The Colts finished the 2009 season 14-2 to win the AFC South and had home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They beat the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets, but lost to the New Orleans Saints 30-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. In 2010, second year Head Coach Jim Caldwell has 14 new players with a mixture of young and veteran talent. The average age of the Colts is 25.5 years. Indy is bringing their 1-1 record to the Mile High City for this week's matchup.
CBS is broadcasting the game on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, 2:15 PM MDT at Invesco Field at Mile High, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms covering the game. It will be available for most of the country, but you can check here to be sure.
The weather will be ideal for a second straight week, though a tad cooler than the 91 degrees I experienced during the Seahawks game.
This was the forecast at post time. To get a current glimpse, go here.
The Offense for Indy begins and ends with quarterback Peyton Manning. He is the decision maker who takes what the opposing Defense gives him. Manning is such a student of the game, that he seldom makes mistakes. In fact, he is basically the on-field Offensive Coordinator for the Colts. It's no wonder he is one of the top paid players in the league.
This is a Passing Offense with a sprinkle of Run thrown in. Joseph Addai totes the ball enough to keep the defense honest and allow the play-action to be believable. When Addai needs a breather, Donald Brown is there to spell him. Otherwise, Receivers Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez and Tight End Dallas Clark are the major play-makers for the Colts.
Up front, the Offensive Line is anchored by Center Jeff Saturday. This front five is usually among the league's best at pass protection (top seven in sacks allowed each of past eight seasons) and prides itself on keeping Peyton Manning upright. Against the , they allowed one sack and just three quarterback hurries.
Indy Head Coach Jim Caldwell:
"We have pretty high standards in how we believe pass protection should be handled and taken care of and keeping our quarterback off the ground. We have been pretty good over the years so our standards are high; so one time is too many. Obviously he got hit a few times and a few more times than normal and that is an area we have to get shored up."
On Defense, Indianapolis runs a 4-3 scheme. Bookend Defensive Ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have each recorded three sacks in the Colts' first two games. Freeney had two sacks and two forced fumbles against the Giants. Mathis, meanwhile, had two sacks and one forced fumble. The Colt's forte is to get out to a lead and set these two loose to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield.
"We're basically programmed. We call it the trifecta: We want to get the sack. We want to get the forced fumble. We want to get the touchdown," said Freeney.
WEEK ONE: HOUSTON 34, INDY 24
Peyton Manning had terrific numbers--40-57, 433 yds, and 3 TDs. Both WR Austin Collie and TE Dallas Clark had 11 receptions each. Neither was enough to overcome the spectacular play of Texans Running Back Arian Foster though. Riding on Foster's team-record 231 yards and 3 Touchdowns, Houston stunned the Colts, 34-24. If Foster is on your fantasy team, you had a good week.
Despite Manning's performance, the Colts Defense couldn't keep the undrafted 2nd-year RB in check, surrendering 6.1 yards per carry. It took a Corner blitz by Jerraud Powers to get a Tackle for Loss on Arian Foster. When three out of your top five Tacklers are Defensive Backs, you are not going stopping the run effectively. The Texans employ the Zone Blocking scheme that Head Coach Gary Kubiak has been involved with his whole career. They were getting a good push from the Offensive Linemen to keep Indy's pass rush off balance enough to take a step off of Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney's mad rush. The pair ended up with a Sack apiece on the day anyway.
The Turnover margin, 1st Downs and the Time of Possession were even, but the difference in this game was the 3rd Down conversion disparity. Indy was able to capitalize on an interception by Matt Schaub on a deep pass over the middle on a 1st and 10. That was a bad play call, especially when the run was working so good. Fortunately it didn't affect the result of the game. The Colts were only able to convert 33.3% on 3rd Downs while the Texans had a 54.5% success rate. That, along with the application of pressure to the opposing quarterback, is what allowed Houston to beat Indianapolis for only the second time in 17 tries. Houston only needed to punt twice. Peyton Manning was sacked two times and pressured on at least ten other plays. Houston's D-Line caused a holding penalty to Center Jeff Saturday and a false start on 1st year Left Guard Jamey Richard. When the Colts were in 2nd or 3rd and long situations, the Texans repeatedly collapsed the pocket on Peyton Manning with a four man rush.
