With the Colts facing the Denver Broncos in their regular season opener on Sunday on primetime, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Mile High Report's Kyle Montgomery about the Broncos and this Sunday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then Kyle's responses follow.
1. Obviously, with the Denver Broncos in 2014 the discussion has to start with Peyton Manning. Last year he set both the single-season record for passing yards and touchdowns, and while he likely won't do that again, what are the expectations Broncos fans have for Peyton this year? Will we see any noticeable decline in his play?
Even though it's tempting, it's not time to start talking about the decline of Peyton Manning yet. We won't see a decline in Peyton Manning's play in 2014. We saw no decline in his arm strength in training camp and preseason, and in fact, coach John Fox said he looks stronger than he did a year ago. But I think most Broncos fans are aware it isn't reasonable to expect another 55 TD, 5,500-yard performance from the QB. We all expect for those crazy Broncos statistics to regress toward the mean, and we're all okay with it. Winning games is way more important.
2. The news surrounding the Broncos this week has been about the suspension of wide receiver Wes Welker. How big of an impact will it have on the Broncos offense to have to play without him?
A lot of Broncos fans have downplayed the loss of Wes Welker. "Denver still has Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders," they'd say. "They still have a decent backup in Andrew Caldwell and a promising rookie in Cody Latimer. Oh yeah, and that Peyton Manning guy. They will be fine."
All of that is true. But the Broncos brought in Welker a year ago as an exercise in excess. They wanted the fastest, most explosive offense the NFL had ever seen, and they got it. Without Welker, they're just no longer that extreme, that excessive, that explosive. They're still one of the NFL's top offenses, if not its best in 2014, but there's no one on the roster who can do what Wes Welker does for Manning and the Broncos. The Broncos will miss his speed and his smarts, and if one of his replacements isn't on the same page as Manning during one of Welker's infamous option routes, look out. Manning Face imminent.
3. Defensively, the Broncos added key players such as Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward. It's fair to say the Broncos defense will be significantly improved this year then, correct? What should we be expecting from the Broncos defense?
The Broncos opened the season on NBC a year ago, and then, Peyton Manning and Julius Thomas had a bit of a coming out party. Seven touchdowns against the Super Bowl champs. The Broncos offense was here, and it was dominant.
I think, and hope, that 2014 opening night will be a similar experience, but for the Broncos defense this year. I want to see Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware fulfill the pass-rushing promise they present on paper. I want to see T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib take over that secondary, evolving it from a finesse group a year ago to a hard-hitting unit opposing offenses fear. While those big-name signings are huge, the returns of Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. are simply bigger. Those two are the stars of Denver's defense.
4. I've been reading a lot of Broncos fans saying that getting Ryan Clady back will be huge and that he's incredibly important to the Broncos success this year. Is that true? We saw this team make the Super Bowl without Clady, so what makes his return so important?
All Pro left tackle Ryan Clady gives the Broncos insurance if Manning is having a bad day. Manning is so good he made Chris Clark, backup left tackle, look really good a year ago. Then the Seahawks came a-knockin', and Manning was having a bad day, and the struggles of Clark and Orlando Franklin on the right side only amplified things. The whole mess snowballed into a 35-point blowout no one really saw coming.
Clady will give Manning that extra quarter-second to set himself straight if he's off. Plus, given what they learned of Clark a year ago, the Broncos have shuffled their starting five. The Broncos hope Clark is a better fit at right tackle; he did show some promise at left, after all. And Franklin moving over to left tackle pairs him with Clady, gives Denver one of the biggest, meanest left sides of an offensive line in the NFL.
5. Specifically speaking about Sunday night's game, what is the biggest key to the game for a Broncos win? What do they have to do to win this game?
Protect Peyton. That's always the key with a Manning-led team. Has a team ever beat Manning when he was well-protected? I'm sure your readers would know better than me. Aside from that obvious key, I want to see the Broncos receivers do a better job of disengaging from the Colts secondary than they did a year ago. Indy played a lot of press and threw Denver receivers off their routes, disrupting Peyton's timing. It'll be interesting to see if the referees' new "emphasis" on defensive holding will play a role there Sunday.
Bonus: what's your prediction for the game?
I do think the Broncos will win soundly. Denver's defense has its coming out party this Sunday, showing the NFL it's not just Manning you have to fear when you play the Broncos. The win will be in no small part thanks to the absence of Robert Mathis and injuries across the Colts o-line. No banged-up team will be able to go into Denver on Opening Sunday and come away with a win, not even with a lot of really good Luck.
Thanks again to Kyle Montgomery of Mile High Report for taking the time to answer these questions!