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Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts - MHR Game Preview

Only a few more days until we kickoff another season in Broncos Country. Are.....You......READY???

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis Colts Offense

- Ranked 15th in yards per game (2013)
- Ranked 17th in passing yards per game (2013)
- Ranked 20th in rushing yards per game (2013)
- Ranked 14th in points per game (24.4)
- Ranked 11th in points per drive (2.08)
- Ranked 10th in Red Zone TD percentage (56.9%)

Key Additions: WR Hakeem Nicks, LG (R) Jack Mewhort, WR (R) Donte Moncrief


The Colts did not have a 1st round pick in 2013 due to their trade for Trent Richardson. But they have been given some key components back who were shut down due to injury. WR Reggie Wayne is back this season after tearing an ACL against the Broncos as is RB Ahmad Bradshaw who compliments Richardson in the running back rotation. Indianapolis features a couple of good TE in Dwayne Allen (back from a hip injury that sidelined him last season) and Coby Fleener. Though Allen is considered the better all-around TE and a weapon to stretch the middle of the field, Fleener has become a trusted target for Andrew Luck in the passing game. Last season Fleener hauled in 63 passes for 728 yards and 5 touchdowns.  Indy relied heavily upon two-back and three-wide receiver sets in 2013. Coming into 2014, there is a greater expectation that offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will use two-TE sets extensively.

Wide receiver TY Hilton had a fantastic season in Wayne's absence with 99 receptions for 1410 yards and 7 touchdowns. His finest performance came against the Chiefs and Wild Card Weekend where he managed to secure 13 balls for 224 yards and 2 touchdowns.  In 2-WR looks, Hilton and Wayne will be on the field. When they move to 3-WR looks, Wayne will play mostly from the slot (Hilton will see a few snaps from here as well) and free agent acquisition Hakeem Nicks will come onto the field and compliment Hilton on the outside.

Perhaps the biggest concern heading into the season is the flux on the interior of the offensive line. Hugh Thornton moves from right to left guard replacing Mike McGlynn, 2nd year player Khaled Holmes (who is banged up and listed on the Colts injury report) takes over for Samson Satele at center, and rookie Jack Mewhort takes over for Thornton at left guard. This re-vamped group in the middle is heading into a hornets nest in the Broncos interior DL which is so talented and deep.

Denver Broncos Defense

- Ranked 19th in yards allowed per game (2013)
- Ranked 27th in passing yards allowed per game (2013)
- Ranked 7th in rushing yards allowed per game (2013)
- Ranked 22nd in points allowed per game (24.9)
- Ranked 18th in points allowed per drive (1.88)
- Ranked 26th in opponents Red Zone TD percentage (62.1%)

Key Additions: DE DeMarcus Ware, DT Marvin Austin, CB Aqib Talib, SS TJ Ward, CB (R) Bradley Roby


The patchwork unit from a season ago will see the return of Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Rahim Moore, and Derek Wolfe to the roster. Their respective seasons were cut short due to a litany of serious injuries.  Most exciting are the additions of free agents DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, TJ Ward, and Marvin Austin who has become a surprise pickup during training camp.

Along the line, DeMarcus Ware will be teamed up with fellow edge rush extraordinaire Von Miller to give the Broncos potentially the best edge rush tandem in the NFL. When coupled with Terrence Knighton, Sylvester Williams, Marvin Austin, and Malik Jackson on the inside, the front four should be able to get pressure consistently without the benefit of extra blitzers or the clever scheming of Jack Del Rio.

In the secondary Aqib Talib replaces Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. What the Broncos lose in athleticism, they gain back in physicality as Talib can really lock down some of the better receivers with press man coverage. Something that has not been talked about as much is the flexibility both he and rookie Bradley Roby bring to the table. Both corners can play man and zone equally well. Chris Harris Jr. will play outside on base downs and kick inside to cover the slot when needed. At safety, TJ Ward becomes the box enforcer Jack Del Rio coveted this offseason. As an added bonus, he will also be used quite extensively in coverage when the Broncos move to their nickel and dime packages. With the talent in front of him, Rahim Moore has a golden opportunity to become the ball hawking presence in the middle the Broncos thought they were getting when they drafted him in the 2nd round back in 2011. Quinton Carter's flexibility in being able to play both safety positions allows Del Rio to move Ward into the box as a coverage LB in subpackages.