Houston had a 13-10 lead at halftime and Foster stretched the lead with a 1-yard touchdown run that capped an eight minute drive to start the 3rd quarter. After that, the Colts missed an opportunity when Austin Collie caught a pass on third down at the Texans 10 yard line, but he fumbled the ball away after a hit by safety Bernard Pollard. Texan's cornerback Glover Quin recovered.
Arian ran 42 yards on the play after the fumble and scored on a 25-yard run that made it 27-10 with about nine minutes remaining. Manning rallied back to throw a 10-yard TD strike to Dallas Clark with less than five minutes on the clock. That cut Houston’s lead to 27-17. But Foster ran for 41 yards on the next series and capped his day with an 8-yard TD run. The Colts responded with a 73-yard TD to Austin Collie with about 1:30 left, but still came up short.
I have one more thing to say about this game. Houston has a rookie Returner/Wide Receiver by the name of Jacoby Jones. He has some quickness. He had a 39 yard punt return that set up the Texans first score. He also showcased his speed on a 23 yard pass reception in the 1st half. Since the Broncos will be playing the Texans in Week 16, we should keep an eye on this kid.
WEEK TWO: INDY 24, NEW YORK GIANTS 14
Against the Giants, Indy decided they were going to commit themselves to running the ball. Considered more of an afterthought for a Pass-Heavy team like the Colt's, it was a major factor against the Giants. While that may sound peculiar for a team with a high powered aerial arsenal, there was a method to this madness. The object was to keep the younger Manning off the field as much as possible. To help matters, Giants Defensive Coordinator Perry Fewell was trying to flood the Zones with as many DB's as he could. The G-men, who normally run a 4-3 Base Defense, went with a heavy dosage of nickel and dime formations. They used four Linemen, one Linebacker and six Defensive Backs--daring the Colt's to beat them with the run. So Peyton Manning obliged them. Running through a majority of Zone Blocking, Joseph Addai amassed 92 yards on 20 carries. It was the most single-game yardage he's had in almost two years (Week 4-2007). Donald Brown got his share also, adding a career-best 69 yards on 16 carries including a seven-yard touchdown run. With 43 carries, it was the first time the Colts had more rushing attempts than passing attempts since Manning was drafted.
Wide Receiver Reggie Wayne (7 catches, 96 yds, 1 TD) and TE Dallas Clark (5 for 83 yds, 1 TD) had a hand in the victory. But going 3 for 4 in the RedZone, winning the Turnover battle, getting a Touchdown from your Defense and dominating the Time of Possession usually has something to do with winning football games too.
The Colts' held Giants quarterback Eli Manning to an 85.6 passer rating. The secondary allowed two long touchdown passes, but four Sacks, six hurries and one interception kept the Giants at bay on Defense. Indy's Rush Defense was better in Week 2. The Giants ran for 120 yards on 25 carries, led by Ahmad Bradshaw with 89 yards. A big difference from the 271 total that they gave up in Houston. The majority of rushing yardage came in the second half after end result of the game was determined.
Kicker Adam Vinatieri has been perfect so far this year going 2 for 2 with 8 Extra points made. That is all he does for the Colts. Pat McAfee does the Holding, the Punting and the Kickoffs. The Colts have allowed 21 yards per punt. McAfee has punted 10 times for an average of 38.8 yards. He has placed 5 inside the 20, 1 inside the 10, had 2 Touchbacks and 4 Fair caught. The Long Snapper is Justin Snow. Wide Receiver Anthony Gonzalez was supposed to be the featured Punt Returner, but he was injured in the first game. CB Jerraud Powers has filled in nicely. He has returned 4 punts for a respectable but not outstanding 9.3 yard average and 2 fair catches. He is also tied for the team lead in interceptions (1) with S Antoine Bethea. Devin Moore is the Kick Returner. He has 9 returns for a 21.7 average this year.
