Only a handful of times has one of the all-time great Quarterbacks in NFL history left the team where he built his legacy to play somewhere else. Joe Montana never played against the 49ers in San Francisco. Johnny Unitas never played against the Colts in Baltimore. Brett Favre did return to Green Bay, but was a hated, hated man upon his return. Sunday night will be something the NFL has never seen before: A legend returning to a home where he'll still be warmly embraced even after he left town.
Peyton Manning threw 3,542 passes while playing in the city of Indianapolis wearing a Colts jersey, 2,315 of them completed, and 206 of them went for touchdowns. We cheered everyone of them, but only after the play had been made, as we all learned that you must be able to hear a pin drop while he's at the line of scrimmage, but you unleash holy hell when the opponent has it. We remember every great moment (this was by far my favorite), and every agonizing loss. We lived and died with Peyton Manning for 13 years. When he retires, we'll see a #18 jersey hanging from the rafters, and he'll forever be an Indianapolis Colt.
But Sunday, for those three hours, we want him to lose, and lose bad.
Manning leads the 6-0 Broncos into Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Colts in what might be (easily?) the most anticipated Regular Season game in Indianapolis Colts history. I think the only one that comes close is the game against the Patriots back in 2007, a game that lived up to the hype, and a game the Colts came up short in. I would not be surprised in the least if this game is the highest rated Regular Season game of all time (~19.3). Even when you get past the Manning returning home angle, there are multiple story lines happening on the field.
The Broncos are on an historic pace this season on Offense to smash records left and right. They've scored 265 points in 6 games, which is over 44 per game. No that is not a typo. In fact, in their first six games they've outscored the 2012 Chiefs, Jaguars, and Cardinals. Wow. They are coming off a very sluggish performance where they only put up 35 points against the hapless 2013 Jaguars, a game which looked like they were just kicking the can down the road until time ran out. Also, they haven't lost in their last 17 regular season games, and only once did a team get within 7 points of them (Cowboys two weeks ago). To say they are dominating is an understatement.
Want some even worse news? The Broncos have been winning games, on average, by over 17 points, and they are getting former #2 pick overall in the draft, and one of the best pass rushers in the NFL back in Von Miller this week, who was suspended the first six weeks of the season. The Broncos Defense has struggled mightily this season (you'll see numbers later), in no small part due to the absence of Miller. Just what every 6-0 team that is killing everyone needs...an elite player at a very important position.
The Colts come into Week 7 after one of the worst complete team failures I've seen (outside of 2011 of course), and I'm sure will be anxious to wipe the bad taste of last Monday night out of their collective mouths. It was so bad that after it's had a few days to settle in, it's just one of those games you sweep under the rug, don't ever look at it or bring it up, and just move on like it never happened. Don't expect the team we see Sunday night to resemble anything we saw on Monday. Sometimes everything just goes wrong.
The Colts and Broncos have played 21 times over the years, with the Broncos holding a 11-10 edge. Manning won eight of ten against his current team, but one of those he only played one series, so I hardly count that as a loss against him. The two teams played two playoff games, neither of which was really a game, and #18 thoroughly dismantled and discarded some pretty good Bronco Defenses. The last time these two teams met the Colts won in Denver back in 2010 27-13. Kyle Orton threw for 475 yards that day.
Just how do these two teams match-up? Better than you may think...
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Broncos:
|Orange Zone Eff||58.7%||11||57.3%||20||73.2%||1||61.2%||24|
|Avg Start Pos||28.2||21||25.0||4||32.4||9||25.6||5|
|3 and Outs||1.90||2||2.85||27||1.93||3||3.65||17|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.460||1||0.689||26||0.778||13||0.853||10|
Keys to the game:
- As you would expect, if you've seen the Broncos at all this season, they are tops in the league in quite a few categories, and second in three more. This includes our top 2 stats, Drive Success Rate and Adjusted Net Passing Yards per Attempt, where they are far and away best in the NFL. The Colts Defense, hopefully, is up to the challenge.
