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Ultimate Fan Guide: Broncos have all the tools to quiet the nonbelievers

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It's the playoffs, and that means Ultimate Fans believe in their team no matter the odds. Luckily for Broncos fans, the odds have generally been favorable of late, but this week's ultimate fan knows the Indianapolis Colts will require some good game planning to overcome one of the league's other pretty good quarterbacks.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Clownfan - who has dubbed herself "Homer-in-Chief" for MHR - is the perfect ultimate fan for this first playoff game. Not only does she have some awesome superstitions (hint: everyone write her mother right now and insist Mama Clownfan not watch any more Broncos games this season!), she has some sage advice for our beloved team - make sure Andrew Luck has tons of grass stains on that white uniform.

Indianapolis Colts v. Denver Broncos, Divisional Round

MHR - What do you think are going to be the real keys against the Indianapolis Colts?

1. Establish the run.

Looking at the two games where the Colts got put out to pasture, there are some common denominators:

  • Both Pittsburgh and Dallas ran a pretty balanced offense. The Cowboys ran it 40 times and threw only 21 times, but Romo went an amazing 18 of 20 and threw four touchdowns. Pittsburgh was more pass-heavy, with Big Ben throwing 45 times for a ridiculous 522 yards and 6 TDs.
  • Both these QBs put up *unusually* good stats, even for them. Tony Romo completed literally 90 percent of his passes (his average is usually around 70 percent). Ben Roethlisberger completed roughly 81 percent and wasn't sacked all night.
  • Meanwhile DeMarco Murray and Le'Veon Bell put up below average numbers (for them).

Pittsburgh certainly put up some gaudy passing stats that day, but Bell also ran for 92 yards (more than his season average) and the Steelers rushed for 117 total yards on 32 attempts.

At the same time, the Colts have a good pass rush and they aren't known for an unusually good run defense. The fact that they never sacked Big Ben once and managed to hold Bell to 3.8 YPC (well below his season average of 4.7) suggests to me that they put a lot of resources into trying to stop Bell and this made things easier on Roethlisberger.

As to the Cowboys, they have an excellent offensive line anyway, but I think their commitment to the run made for an even better day for Romo. They only rushed for 127 yards total but ran almost twice as often as they passed!

Every team who has beaten the Colts this year has run a reasonably balanced offense, and the two playoff teams the Colts have beaten have tried to go pass happy. This suggests that a credible run threat keeps the Colts pass rush at bay, and when Indy commits to stopping the run, a great quarterback can really make the most of it. (And, obviously, we have one of those! )

2. Get pressure on Andrew Luck (MHR just wrote an excellent article on why this is so important) and along these lines, I'd also like to see his passes tipped, batted away or otherwise kept out of the hands of receivers. And I'm counting on Aqib Talib for at least one interception!

3. Protect Peyton. As mentioned, I think establishing the run will help here.

MHR - In our first game against the Colts, the defense held up well until the fourth quarter. What does this defense need to do to avoid Andrew Luck getting up on them?
Clownfan: This is another reason I'm so eager to see a robust run game. If the Broncos get a big lead again, I'd like to see them able to run it, eat clock and keep our defense rested.

MHR - How are you feeling about our O-line as we go up against a pretty good pass rush in the Indianapolis Colts?
Clownfan: Reasonably confident but a bit nervous.

I'd say I have a pretty rudimentary understanding of how good an offensive line is or isn't.

My impression is that our offensive line has usually gotten the job done. They don't allow many sacks, and it seems like most of the time, they get Peyton the little bit of time he needs to throw. And there have been some games where they've been outstanding!

The Bengals' game was a bit concerning, but seeing as Clady was injured the week before (and was almost certainly playing hurt) and Vasquez has apparently been playing with nagging injuries all season, I'm optimistic that coming off a bye week we'll see the offensive line at its best!