The Broncos linebacking corps is perhaps the greenest and most lacking in depth once you get past the starters. Starting WILL and coverage LB Danny Trevathan will miss a portion of the season with a broken shin. The Broncos will use a rotation of men to replace his coverage skills including Brandon Marshall who will play every defensive snap until Trevathan returns. Nate Irving will be trusted to play some nickel snaps at MIKE and has grown from the initial two-down thumper he was in the early portion of his career. I do not expect to see rookies Lamin Barrow or Corey Nelson much in the lineup to begin the season.

When the Colts have the ball


Early indications are that the Colts intend on using 2-TE sets more extensively this season. If the Broncos choose to go "base under" I would expect to see a LB/S bracket on one of them with Von Miller and TJ Ward and for Brandon Marshall to cover the other man to man. Playing base defense against this lineup leaves the Broncos more vulnerable in coverage. One thing the Broncos could choose to do is play some of their "hybrid nickel" where they retain Knighton and Williams on the interior but replace Nate Irving with TJ Ward and Ward's safety spot with Quinton Carter. That lineup would have a better shot both stopping the run and playing coverage against two capable pass catchers in Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.


Pretty standard. Add a fullback, subtract Fleener and you have a two back set. This formation favors the Broncos defense because Mario Harvey does not figure to be that much of a threat in the passing game. All preseason the Colts FB saw a total three targets. Keep in mind that Talib will stay on one side of the field and I expect the Colts to move receivers around to find the right matchups.


Indianapolis uses 3-WR sets in different ways. One of the wrinkles they used last season was a 2-back 3-receiver set. I would not be shocked if the Colts also spread it out and used a 2-tight end 3-receiver set. Either TE could be used for additional protection. Against standard 11 personnel, the one on one matchups will be Talib vs. Hilton, Ward vs. Allen, Harris Jr. vs. Wayne, and Roby vs. Nicks. Against the 2-tight end 3-receiver set, I would expect the Broncos to play their dime package. The matchups would be similar except they would have to decide how to treat the linebacker role. Theoretically Denver could use Ward as the MIKE LB in dime with a trio of safeties comprised of Moore, Carter, and Bruton playing deep centerfield. They could also leave Brandon Marshall in the game with a safety trio of Moore, Carter, and Ward.

Key Matchups:

TJ Ward vs. Dwayne Allen

Brandon Marshall vs. Coby Fleener

Chris Harris Jr. vs. Reggie Wayne

Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams vs. Khaled Holmes and Jack Mewhort

It's all about protection:

RT Gosder Cherilus gave up six hurries and a sack on 53 pass blocking snaps this preseason.  His primary matchup will be with Von Miller, but expect Ware and Miller to be moved around to find the right matchups.

Secondary Numbers:

Newly minted starter LB Brandon Marshall played a total of 15 snaps last season, all in coverage. His line? 1 target, 1 reception for 9 yards.

TJ Ward was targeted 50 times and allowed 29 receptions for 250 yards and a touchdown. He also had 2 interceptions and 2 passes defensed.

Against Rob Gronkowski, Ward was targeted 3 times (no receptions).

Chris Harris Jr. was targeted 92 times and allowed 52 receptions for 566 yards and a touchdown. He also had 3 interceptions and 9 passes defensed.

Pass Rush Inc:

This preseason, the Broncos D-line rotation accounted for 4 sacks, 5 QB hits and 20 QB Hurries.

Denver Broncos Offense

- Ranked 1st in yards per game (2013)
- Ranked 1st in passing yards per game (2013)
- Ranked 15th in rushing yards per game (2013)
- Ranked 1st in points per game (37.9)
- Ranked 1st in points per drive (2.98)
- Ranked 1st in Red Zone TD percentage (72.7%)

Key Additions: WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR (R) Cody Latimer


There has been a lot of change to the Broncos offense even though there have only been two major additions. Gone is starting RB Knowshon Moreno. Gone is #2 WR Eric Decker. Gone is starting LG Zane Beadles. WR Wes Welker will be suspended the first 4 games. Orlando Franklin moved to left gaurd, Ryan Clady is back from a season-ending Lisfranc injury, and Chris Clark shifts to RT. That is a lot of movement on a squad that set all kind of records in 2014.

