January 11, 2014 is a day Denver Broncos fans, players and coaches haven't forgotten. Last season the Indianapolis Colts marched to Sports Authority Field at Mile High and held the Broncos offense in check and devastated our beloved franchise who had aspirations of getting to the Super Bowl once more by a score of 24-13.
It was a demoralizing loss that shook the foundation of the team. It marked the end of the Broncos season, which led to a handful of player and coach departures (notably John Fox to Chicago, Jack Del Rio to Oakland) and allowed for the Broncos to go under a significant identity change.
General Manager and Vice President of Football Operations John Elway went out and picked up offensive minded coach Gary Kubiak, his longtime friend and back-up quarterback to be the coach of the future. Additionally, he brought in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who has not only proved his coaching prowess, but Twitter genius as well this season.
In Blues Brothers fashion, we got the band back together and it has been a harmonious journey thus far.
If you still have bad feelings about last years dramatic loss to Indianapolis, let those worries evaporate from your mind. You can expect a much different result this Sunday afternoon, when the two teams meet on the gridiron for another battle. Have no doubts that Peyton Manning is eager to have another big game against his former team and that his teammates will do whatever they can to help rid themselves of last years AFC Divisional Playoff nightmare.
It's quite simple. The Broncos are playing championship caliber football and the Colts are slowly losing grip on any aspirations they have to make it to the post-season. Don't expect anything less than a Broncos victory on Sunday.
After starting the season 0-2 with losses to Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles, the Colts kicked it into high gear and only lost three games the rest of the season to end up with an 11-5 record and were crowned champions of the AFC South for the third year in a row under the leadership of Head Coach Chuck Pagano. Their offense was one of the best in the NFL in terms of points scored and yardage accumulated, though their bane was their defense which was below-average in points allowed, but in the top half of all defense in regard to yardage.
They may have bested the Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, but their season ended on a much worse note as they were wiped out by the New England Patriots 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game. Over the offseason they made a handful of changes (which can be seen below) in order to bolster both sides of the ball and improve their chances of getting to the Super Bowl in 2015.
But so far, those additions haven't paid off. The Colts are tied atop the AFC South standings with the Houston Texans at 3-5, but their horrendous offensive performance to date led to the firing of Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton, who may have just been a fall guy for the woes they have endured on that side of the ball to date. Former Cleveland Browns Head Coach Rob Chudzinski will take over play calling duties this weekend and it is currently unknown whether or not he can bring stability to an offense that is sinking quickly.
Listed below is a comprehensive review of their recent offseason transactions:
Identifying the 2015 Indianapolis Colts
Early Draft Picks: WR Phillip Dorsett, CB D'Joun Smith, DE/DT Henry Anderson, S Clayton Geathers, NT David Parry, RB Josh Robinson, LB Amarlo Herrera, OL Denzelle Good
Indianapolis' Cause for Concern: No Consistency
The Indianapolis Colts have a major issue with being consistent. At no point in time during the 2015 season have they put together a complete performance in all three facets of the game. The offense has struggled against the better teams that they have faced. In fact, the Colts have averaged more than a touchdown less a game in comparison to last years offense, which was among the top three in scoring.
The struggles they have endured offensively begs the question, "What's up with Andrew Luck?"
Unfortunately, their defense hasn't been any better this season either. Overall, they have been atrocious at stopping other teams from scoring, allowing over 25 points per contest, with five games resulting in 27+ points scored by their opponents. Their rushing and pass defenses are ranked near the bottom of the league, with opponents rushing for almost 125 yards a game and teams throwing the ball at will for approximately 280 yards a game.
Last but not least, the team hasn't been able to get after the quarterback much at all, with only 12 sacks in eight games thus far. If they can't get after Peyton Manning on Sunday afternoon, they will have no chance of winning the game.
Hart's 3 Keys to Winning at home against Indianapolis
1) Keep pounding the rock.
The Denver Broncos finally had a breakout performance against the Green Bay Packers last week in regard to their rushing attack. If Denver can continue that success on the road in Indianapolis, it should pay big dividends again on the stat sheet and scoreboard. Indianapolis' rushing defense has been putrid through the course of the season and the Broncos would be wise to attack one of their biggest weaknesses.
2) Annihilate Andrew Luck.
Defenses have been able to blow through the Colts' porous offensive line the past three games. The trench warriors for Indianapolis have given up 9 sacks over that span. Luck has struggled immensely due to that and has posted five interceptions in the last two games alone. Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shaquil Barrett are poised to have huge games and don't be surprised if Denver's defense brings down Luck more than five times on Sunday. If that happens, the dominoes will start to fall and the chances of Indianapolis upsetting Denver once more will become minute.
3) Play disciplined football with few penalties.
Despite Luck's troublesome performances as of late, he still has the ability to move the ball down field and can generate drives when the pressure is on the line. Denver's aggressive defense is the best in the NFL, but they have helped move offenses down the field with untimely and bonehead penalties. If the Broncos want to have another praiseworthy performance on defense, they will need to stick to the fundamentals and not help the Colts' offense out by giving them penalty yardage to keep drives alive.
What Their Coaches Are Saying
"These guys are phenomenal. They have great players at every level. They're suffocating. [Defensive Coordinator] Wade Phillips does a great job with that group. They've put together a phenomenal group of players." — Indianapolis Head Coach Chuck Pagano on the Broncos defense
"He's a big play type of tight end that can stretch the defense across the board. He was that way when he was in San Francisco all those years. I don't know how many plays he's going to play, but hopefully it's not too many." —Indianapolis Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky
What Our Coaches Are Saying
"I think that we're doing a good job right now of focusing on each week. I told the guys just a few minutes ago after practice—one of the things that we did the other night was that we played very fast as a team and we carried that over to practice today. We practiced very fast. They understand. They know we're playing a great football team that has a lot of new additions from last year. They were in the [AFC] Championship game last year. We're probably playing at one of the toughest places to play in this league. We understand that. We were good and focused today." — Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak on motivation against Indianapolis
"Actually, we played them when I was in Houston. Chud was with me at San Diego, and I see some of those plays, too. Some things are going to change. You don't know if they can change everything, but there are going to be some things changed. I think Chud was helping them with the offense some. I see some of the things that they ran at Carolina and some of the things that we ran at San Diego that they were running. I think he'll just go with the things that he's comfortable with. I think some of those things they've been doing already. He's a heck of a coach. I knew he was going to be a head coach pretty quickly. Then it didn't turn out real well in one year, but he's a really good offensive mind. I really respect what he does." — Broncos Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips on Rob Chudzinski
Hart's Prediction for Sunday Afternoon
With the instability the Colts have offensively and defensively, I don't see them putting up much of a fight against the Broncos. Even though they will have the advantage of a home field crowd, I believe the tenacity of Denver's defense will silence Lucas Oil Stadium early in the first half. Much to the chagrin of Colts fans across the country, they aren't going to fair well against Denver which could ignite a second half of the season downward spiral that will have negative ramifications for their coaching staff.
I fully expect the Broncos to come out firing on all cylinders to continue their streak of success this season and remain undefeated. Denver's offense will put up another great performance and the running game will be strong once more. Manning will be able to make some big plays down the field to give the Broncos a lead the Colts won't be able to overcome.
My bold prediction? Vernon Davis puts his superior athleticism on display and finds the end zone not once, but twice and has a terrific opening game as the newest member of the Denver Broncos.
Editor's note: This post was updated with the correct results of the 2014-15 AFC Championship Game.