MHR - Are you worried at all about Peyton Manning for this game - why or why not?
Clownfan: Not really, maybe a little, but what good would it do to worry about it? I was a little in shock after the 4 INTs during the Bengals game, but he was playing hurt. And then Peyton didn't throw a touchdown pass against the Raiders (not that it remotely mattered, but...) and that opens the door to a "Peyton is declining" narrative all week, which will add some bulletin board material and - I think - inspire an even greater performance. (I'll never forget our super-nice-guy-quarterback telling those who'd been pushing the "he can't play in the cold" narrative to "stick it where the sun don't shine!")

MHR - What kind of game plan do you want to see from Adam Gase?
Clownfan: I hope the plan includes getting most of the bread-and-butter yards by running, and then when Indy commits to stopping the run, throw downfield for intermediate to long yardage. Use some play action to give Peyton some relatively stress-free plays.

MHR - What game plan would you like out of Jack Del Rio?
Clownfan: I want to see Andrew Luck covered in grass stains and never able to get his groove. Whether that will require blitzing, I'm not sure. Hopefully not! But whatever it takes, I want Luck to be sacked, hurried and generally harassed virtually every time he is holding the ball.

In order to do this, our D can't be on the field much.

I'd also like to see tight man coverage on the Colts' top receivers - Reggie WayneT.Y. HiltonHakeem Nicks and Donte Moncrief.

MHR - Do you think it will be a distraction for either/both Gase and Del Rio to be interviewing for other jobs while preparing for the playoffs?
Clownfan: Hard to answer this because it's hard for me to fully imagine being either a pro football player or an NFL head coach. It seems like it would be hard not to be preoccupied by such a huge job interview, but for a coordinator on a top NFL team, high pressure situations are such a part of daily life that they probably take it much more in stride.

What might be distracting is that one or both of our coaches are likely to be offered a head coaching job!

But again, I doubt anyone becomes a top athlete without being able to have tunnel vision about reaching a goal...

I think the sound guy at Mile High should start playing 'Harder to Breathe' to taunt the Colts when they start getting tired and need oxygen, but that probably wouldn't be very sporting...   -Clownfan

And I certainly don't question Gase or Del Rio's commitment to the Broncos. It'd be nice if teams who are interviewing prospects would wait till after the Super Bowl so as not to distract anyone, but that just isn't how it works.

MHR - How huge is it to play this game at Mile High?
Clownfan: Enormous! Think the sound guy should start playing the chorus from "Harder to Breathe" to taunt opposing teams when they start getting tired or needing oxygen, but that probably wouldn't be very sporting...

MHR - Which players do you think will be difference makers in this game?
Clownfan: Half the team. :)

MHR - Is this team still a Super Bowl capable team? 
Clownfan: "A prophet is never famous in his own town."

Aside from an occasional hater, I really don't think anyone outside of Denver doubts the Broncos are a Super Bowl contender. But here at MHR it seems like some fans are sipping Kool-Aid in every color but orange.

One Broncos fan recently said Seattle's defense is MUCH better than ours. Let's look at common games against AFC West teams (at the same venues):

  • The Hawks allowed 298 yards total offense at Arrowhead, 2 weeks later the Broncos came in and held the Chiefs to 151 yards. Total. That's roughly HALF!
  • In Qualcomm, the Seahawks allowed 377 yards total offense (276 just in the air) to the 288 total yards the Broncos allowed.
  • The Hawks allowed the Raiders 24 points in their own beloved CLink, while our defense only allowed 7 here in Denver.

I'm not suggesting this definitely proves our Broncos have the better defense, but I do think it's enough to demonstrate that Seattle's D isn't obviously "much better."

And aside from maybe quietly having the best overall defense in the league, we've got:

  • The top wide receiving duo in the league.
  • A running back whose average YPC is exactly the same as Murray and Bell.
  • Peyton Manning
  • Two cornerbacks who both made All Pro either this year or last - can any other team claim that?
  • Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware!

So, YES! This team could conceivably win it all!!!

MHR - How did you become a Denver Broncos fan?
Clownfan: I was a "cultural" Broncos fan from the age of 7 (when our family started going to Broncos parties to socialize), but it was a regular season game against the Raiders that actually got me personally invested.

It was at their stadium, and the Raiders were playing dirty and cheating!

