The Indianapolis Colts are an optimistic group - they know they can win any given week, and they expect to. At the same time, however, they're realistic. Chuck Pagano was both today when talking about the Colts' upcoming game in week one against the Denver Broncos.
Of course, playing the Broncos means playing former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. He shattered the NFL record books last year by setting the all-time single-season mark for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55). He also completed 68.3 percent of his passes and threw just 10 interceptions. Manning was dominant last year, and while his numbers will likely go down this year, there's no reason to think that his incredible decade-plus run of dominance will cease. He will continue to give opposing defensive coaches headaches and sleepless nights.
Chuck Pagano knows how tough it is to play Peyton Manning. The Colts coach was asked Monday whether the Colts just approach Sunday's game against Peyton with the mindset that the quarterback will make some plays and that they just have to move on and try to limit them. "Any game that he's played in that's been the case," Pagano answered, "whether it was last year's game or when I faced him when I was at other teams. Everybody is going to make some plays and we know he's going to make some plays."
Pagano knows Manning is going to make some plays and that Manning is going to score some points. His goal: make it as tough as possible. "Again, make him go the long, hard way," Pagano said. "Don't give up freebies. From a defensive standpoint, be on the same page. Communication is going to be very, very important. They've got playmakers and they've got one of the best to ever play the game under center. So yeah, it won't be the end if he makes [those plays]. Those guys especially on the outside, they've got to have amnesia, and you've got to be able to put it behind you and move on. Sixty minutes, right?"
Pagano's Colts beat Manning and the Broncos last year, but that was in Indianapolis, and more importantly, it was with Robert Mathis. This year's game will not only be in Denver, the Colts will be without Mathis due to a suspension too. Last year's game literally changed on Robert Mathis' strip sack of Manning, and that was as dominant as the reigning sack-champion was last year (and really probably as dominant of a game as he's had, given the hype and circumstances). This year, the Colts will be facing the league's best quarterback without their best defensive players. Pagano knows they'll need to find a way to pressure Manning with Mathis out.
"The entire defense has to step up their game in his absence and that's what they'll do," Pagano said. "It'll be easy to make the comparisons because 98's not going to be out there. It will be a combination of Bjoern (Werner) and (Erik) Walden and Cam Johnson, whoever it is. But the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts, right?"
What's the key to going against Peyton Manning? Colts safety Mike Adams, who spent the past couple of years with Manning in Denver, offered his take. "Just doing what you do," Adams said. "Peyton Manning, he's a smart guy. He changes up every week. I know that, the Colts know that. Obviously the Colts got the formula, they beat us last year. They're not asking me for too much information. Just personnel, how guys are, basic stuff like that. Other than that, I can't tell them too much how much Peyton's changed."
Adams also reiterated Pagano's emphasis that Manning is going to make some plays. "That's the game, period," Adams added. "That's football, period. If you haven't given up a touchdown, you haven't gotten run over or missed a tackle, you're not playing. You're not playing the game. Therefore, it happens.
"You've got to have that short memory, be able to recover. He's a great player. He's going to be wearing that yellow jacket. At the end of the day, you know that he's going to make his plays. You could have great coverage, but he's going to sneak it in there. We've got to stick to our game plan and do what we do. Get him off the pocket, get him flustered, so we can make plays."
Cornerback Greg Toler also chimed in on how to prepare for Peyton Manning. "He's an elite QB," Toler said. "He plays at a high level at all times. He studies film like no other. He may have started the hurry up offense, no huddle. You've just got to know the ball is going to bounce their way sometimes and we just want it to bounce our way a majority."
The Colts will certainly have their hands full on Sunday night against Peyton Manning, and they know that. They also know that Manning will make some plays and that Manning will score some points. The Colts are just trying to make it as difficult as possible and not hand him easy plays. As far as preparing for Peyton goes? Start by telling Vontae Davis that they're going up against Tom Brady.