that.
13. Watch for insanity. Bronco fans have had it in for me all season, since I picked the Broncos to finish 4-12. Every time they win a game, the crazies come out in force to remind me that I picked them to finish at the bottom of the heap. Seeing as how I still don't believe the Broncos are any good, I also don't care that they are mad. Should Denver pick up the win on Sunday, I won't be able to deal with the fallout in my inbox. I really need the Colts to win this game.
14. Watch the only option. Brandon Marshall has 65 catches for Denver. Their #2 receiver, Eddie Royal, has 33. Marshal has 7 of the Broncos 14 receiving TDs on the season. In other words, take Marshall away and the Broncos have no one else to throw to. Indy would be wise to shade double coverage his way and force Royal or Jabar Gaffney (seriously) to beat them. Then again, Marshall only has two 100 yard games on the season and the Broncos lost both.
15. Watch for small consolation. Should the Broncos come into the Luke and pull off the upset, have no fear. Everyone knows that Indy has owned Denver in the Manning era, going 6-2 with two blowout playoff wins. What everyone doesn't remember is that both losses immediately preceded the two playoff butt kickings. In 2003, the Broncos came to the dome and pushed the Colts around leading many to assume the playoff rematch just a couple of weeks later would go to Denver. In 2004, the Colts played their starters only a series before yanking Manning, Harrison and company. Denver handily won the game insuring a rematch in Indy the next week. Once again, the Colts cruised. So if the Broncos pull off the win, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad playoff matchup for Indy.
16. Watch for the record. We don't make a big deal about the 21 consecutive wins, because it's kind of a hollow deal because of the San Diego playoff loss. Still, it's a record the Pats hold, and a Super Bowl win after this season would certainly serve to validate it in terms of historic significance.
17. Watch the homecoming. Brandon Stokley and Darrell Reid are coming back to the Luke. Reid has had a nice season for the Broncos, with four sacks already this season after spending his time in Indy as a special teams wizard. Stokley has had a frustrating season for the Broncos that started with a miracle catch, but has resulted in nothing more than a catch or two every couple of weeks. Both players were popular Colts and should be welcomed back.
18. Watch for the wrap up. The Colts are the better team. They are just now hitting stride. I can't see Denver coming in and knocking them off this week. The Colts win and clinch the #1 overall seed in the AFC. DZ says Indy 31 Denver 17. Demond likes the Colts by a score of 24-16.