Looking at the offensive line, other than a reshuffle, not a lot was done to upgrade some of the weaknesses. It is assumed that Chris Clark can handle the speed rush at right tackle better than Orlando Franklin. It is assumed that Orlando Franklin can be more physical than Zane Beadles in pass protection. It is assumed that Ryan Clady can return to his pro bowl form after missing 17+ games due to injury. Until this unit is battle tested against a front like Seattle's, we will not know for sure whether or not these moves will pay positive results.

In the backfield, 2nd year runner Montee Ball is going to take over the workload from departed Knowshon Moreno. Ball missed most of the preseason after undergoing an appendectomy, but he has looked good on the ground and in the passing game. Behind him scatback Ronnie Hillman bounced back from a turnover-riddled and inconsistent 2013 campaign. Ronnie has the most speed but has failed to show the kind of elusiveness in the open field you would expect from a scatback. The big question for Ronnie is whether or not he can continue to take care of the ball. Beyond them CJ Anderson can replace Montee in the lineup when the latter needs a breather. Rookie UDFA Juwan Thompson looks to be the most physical of the backs, but as the 4th man on the depth chart, it is possible he remains a gameday inactive.

Moving on to the TE position, Julius Thomas looks to improve on an impressive breakout campaign. This season, he should provide matchup issues to any defense the Broncos will encounter. Behind him is move TE Virgil Green who has performed cameos as a FB lead blocker, and also as a RB in the backfield. Vet Jacob Tamme looks to have an integral role in the offense with Wes Welker out of the lineup.

Last season the Broncos WR corps was dubbed "The Four Horsemen." This year Emmanuel Sanders gives the Broncos more vertical speed on the outside replacing former #2 Eric Decker. It remains to be seen whether Decker's precise route running and physicality are more of a boon to the Broncos offense than Sanders potentially game breaking speed. Veteran backup Andre "Bubba" Caldwell will provide some reliable insurance as he is capable of playing outside and inside. Rookie WR Cody Latimer has flashed some big-time playmaking ability, but is unlikely to become a large part of the offense until he earns the trust of Peyton Manning.

Peyton Manning returns for a 17th NFL season. It will be hard to top the pace he set last year, but the offense will still remain one of the best if not the best in the league. Young incumbent Brock Osweiler flashed good overall progress in the preseason and should be ready to come in for relief when necessary.

Indianapolis Colts Defense

- Ranked 20th in yards allowed per game (2013)
- Ranked 13th in passing yards allowed per game (2013)
- Ranked 26th in rushing yards allowed per game (2013)
- Ranked 9th in points allowed per game (21.0)
- Ranked 13th in points allowed per drive (1.75)
- Ranked 28th in opponents Red Zone TD percentage (63.5%)

Key Additions: LB D'Qwell Jackson, DE Arthur Jones, SS Mike Adams


2013 Deacon Jones award winner Robert Mathis will not be playing in the season opener due to a 4-game suspension. He was the MVP of last year's contest singlehandedly changing the game with a strip sack of Peyton Manning that resulted in a safety. All night he victimized LT Chris Clark and kept Peyton Manning out of rhythm until the very end of the 3rd quarter. This is a huge blow to Indianapolis' defense.  Back up Bjoern Werner does not bring the same capabilities to the job. Broncos fans can liken the trade-off to Robert Ayers replacing Elvis Dumervil.

The Colts must make up for the lack of an edge rush by getting pressure through the middle with Arthur Jones and Cory Redding. Last season Redding compiled 5 sacks and 26 pressures rushing the passer. Jones also notched 5 sacks and accounted for 20 more pressures as a Raven in 2013. Both players excel in the running game.

D'Qwell Jackson (an early Broncos target in FA) was signed to replace ILB Pat Angerer. Jackson is an upgrade, but has shown a drop off in physical abillity over the past couple of seasons. Next to him on the inside is Jerrell Freeman who provided a boost to the pass rushing department with a total of 6 sacks on the season. Freeman is very active in coverage having played close to 53% of his snaps in this area. The edge pass rushers consist of the aforementioned Bjoern Werner and veteran Eric Walden. Walden had 4 sacks in 2013.