- We preach here at Stampede Blue that in order to win in the NFL you need to pass the ball and stop the pass, which the Colts have done a really good job of through the first six games, even on Defense, ranking 7th in the league. The secondary will hopefully have LaRon Landry back this week, but they haven't, and won't, face another group of receivers like they will Sunday night. Remember back in 2004 when Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley all had over 1,000 yards receiving and double digit touchdowns? That's the situation here with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker.
- The Broncos have been lethal scoring points once they get close, ranking best in the league in the Orange Zone, and 2nd in the Red Zone. This is how the Colts Defense has stayed in games all year by keeping teams out of the end zone. They forced four Charger field goal attempts last week in five trips. For the Colts to win we'll have to see a good bit of Matt Prater.
- Where else can the Colts get an advantage while on Defense? Force a couple turnovers, something the Broncos have been vulnerable to, ranking just 21st. They were careless several times last week, especially Manning who had a pick-six as well as two fumbles. He's go years without a single fumble, yet somehow has two in the same game? Robert Mathis has been waiting a long time for this day. A strip-sack on Manning would be almost ten years in the making. How about two or three?
- The Colts Offense ranks just behind the Broncos overall this season, even after the stinker last Monday night. They get a chance to redeem themselves against a Defense that is about the same level as the Chargers, but is getting a pretty good player back.
- As good as the Broncos Offense has been moving and passing the ball, that's how bad their Defense has been, ranking 30th and 29th respectively. I don't expect the drops to continue, so drives will keep moving and passing yardage will accumulate. If the Colts can't sustain a few lengthy drives, especially since their entire philosophy is based around doing just that, it's going to be a long day.
- Why do we think the Broncos have been so bad defensively overall yet very good at stopping the run? Because teams abandon the run after getting down two scores, and when your average margin of victory is over 17, that happens rather quickly. Pep, my man, run in select spots to ensure the maximum efficiency of the passing game. Don't run on every first down, or don't run play-action in a situation just screaming run play-action. The Colts will have to play less predictable, which I think they've done over the last three halves.
- This week is also the time to take several shots down the field, as the Broncos rank dead last in Yards per Play. Get huge chunks of yards at a time. There's no reason to dink and dunk against this team, as they are good at giving up long gains. If we don't see some downfield action, I don't think the Colts can win.
- The Colts lead the NFL in Turnovers. Continue that please. No turnovers. It'll be a killer in this game.
All of the stats can help tell a story of what will happen, but I think Sunday night comes down to one thing: Can the Colts get inside Peyton Manning's head enough to make him make mistakes? This can be by the tribute video being shown on him, hitting him, forcing a turnover, etc. Manning wants to win this game more than any other this year (thanks Captain Obvious!), and we've seen instances over the years where one frustration or one thing knocking him off his game sends him into a tailspin.
On the flip side of that, I'm very worried that the way the Colts Defense plays is one that Manning has shredded over the years. He rarely has trouble with the Ravens-style Defense, even when everyone else in the NFL does. Now that defensive philosophy is in Indianapolis, and with a considerable drop in talent overall from what those great Ravens or Jets defenses had. It scares me more than anything.
Because so few of the Colts players actually played with Manning when he was in Indianapolis, I feel like for most of them it's just a big game, like they had two weeks ago at home, but with the understanding of the added significance. Does T.Y. Hilton or Hugh Thornton have any extra motivation to beat Peyton Manning? Not really. They just want to beat the Denver Broncos, who are very, very good. I think this helps the Colts as all the pressure shifts to Manning, and is certainly being helped in the lead-up to the game by Jim Irsay making all the headlines, with absolutely zero focus on Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, etc. who will be somewhat affected by the presence of #18 in the building.
Call me crazy, but I think the Colts hang around, and hang around, and get the ball late in the game with a chance to win. We've seen time and again how well these guys perform at the end of games, especially at home, and the Colts shock the world by beating the Broncos with no time on the clock, kinda like the Lions game from last year. I think Chuck Pagano is at his best when he has his team up against a wall and with no one giving them a chance. We'll see that manifest itself Sunday night.
Then, at least for a few months, we can all go back to cheering for Peyton Manning. Until they hopefully come back to Indianapolis in late January.
Colts 30, Broncos 28