Week Eight: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
Location: Denver, CO Investco Field at Mile High
Kick-off time: 4:00 pm EST
It's amazing that the NFL is close to reaching its mid-season week. For the Colts, Week Eight begins a stretch of their schedule that is unforgiving. In Week Eight, we as fans will get to really see what kind of team the Colts really are. They have shown resilience and grit, coming back and winning against teams like the Jets and Titans. They've won facing tough adversity, beating the Giants in Week One and beating a determined Jags teams.
Now, the big games begin; the games that separate the field a bit and give us a better indication of who is the best in the AFC.
This week the Colts venture into Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos. The last time the Colts played a meaningful game in Denver was 2002. The last time Indy played in Denver was 2004, but the Colts had already locked up their playoff seeding at that point, and rested most of their starters. The 2002 game was a memorable contest. Mike Vanderjagt kicked the game winning field in OT. The game was played in a snow storm, and for all intents and purposes it ended Denver's season. They never recovered from that loss, and missed the playoffs again that year. That off-season, Denver traded for Jake Plummer and began forming the kind of team we see today.
For the Colts, they face a team that many feel was built specifically to beat them. Mike Shanahan still wakes up in cold sweats thinking about Peyton Manning's playoff performances against Denver. In the 2003 playoff game, Manning set records for QB performance, throwing a "perfect game" against them. Shanahan re-tolled his defense in the years to come, adding players like Champ Bailey and Gerard Warren. Now they get to test their defense against Manning and the Colts. Here are the keys:
- Colts run defense. Montae Reagor and Bob Sanders will not play this week. Mike Doss is out for the season. This means the Colts will lean heavily on Matt Giordano, who has never started a game at safety. This is big because Doss and Sanders are two of Indy's best run stuffers. The addition of McFarland has helped this defense tremendously. However, I still don't know if it is enough to stop a team like Denver. The Broncos use a zone blocking scheme that allows lineman to block an area, creating multiple lanes for the running back to pick when he gets the ball. Tackling on defense is key. The linebackers (especially Brackett and June) have to bring it. Denver will try and create a running game, which will allow Jake Plummer to play fake and boot leg his way all over the field. The Colts are familiar with this scheme because of their knowledge of Denver in the playoffs and the fact that Indy's division rival, Houston, uses the same system. Colts must stop Denver's running game to have a chance.
- Punt and kick coverage. Indy's coverage units looked geriatric against the Redskins last week. It got so bad that I felt Vinatieri should on-side kick, or the Colts should just go for it on 4th down. Heck, the only reason the game wasn't a 36-7 blowout was because of the coverage units screwing up so badly. They cannot repeat something like that against Denver on the road. At home, a team can overcome things like that. On the road, it is much harder. The addition of Dexter Reid will help this group tremendously. Reid was hurt in the preseason. The Colts cut him to make room for Ben Hartstock. However, the Colts have since cut Hartstock (finally!) and have room to re-sign Reid. Reid is a decent back-up safety, but his real skills are on special teams. He could make a difference.
- Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning is the ultimate nemesis for Denver. He has killed them year after year. Mike Shanahan knows that Manning is a big reason why fans and media types continue to question why Shanahan should run the show in Denver. Manning has a way of making Shanahan look stupid. Shanahan brought in Champ Bailey to shutdown Marvin Harrison, Manning's favorite target. Manning then just picked on the rest of Denver's secondary, en route to another post-season beat down of Denver. Denver's defense over the last few years has been built and molded to stop Manning. They want to contain the stretch run, play tough one-on-one coverage, and force Manning into mistakes. Peyton must play smart, and take what Denver gives him. The mis-match might be the tight ends. Denver's linebackers are good, but no linebacker can run with Dallas Clark. And if Denver is going to line up one-on-one against the Colts receivers, Manning must take advantage. This Denver defense is quite good, and Indy's offense has to limit turnovers and take advantage of Denver mistakes.
The Colts showed me something last week, going for the throat against a very desperate Redskins team. Their reward for such a hard fought contest is a trip to Denver. Here, they get tested again against a defense giving up only 7.3 points per game. Despite all the injuries and problems on defense, the Colts are ranked 10th in scoring defense, giving up 20 ppg. Denver is another "test" to see how improved Indy's rushing defense is. With Reagor and Sanders out, it will be tough. However, overcoming injuries is part of the NFL game.
I will cross-blog with TheSportsGuru over at Mile High Report, SB Nation's excellent Denver Broncos site. TheSportsGuru has been itchin' for this game for a while.