On the outside, Indy's corners remain the same. You'll see Vontae Davis and Greg Toler on the outside to go along with Darius Butler in the slot when the Colts move to their nickel defense. Former Bronco Mike Adams replaces long-time SS Antoine Bethea. This group gave the Broncos receiving corps fits last year. It was the first time a team really managed to throw off the timing of the Manning offense and they did it through physical press coverage at the LOS.

When the Broncos have the ball


Manning led offenses are very 11 dominant. Even with Wes Welker out of the lineup, 11 will remain the primary personnel package. How the Broncos rotate receivers is another issue.  Your standard look should be very close to what is diagrammed above. Emmanuel Sanders in the slot with Demaryius and Andre on the outside. If the Broncos wanted more of a hybrid 11/12 look, Jacob Tamme comes in as a "2nd tight end/slot receiver" to go along with Julius and both DT/Sanders on the outside.

Cody Latimer is an option both inside and outside. The Denver Broncos have tons of options to replace the production of WR Eric Decker.

The Colts nickel will see OLB Werner and Walden with their hands in the dirt on 3rd downs.


When the Broncos do show something other than 11 personnel, it is usually 12 personnel. On Sunday it might look slightly different. Tamme can sub for Green giving the Broncos a hybrid 12 group that plays similar to a larger 11 personnel group. Virgil Green can be moved into the backfield as a runner or FB. If the offense is struggling with rhythm, Gase and Manning can choose to play more 12 and pound the ball for quick and consistent gains while working in some playaction deep down the field.

Key Matchups:

Vontae Davis vs. Demaryius Thomas

Darius Butler vs. the slot

Mike Adams vs. Julius Thomas

Chris Clark vs. Arthur Jones

It's all about protection:

Peyton Manning was sacked 6 times by the Colts last season. Four of those came from players other than Robert Mathis. On 53 dropbacks, Peyton Manning was pressured 20 times--only 4 pressures came from a Colt blitz.

Secondary Numbers:

Darius Butler has the worse game in the Colts secondary against the Broncos last season. He was targeted 10 times and allowed 6 receptions for 117 yards and 1 touchdown.

Vontae Davis did a fantastic job against Demaryius Thomas holding him to only 1 reception for 8 yards on 5 targets.

Jerrell Freeman allowed 3 Julius Thomas receptions on 3 targets

Mike Adams is by far the weakest link in the Colts secondary. As a full-time starter in 2012, Adams allowed 6 touchdown passes on 42 receptions. His worst game was against San Diego where he was targeted 8 times for 8 receptions. TE Antonio Gates did most of the damage compiling 50 yards on 3 catches and a TD.

Ground game woes:

The Broncos managed only 64 yards on the ground against the Colts last season. Starter Knowshon Moreno averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.

Who holds the advantage?

When the Colts pass the ball, advantage: Broncos

This is a collective effort. Denver will generate a pass rush that will keep Andrew Luck on his toes all game. When you have a quarterback that has to get the ball out quicker you eliminate some of the route tree and give your secondary an opportunity to take educated guesses and jump throws. Everyone in the secondary brings a physical presence that should limit open opportunities off the snap.

When the Colts run the ball, advantage: Broncos

He's called Trent Richardson 3.0 for a reason...or is that Trent Richardson 2.7? Denver's strength last season was their run defense and it only got better with the addition of TJ Ward. Multiple defenders will beat each other into the backfield on a given play, they are that talented.

When the Broncos pass the ball, advantage: Broncos

People forget that the Broncos had a couple of starting OL out of the game last season. Now that the lineup is settled I cannot see the same results happening again especially with Robert Mathis gone. When it comes coverage against the Broncos weapons, there aren't enough guys on the field of play to defend the firepower Manning and Gase bring to the gameplan.

When the Broncos run the ball, advantage: Colts

Until you prove you can win in the trenches consistently in the running game, there is no reason to believe Montee Ball can step in and register a C-note on the ground.

My Prediction

Sunday night will mark the coming out party for the Orange Crush 2.0. Though the Broncos will miss Matt Prater and Wes Welker, they are too loaded at the skill positions to be stagnant in their absence. Manning and co. lead off another prime-time home opener with a home run.

Broncos 38 Colts 13