<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> How can we stop Broncos' rushing ofense? And their pass rush?</p>— Danilo Higa (@danilohiga) <a href="https://twitter.com/danilohiga/status/552284874804318208">January 6, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Broncos team the Colts faced in week one and the Broncos team the Colts will face in the Divisional Round of the playoffs has to do with their running game, as C.J. Anderson has really emerged to have a good season. He rushed for 849 yards and 8 touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry, also adding 34 catches, 324 yards, and two scores receiving. It sounds funny and stupid to say it, but Peyton Manning has taken a bit of a back seat recently. He's still a good quarterback and he's still a huge part of what the Broncos do, but they can win without him carrying them. C.J. Anderson has been one of the main reasons for that offensively. The Colts encountered this same situation last week against the Bengals, as the emergence of Jeremy Hill at running back had happened since the teams previously met. What the Colts were able to do against the Bengals, however, they'll be unable to do against the Broncos. Indy keyed in on the run against Cincinnati, recognizing that the offense was largely one-dimensional, with Andy Dalton at quarterback and with A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham out. The Colts didn't really stop the Bengals' run game, but they were able to key in on it. They won't be able to do that against the Broncos, who have Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, and other playmakers in the passing game. So the defense stopping the run game will be a huge factor in this game, for sure, and it's one that will legitimately provide a test for Indy's defense, as they'll have to play against a very balanced offense that can beat you in a number of ways.
As for the Colts' offensive line against the Broncos' pass rush, there's no doubt that the Colts' line on Sunday played as well as they've played all season on Sunday against the Bengals. It was a very encouraging performance after weeks of struggles, but we also have to remember that the Bengals were one of the worst in the NFL at rushing the passer. The Broncos, on the other hand, have a great duo of pass rushers in Demarcus Ware (10 sacks) and Von Miller (14 sacks). And on Sunday we'll really see just how good this offensive line will be, as they'll face a legitimate test. Really, they'll have to help the right side of the line. I think they'll have to trust the left side (and Anthony Castonzo) to hold their own while then providing help to guys like right tackle Joe Reitz - who looked good against the Bengals, but who got help some in that game too and who will have his hands full on Sunday. They'll have to find other ways to protect Andrew Luck too, such as keeping Dwayne Allen back in pass protection more. The one thing the Colts can't have is Luck getting hit every play, because if he doesn't have a chance to make plays then the Colts won't have a chance to win the game. Pep Hamilton thinks that linemen at the NFL level should be able to hold their own, and while he has a point, these pass rushers are in the NFL too. And on Sunday, the Colts will likely have to provide help to handle the pass rush duo the Broncos have.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> How do the Colts def slow Peyton's offense?</p>— Dennis Cultice (@DennisCultice) <a href="https://twitter.com/DennisCultice/status/552287177049399296">January 6, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Well, we focused on the Broncos' run game in the previous question, so let's also look at the Broncos' passing offense, led by Peyton Manning. He threw for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns this year against 15 picks while completing 66.2 percent of his passes. There's no doubt that he's been struggling a bit recently, but overall he's still had a pretty dang good season. The fact that we're talking about him struggling and why that is shows just how good he's been in his career. Either way, though, he's got some of the best weapons in football. Demaryius Thomas caught 111 passes for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns and Emmanuel Sanders caught 101 passes for 1,404 yards and 9 touchdowns in the regular season, and then Julius Thomas added 12 touchdown receptions and 489 yards on 43 receptions. And don't forget about Wes Welker in the slot, either, or C.J. Anderson out of the backfield. Simply put, the Broncos' offense is loaded. And, as Chuck Pagano said on Monday, it's not as much about stopping the Broncos as it is about slowing them down and limiting their effectiveness. And the Colts have some pretty good tape on just exactly how to do that: they showed it almost as well as anyone last year how to do it (and the Seahawks did a similar thing, just better, in the Super Bowl).
Firstly, they've got to trust Vontae Davis. It really doesn't matter if he shadows the wide receiver this week (which he doesn't do), since the Broncos have two dang good wide receivers in Thomas and Sanders. Whichever one goes up against Davis will present a big test. But Davis has played absolutely lights out tremendous this year and the Colts must rely on him to do the same this Sunday. We know the Colts must bring their "A game" to beat the Broncos, and that includes Vontae Davis (who certainly did last year against the Broncos and Tom Brady). In the slot, Darius Butler matches up well with Wes Welker and the threat he can bring, and so I think the Colts can feel pretty confident in Butler there. So that leaves Greg Toler on the outside against either Thomas or Sanders, and that's easily a mismatch no matter which receiver it is. Toler fills a role in this scheme, but he has had a rough season, especially recently (though he played his best game of the year last week against the Bengals). The Colts will have to consider giving him help. The pass rush is where the Colts could struggle the most. At this point in his career, Peyton Manning is who he is, and he doesn't deal well when the pocket is collapsing - not that any quarterback really does, but that's one of the biggest ways to beat Peyton Manning. But Colts fans know so well that blitzing Manning is essentially a death sentence for a defense, as the quarterback will pick it apart. And that's the problem the Colts run into: they're going to have to blitz. They have no other option. Jonathan Newsome and Erik Walden have both shown the ability to get to the passer this season, but the Colts don't have a Robert Mathis this year. They have to blitz in order to get pressure, and so they're going to have to do a heck of a job disguising those blitzes and trying to confuse Peyton while then actually getting to him and collapsing the pocket. That's a very tough assignment, and that could end up being the biggest weakness the Colts' defense shows on Sunday.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> how will the Colts defend Julius Thomas differently than in this years earlier game?</p>— Nondo Capuano (@nondoc) <a href="https://twitter.com/nondoc/status/552305897897472000">January 6, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