In the game vs.Texans, McAfee punted 5 times with a 19.8 average. (no that is not a typo) And you thought Mitch Berger was bad. The Coverage units weren't too good either. They gave up a 39 yard Punt Return, two Kick Returns for 23 yards and one 33 yarder. Devin Moore returned 7 Kickoffs for an average of 22 yards and Jerraud Powers return of a 13 yard punt was the highlight of the Colts Special Teams Unit in Week One.
Against the G-men, P Pat McAfee averaged 40.4 yards (net) on five punts. He also had five touch backs on kickoffs, tying a franchise record in the process. PK Adam Vinatieri made his only field goal attempt, hitting from 38 yards out. RB Devin Moore averaged 20 yards on two kickoff returns. Jerraud Powers averaged eight yards on three punt returns. The kickoff and punt coverage units allowed New York returners 12.5 yards on kickoff returns and three yards on punt returns.
The Colts announced linebacker Ramon Humber has undergone surgery for a fractured hand and will be out this week. Receiver Anthony Gonzalez (ankle) and safety Bob Sanders (biceps) are also out for the game against Denver.
LB Gary Brackett and RB Joseph Addai did not practice Wednesday. Addai was out with an undisclosed knee injury and Brackett missed practice after hurting his back. They will both be ready to start on Sunday.
DE Dwight Freeney took his customary extra day of rest and OT Charlie Johnson was held out of Wednesday's workout. Johnson is nursing a sprained right foot. Both will start this week. Rookie Jeff Linkenbach will be on hand to spell Johnson if needed. Linkenbach filled in sparingly in last week's game.
WR Pierre Garcon (ankle) and C Jeff Saturday (knee) did limited work in Wednesday's practice and are expected to play Sunday.
LB Clint Session missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury. He was held out of last week's game with the Giants and his status for the Denver game won't be known until Friday or Saturday. Last week, Rookie Kavell Conner started at weak-side linebacker in place of Session and recorded five total tackles against the Giants.
CB Brandon King was Limited on Thursday with an apparent Hamstring issue. His status is unknown at this point. King is Antoine Bethea's back up at Free Safety.
The Broncos will play the Colts this Sunday in the 19th regular-season matchup and the fourth meeting between the teams in the last five regular seasons. They last met on Dec.13, 2009 at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts bested the Broncos 28-16. In that game the Broncos could only muster two Brandon Marshall touchdowns and a Matt Prater Field Goal. It will take more than that to have a chance to beat the defending AFC Champs. The Broncos lead the series 11-7, including a 6-2 mark at home, but the Colts are 7-2 against the Broncos in the Peyton Manning era. The Broncos have won 14 of their last 15 home games during the month of September dating to the 2002 season.
Vegas has Indianapolis as the 5.5 point favorite
A View from the Cheap Seats --(by Brian Shrout)
How to Beat the Colts
There is a popular adage that the way you beat the Indianapolis Colts is to run the ball at them, run it again and again and over and over and in so doing keep Peyton Manning off the field.
Proponents of this view will point to 2003 when Denver beat the Colts 31-17 by rushing for 227 yards and dominating the Time of Possession 44:58 to 15:02. Houston, in 2010, followed a similar path in beating Indianapolis 34-24 by rushing for 257 yards.
The Giants lost last week 38-14, even though they rushed for 120 yards. New Orleans in the Super Bowl pursued a slightly different path. The Saints beat the Colts 31-17, but only had 51 yards rushing. They won by doing what they do best: combining pin-point passing on offense with timely runs, solid special teams play and an opportunistic defense.
