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2015 NFL Week 9 Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. Denver Broncos

For what could be the last time in his career, Peyton Manning will return to Indianapolis Sunday with the Broncos to take on the Colts, looking to set two major NFL records: career passing yards and wins as a Quarterback.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

What's the best medicine for a team that has lost three straight, falling to 3-5, and just fired their Offensive Coordinator? Naturally it's playing against the best Defense in the NFL, who just happens to be quarterbacked by the greatest player in Indianapolis Colts history, as the Broncos will come into Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday afternoon, looking to stay undefeated on the season and going 8-0.

This isn't just a normal homecoming for Peyton Manning, though, as he has a chance to break two major career NFL records (it's as if the schedule makers put this game here for a reason...): the record for most wins (186) and most passing yards (71,858). He's obviously tied the mark for wins (in 35 fewer games), and sits 283 yards shy on passing yards, with both of them currently held by Brett Favre. Knowing what we all do about Manning, he really wants to break these records in Indianapolis. The Colts, however, certainly have other plans, especially that one involving wins.

We all know about the Colts decision to move on from Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton and give current Associate Head Coach Rob Chudzinski the controls, and this, in my opinion, was the best move for right now. I'm not understanding why they did it now and not after this week, but the timing is largely inconsequential. It was a move that needed to happen, as the Offense just looked painful to watch each week. Well, at least until they took the reins off in the 4th and had some decent success. The Offense won't look much different, but hopefully a fresh perspective on play calling will help things, especially against the best Defense in the NFL (you'll see why real soon).

The big injury concern for the Colts is WR T.Y. Hilton, who has missed both days of practice this week with a foot injury, and it's looking less and less likely he'll be playing Sunday, which is a big blow, as he had a big day last year in the Playoff game. The Broncos will again be without LB Shane Ray, who is out with a knee injury, but will be playing their first game with newly acquired TE Vernon Davis. I'm not sure how much they'll be able to work him in for this week, but I'm guessing he'll be out there in several packages. Overall, both teams are fairly healthy (insert Andrew Luck joke here).

These two teams played twice last year, both in Denver, with the Broncos winning in Week 1 31-24, and the Colts finishing the Broncos season in the Divisional Round 24-13. It was pretty obvious Manning was hurt in the Playoff game and not himself, but I don't think the Colts care too much about that. The only other meeting with Manning in Denver was the Colts 39-33 win in 2013, a game in which the Colts had a big lead they had to hang onto late. Seems like so long ago, but it really wasn't. Overall the Colts have just a 9-12 record all-time against the Broncos, but have won seven of the last eight meetings.

What can we expect Sunday afternoon? Let's look at some numbers and find out:

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Broncos (Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Broncos
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 69.0% 21 68.6% 12 65.6% 30 62.6% 3
ANPY/A 4.769 26 6.519 22 4.121 31 2.277 1
Turnovers 2.51 30 1.44 21 2.04 26 2.67 2
Yds/Drive 28.77 19 31.63 20 26.68 27 20.03 1
ToP/Drive 2:30.0 26 2:44.0 19 2:40.0 17 2:35.0 9
Yds/Play 5.246 17 5.600 25 4.979 25 3.846 1
Orange Zone Eff 56.5% 15 54.0% 15 47.1% 29 45.7% 5
First Downs/Drive 1.64 17 1.60 8 1.49 28 1.43 3
3rd/4th Down 41.9% 10 38.8% 19 33.2% 28 28.1% 2
Avg Start Pos 27.7 25 30.6 22 28.5 21 27.6 6
3 and Outs 4.21 27 3.63 17 3.50 12 3.93 9
RZ Eff 67.2% 14 68.3% 22 59.1% 26 55.8% 6
Plays/Drive 5.604 16 5.609 15 5.410 24 5.326 5
Penalty Yds / Play 0.776 13 1.169 1 1.103 30 0.542 30
RB Success 45.7% 14 44.8% 19 36.3% 32 35.7% 3
Yds/Carry 4.47 9 4.18 20 3.61 30 3.68 5
Overall 22 18 28 1

Keys to the Game:

  • That is one impressive Broncos Defense. Only one stat (Penalty Yards per Play drawn) isn't in the top 10 in the NFL. It makes finding a weaknesses almost impossible to find.
  • They boast the league's best pass Defense, giving up just 2.3 adjusted net yards per attempt, which is ridiculously low. Factor in that the Colts sit at just 26th (which has improved as the season's gone on actually) and a at best hobbled Hilton, and it's a recipe for not a lot of yards in the passing game.
  • The Broncos are also second best in Turnovers, scoring more touchdowns than their Offense in two of their games this season. Andrew Luck has thrown multiple interceptions in seven of his last eight games. It'll be a miracle if the Colts survive with no turnovers.
  • Field Position will be of great importance, as the Broncos only give up 20 yards per drive on average this season. Yes, 20. Unless you're starting at midfield you aren't scoring any points doing that. The Colts have been better as of late, but it'll be tantamount this week.
  • Now that I'm skeptical the Colts will score any points Sunday (I do think they'll score eventually), how does the other side look? Well, this isn't the Peyton Manning Offense we all know so well, last week notwithstanding. The Colts Defense has been fairly good getting teams off the field quickly, ranking 12th in Drive Success Rate and 8th in First Downs per Drive, which will be important to maintain that field position they need. Three and Outs will be difficult, however, as that seems to be the one thing the Broncos have avoided this year, ranking 12th.
  • It's really strange to see a Manning team rank 31st in any passing category, but if you've seen them play at all this year you don't think that's out of line. I know they showed signs of life last week against the Packers, but I think it would be unwise to just forget about the first six games. The Colts have a chance to shut down this passing game, and they'll have to in order to have any chance of winning.
  • Same goes for Turnovers. The Colts will need a couple at least to either flip the field or put points on the board themselves. The Broncos rank 26th, so they're apt at losing the ball.
  • If you own C.J. Anderson in Fantasy Football this year you know how horrendous their running game as been, ranking 32nd in RB Success Rate and 30th in Yards per Carry. If he and/or Ronnie Hillman have big days I might pull my hair out.

On top of setting both of those career records, I think Manning would really like to win a game in Indianapolis one last time before his career ends. The two teams will play next season, but I believe it'll be in Denver, and I definitely don't see him playing past next year, so this looks like the last time he'll play inside Lucas Oil Stadium. He showed last week that they're starting to put two and two together on Offense, while their Defense is suffocating, something he's rarely had in his career. I think the Colts will play better than they have in previous weeks, even though it might not seem that way while watching, but they'll come up short and fall to 3-6 and out of first place in the AFC South heading into their Bye week. I don't think any more changes are coming regardless of the outcome though, which is the right call. No reason to go all Detroit Lions here.

Broncos 22, Colts 14