The Indianapolis Colts have battled back from a disappointing start to the season to sit alone atop the AFC South for the first time in years. Given all the team has gone through in terms of injuries and retirements, it’s impressive to see the franchise in this position.
It’s difficult to not feel really good about the decisions Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard have made to get the team to where it is today.
As the team moves forward expectations are going to change. It has been overlooked for at least the last two-and-a-half seasons and has undergone a complete identity change — not to mention almost 100 percent roster turnover. Now, they are starting to get some attention and getting fans around the league to believe that the late-season push in 2018 wasn’t a fluke but may have been a sign of things to come.
Incredibly, the Colts are starting to flip the script and putting the league on notice that they can win big games against big opponents. What do they do now?
Heading into a match-up with the Denver Broncos, the Colts have a bit of steam and are considered favorites. They were considered home favorites against the Oakland Raiders too, so it’s important to not get carried away. They have back-to-back wins against playoff teams on the resume and just recently had their bye week.
The team may be as healthy now as it has all season. Meaning the group should be close to full strength. What do they do with all of this? Can this group continue to focus on 1-0, getting 1% better, and recognize the grind is just beginning?
Let’s take a look at some keys to make this happen and keep the winning streak going.
Something strange happened in 2012. The Indianapolis Colts moved on from future Hall of Fame passer Peyton Manning and chose to start over with another young player who many believed to be a generational talent, Andrew Luck. When that happened, Manning chose to join Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway’s Denver Broncos team.
The Colts fan base was somewhat split. The loyalty for Manning has never waned, not even a little. Fans started wearing Manning jerseys that were half Broncos and half Colts. For some, it was irritating and disrespectful to the franchise. For others, it was a nod to greatness.
Still, the Broncos rented arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation and enjoyed wild success before he retired.
In 2015, the Broncos came to Indianapolis with a 7-0 record. They left the game with their first loss of the season but laid a brutal hit on Andrew Luck that would lead to him missing the remainder of the season. This was just one in a series of blows to Luck’s body that would lead to his future retirement.
Look, it was not Denver’s fault that Manning fell into their lap.
One could argue that the hit Luck took was more his fault than the defensive players who collided with the young quarterback.
None of that changes the fact that the Denver Broncos have a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning and are at least partially responsible for the early retirement of the franchise quarterback the Colts chose to take over for him.
This Broncos team still plays a physical brand of football and emphasizes defense. The Colts should take this history and that reputation seriously in this game. I hope both teams come out of the game completely healthy but I also hope the players know well enough that the Broncos deserve to take their own punches and today is a great opportunity to deliver them.
WIN IN THE TRENCHES
The Colts have come a long way on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line is arguably the best in the NFL and the defensive line has improved considerably with the healthy return of Jabaal Sheard.
Much of this game, as with most games, will be won in the trenches.
Offensively, the Colts need to continue frustrating pass rushers and cannot allow Von Viller to get in Jacoby Brissett’s face all day. They also need to establish the run and make it difficult for the Broncos to play one-dimensional defensive football.
Defensively, the Colts need to continue building on what they’ve show in the last two games. If they can pester Joe Flacco and stifle the Broncos running game, they should win the game. If Flacco is allowed to throw deep balls to Courtland Sutton all day, big plays could come back to bite the Colts.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
While this isn’t necessarily a key to the outcome of this specific game, it is a key to long-term success this season. The Colts are healthier heading into Sunday afternoon’s game than they have been at any time this season.
This should be a very good thing.
However, when all/most of your weapons are available for the first time in the same week, starting rosters adjust and continuity takes a back seat. Will the whole package gel?
The closest the Colts have been to having a dominant game on both sides of the ball was in Week 5 in Kansas City. It is impressive to put together that kind of performance against the hottest team in the NFL.
Today, the Colts have a chance to truly dominate. I’m not suggesting that anyone sleep on what the Broncos can do, particularly on defense. This could easily be a trap game. However, if the team is ready and has the right mindset, they can methodically win series after series on each side of the ball.
At some point, the team has to put it all together and the sooner the better. Today is a big chance.