What does this all mean for Denver? There are some who are suggesting that we follow the path of the 2003 Broncos and the 2010 Texans and simply run the ball down the Colts' throat. I see a potential problem with this: To go to a run first/run most strategy would mean playing to the Broncos' weakness on offense: running the ball. When was the last time Denver fielded a 200-yard runner in a game? I believe it was the 2003 game against the Colts. For that matter, how many times in the last couple of years has Denver even managed a 100-yard rusher in a game? The Broncos have an offensive line that features three players with very limited NFL game experience who have struggled to consistently open holes for the running back. It does not seem reasonable to think that they will suddenly be able to consistently open holes in the Colts' defensive front seven.
Consider the Broncos-Colts game from 2009 which the Colts won 28-16. Denver's first three drives were nine runs and five passes. They resulted in 2 punts and one turnover on downs. Meanwhile, Indianapolis built up a twenty-one point lead. The Broncos' next drive was three runs, nine passes and resulted in a touchdown. This was followed by six balanced drives (eleven runs/fifteen passes) and resulted in two punts, one turnover on downs, one interception, one missed field goal, and a drive that ended with the end of the first half. Next, Denver had a drive of three runs, seven passes and scored a touchdown.
From the cheap seats, it would appear that the key to beating the Colts is to play to the Broncos' strength. Pass early, pass often, score as often as possible. Finish off every drive with points. Use the short to intermediate passing game to burn the clock, and run just enough to force the Colts to account for the running game. Play better on special teams -- work on not giving up long returns, and doing silly things like running the ball from deep in our own end zone. Challenge the defense to play the same kind of opportunistic game they played against Seattle. They gave up a lot of yards, but also came up with 4 takeaways.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Will the Colt's continue they're running ways? -The 4-3 Defensive front that Indianapolis has faced the last two weeks will be different this week in Denver. A 3-4 with some 5-2 will be mixed in. The Broncos have struggled this season with their Run Defense. The possibility of a rookie Cornerback tandem may be too enticing for Peyton Manning to ignore.
Rattle Peyton Manning - The Colts offense isn’t the same when Manning gets hit. It's easier said than done, but you need to force some turnovers and 3 and outs to beat this team. In the loss to Houston in Week One, Indianapolis' offensive line allowed two sacks but QB Peyton Manning was knocked down 10 other times.
It is better to attempt to beat the Colts by running the ball (Houston) than trying to beat them with using the Nickel or Dime scheme (NY Giants) predominantly. Indy's Run Defense did improve from Week One to Week Two, but they are allowing an average of 188.5 yards per game. It also helps if you can get pressures or Sacks on Peyton. Brian could be on to something with his entry from the Cheap Seats. By using the short passing game, take time off the clock and keep Manning off the field and frustrated. Peyton is one of the best at that scheme too which is no surprise. He led the league in TD passes, completion percentage, and passing first downs on short throws in 2009. So beating Indianapolis at their own game would be satisfying to this fan.
A FEW FAST FACTS
The Broncos are averaging 24 points a game. They possess the second-best third down efficiency in the NFL (56.7 percent) and have an evenly distributed offensive attack.
Indy's Run Defense is allowing an average of 188.5 yards per game, 32nd in the league.
Since 2003, the Broncos are second only to the Colts (121) for fewest sacks allowed with 176.
"It's In The Way That You Use It" -- Eric Clapton
The Broncos will be playing through heavy heartaches this Sunday. Wide Receiver Kenny McKinley passed away Monday night and while the Team and their fans all mourn this tragedy, the Colt's are not coming to town to give their condolences. The Broncos won't have much time to grieve for their departed teammate with another game close at hand. Football is an emotional game, but that's just it. It's only a game. This event will overshadow the rest of the season. So the question becomes, can the 2010 Broncos overcome adversity this early in the season, band together and win a difficult contest for their departed teammate?
R.I.P. Kenny McKinley