If you noticed, I left out one key part of the Broncos' passing offense in the last section, and that's to focus on it here. Tight end Julius Thomas is among the best receiving tight ends in the NFL, and the Colts saw this first-hand in week one, as Thomas caught 7 passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts. That started a season-long struggle against tight ends in the passing game for the Colts' defense, and they haven't really figured out a way to stop it yet. For Thomas, however, he has been hampered by injuries this season, and that has played a major role in the Broncos offense. Since that week one game, the most yards in a single game that Thomas has amassed is 66, and he hasn't caught more than six passes in a game, either. None of that matters if the Colts don't guard him, however, and that'll be a huge challenge. It'll likely end up being Jerrell Freeman on Thomas, and the linebacker gives the Colts the best chance against tight ends in the passing game - but still, the defense will need to provide safety help for Freeman. The Colts absolutely cannot let Thomas beat them again, and that means focusing on stopping him - as difficult as that seems.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> would you start A.Q. over Louis at right guard if healthy?</p>— Zach McClish (@Zach_McClish) <a href="https://twitter.com/Zach_McClish/status/552308091753353216">January 6, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
No. And I know this will come as a shock to all the Colts fans reading this and to general manager Ryan Grigson, who coined the term "ShipleyGate" yesterday (on the radio with Dan Dakich on 1070 the Fan), but I don't think I'd start Shipley at right guard this Sunday if he's healthy. And there are two main reasons why. Firstly, I think that Lance Louis has actually been playing better in the last few weeks, and I think that he did a solid job on Sunday. But secondly, and this is the biggest reason, is that I think continuity is a big thing along the offensive line. Starting Shipley at right guard on Sunday would mean the 12th different line combination in 18 games, and that's not a winning recipe. I know the Colts have screwed up the whole continuity thing by benching centers, but they're coming off of their best offensive line performance of the season and all five of the starters emerged healthy. I wouldn't break that up for a guy like Shipley (especially coming off of an injury), though in a win-or-go-home game I wouldn't be afraid to use him if need be during the game. But no, I wouldn't start him over Louis, mainly because I think it's most important right now to maintain that continuity, at least going into the game. And it sounds like the Colts fully intend on keeping the offensive line the same next week, too - but of course, as we've learned, we never know for sure until it's official.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> what would you grade Khaled Holmes for his performance on sunday❓</p>— ThatNigga (@FifthElementRJ) <a href="https://twitter.com/FifthElementRJ/status/552284886321856512">January 6, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Definitely not the -7.0 grade that Pro Football Focus gave him, that's for sure. I don't think that Khaled Holmes was Jeff Saturday out there on Sunday, but he wasn't that bad either. I think he was somewhere in the middle, having played a solid game. PFF pointed out a few negative plays, and yeah there were some things he needed to do better. Maybe my opinions are skewed after watching several weeks of Jonotthan Harrison struggle at center. Maybe I'm just hoping for Holmes to finally show something. But regardless, I thought that Holmes did a solid job at center and that there's plenty to work with when it comes to Holmes.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> do you think we lose Pep to a HC job and if so where do we go from there</p>— JR (@JesseReed3) <a href="https://twitter.com/JesseReed3/status/552308356359409665">January 6, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
I honestly don't know whether Pep Hamilton will get a head coaching job this offseason, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit and I know that it's a matter of when, not if, for Hamilton getting a head coaching position. I'd hate to see him go (because he's had a good season, believe it or not) - as it'd mean three offensive coordinators for Andrew Luck in four seasons. Because of that, my expectation would be for the Colts, if Hamilton were to leave, to promote from within. They hired Rob Chudzinksi, the former Browns head coach and Panthers offensive coordinator, as a special assistant to head coach Chuck Pagano this season, and with a year working with Luck he would make sense to step in for Hamilton, as that would maintain at least some consistency. Another name might be Clyde Christensen, who has served as the Colts' offensive coordinator before but now works as the quarterbacks coach. He's a respected guy who has worked closely with Luck for the past three seasons, so he might get some consideration too. So I'd expect someone like Chudzinski or Christensen to get promoted - nothing flashy, but maintaining familiarity with Andrew Luck. That's what the Colts tried to do last time, hiring the "Andrew Luck Director of Offense" while Luck was at Stanford in Hamilton. My expectation, if Hamilton were to leave, would be that the Colts would emphasize that familiarity with Luck once again and likely promote from within.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/Coltsfanwilson">@Coltsfanwilson</a> colts have a good chance going to the super bowl?</p>— Aaron Andrew Hankins (@AAHankins) <a href="https://twitter.com/AAHankins/status/552285488565215232">January 6, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Yes, the Colts have a chance. They're one of the final eight teams remaining, and they have a pretty dang good quarterback. The Colts aren't nearly as good of a team as the Broncos or the Patriots, and that's why it'd be an upset for them to win. That's also the reason why we've talked a lot about potential playoff matchups around here, because the most likely road to the Super Bowl for the Colts lies in terms of who they play. If the Ravens knock off the Patriots on Sunday and the Colts manage to upset the Broncos, then the Colts would host the AFC Championship game against a team they could beat. So sure, the Colts have a chance, and it's mainly because of the guy under center in Andrew Luck. But if Luck leads Indy to an upset win on Sunday and the matchups play out favorably, it could happen. It looks unlikely right now, but to answer your question, as long as Andrew Luck is at quarterback for the Colts they'll have at least a chance.