Now, it's possible some of this has been embellished in my memory - but as  I remember it, any time the ref threw a flag, the Raiders fans would boo like crazy and throw things at the ref, and then a few of them escalated to running onto the field.

They were stopped by security, but it's my impression that the ref was scared, fearing a further escalation that couldn't be easily stopped.

After that, there didn't seem to be any penalties on the Raiders no matter what they did. On one play, a Raider flagrantly late-hit a Bronco and refs called uneccessary roughness ... on the Broncos!?!

So an ordinary football game was suddenly transformed into a monumental struggle of good vs. evil, with our guys - the champions of the good - fighting against monumental odds in a rigged game where the evil minions corrupted the arbiters of justice!

They fought valiantly, but (alas) lost that day. And I became a real Broncos fan!

Predictions:

Clownfan: I'm a bit superstitious about making predictions before big games, so I'm going to respectfully skip that part.

*Editor's note: Fair enough. To reiterate her hopes for the game, enjoy this:

And this:

Aqib Talib interception Bengals wobble


The Favorites

Favorite team to watch the Broncos play? This season it was probably the Cardinals, since it was just such an awesome game for our side! Von Miller was on fire and seemed to be disrupting the Cards' quarterbacks on most every play. DT's slump was over with a vengeance and, when the lead momentarily shrunk to 4 points, it seemed like Peyton decided "Forget this! We're taking over this game!" And then he did.

Team you most hate the Broncos to lose to? Patriots - especially at Gillette (which is the only place that has happened since we've had Peyton).

Favorite current Broncos player? Dang. Very difficult. (Very tempted to declare a six-way tie, but I'll move on in the interests of space!) Probably Emmanuel Sanders. Just like everything about the guy. He's a great player, incredibly tough and has a great attitude. That bow when he got up after taking a monster hit was priceless! I'm a bit nervous for his long-term health, but Sanders is a particular pleasure to watch.

All-time favorite Bronco? John Elway! And I'm probably a little over the top with my Elway fanhood, like if all the sudden he decided to run for president, I'd probably be tempted to pull the lever. (Until I remembered it would distract him from his primary responsibilities at Dove Valley, and then I'd decide the country would have to get by with somebody else.) But...then again, think of the swagger he could bring to free agency as GM of the Broncos AND president of the United States! ;)

Game day ritual/attire? I don't really have one. I frequently work right before games and then change into a Broncos T-shirt and hat. It's just a normal AFC West Champions T-shirt, laundered normally (not like Whorfin's "The Shirt") from last year and a Broncos hat I got at King Soopers. I'm planning to get a proper jersey when I can get one with a trophy on it!

Favorite food on Game Day? Probably nachos- but lately, I've gravitated toward raw vegetables in an effort to be healthy!

Embarrassing superstitions? Here there are several. In addition to not predicting (aloud) whether the Broncos will win in postseason, I will also probably discourage my mom from watching any Broncos game from here on out. (I've already asked her not to!) because last year she watched a total of two Broncos games - Week 15 and the Super Bowl.

I sometimes embrace the Butterfly effect. I might fold laundry during commercials and decide that somehow the energy of me completing a mundane task will somehow help the Broncos win. /shrug, it couldn't hurt!   -Clownfan

I also sometimes embrace "the Butterfly effect" if I'm at home and there are chores I could conceivably do during the game. For example: I might fold laundry during commercials and decide that somehow the energy of me completing a mundane task will somehow help the Broncos win. (OK, it's probably more of a gimmick to get the laundry folded, but there's a small part of me that's like "(shrug) it couldn't hurt. :p"

Best post season game not counting the two Super Bowl wins? The Drive. I'll never forget watching it as a kid. We were at a reasonably large Broncos party and people were talking loudly, cheering, yelling at the screen, lots of side conversations, etc.  Then, the ball rolled to the two, and it went dead silent. Dozens of people there, nobody said a word and everyone was riveted to the TV.

Then, of course, it wasn't long till we had cause to erupt. It was the most happy and dramatic football memory of my childhood, and still, I think, one of the all time great moments in NFL history.

Hall of Fame Broncos team? I can't bring myself to select a Hall of Fame team because I don't want to choose between my favorites from different eras!