We caught up with the folks over at Stampede Blue to ask a few questions about the upcoming game between the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts.
1) Last year was a big step back for the Colts. What has your team done this offseason to get back on track and into the playoffs?
The biggest thing that happened for the Colts this offseason was quite simple: getting Andrew Luck back. There was no addition the Colts were going to be able to make that would top getting a healthy Luck back, so that's the biggest thing that happened for them to get back on track and fight for a playoff spot this year.
The other moves they made were needed but were largely focused on building a solid foundation for the future. For example, they spent four of their eight draft picks on offensive linemen and many of their picks were as much about talented, developmental guys as about immediate contributors (though first-round pick Ryan Kelly has been their starting center since day one).
They took a similar approach in free agency. Instead of going after the big veteran free agent signings we've seen in recent years, the Colts instead made several smaller moves to add depth while being very diligent in some of their larger moves - like signing Patrick Robinson. This offseason was a change in philosophy for the Colts as they worked more on building a foundation for the future.
The other additions - like Ryan Kelly - will help considerably, but the addition of a healthy Luck is by far the biggest thing the Colts needed to get back on track.
2) Andrew Luck has a lot to prove this year. I know it has only been one regular season game so far, but what are you seeing about his game that has you excited for this year?
Andrew Luck had perhaps his best game as a pro on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, as he was nearly flawless. He completed 31 of 47 passes for 385 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover, and he was in complete command. He made really smart decisions and was in total control of the offense, nearly leading the Colts to another comeback win (the team erased an 18-point deficit and then later Luck put them ahead with less than a minute left, only to see the defense blow it).
There really was nothing to dislike about Luck's performance in week one, and that's a very encouraging sign as he looked to be back in 2014 form after a rough 2015 campaign. It also helped that he had time to throw and that the offensive line kept him clean for the most part, but Luck was very good. I think it's fair to expect that to continue going forward and gives more credence to the belief that 2015 was a year largely impacted by injuries.
The Colts obviously will face a much tougher challenge this week in the Broncos defense, but Luck has played well against Denver in the past (it was his best performance in a bad 2015 season) and showed last week that he's plenty capable of putting on a show.
3) We constantly hear a ton about your team's offense, but what are the strengths and weaknesses of your defense?
Well, there aren't very many strengths to talk about right now... the strengths of the Colts defense lie with cornerback Vontae Davis and the defensive line, particularly with Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson.
But here's the problem: they're all injured. Davis is injured and is week-to-week, Anderson is practicing but his status for this Sunday's game is uncertain as he works back onto the field after tearing his ACL last year, and Langford played last week but wasn't 100 percent.
So if we're talking about the strengths of the Colts defense, those players are dealing with injuries right now. So that's obviously not an ideal situation for the team. As for weaknesses, there are plenty. Injuries are a big weakness right now, as the team's top four cornerbacks, two of their top three safeties, their top two pass rushers, and their top two defensive linemen have all appeared on the injury report this week as either not participating or limited participants. Obviously not all of them will miss the game, but injuries are a huge weakness for the unit right now.
Beyond that, the linebackers are the biggest area of weakness on the defense, whether healthy or not. The Colts have really no consistent pass rush, and they're relying heavily on veterans Robert Mathis and Trent Cole to provide the bulk of it. The pass rush is easily the biggest concern, but the linebackers as a whole (with the exception of Sio Moore) were bad last week against the Lions. Detroit took advantage of that by throwing a lot of underneath passes and just having their guys make plays and force missed tackles. So to sum it all up, there's not a lot going right for the Colts defense at the moment.
4) Tell us about two of your players that people outside of Indy probably haven't heard of but have your fan base excited with their play so far in 2016.
In training camp, defensive lineman T.Y. McGill really impressed. He was the star of both camp and preseason and was a huge disruptive force. He didn't have a great game in week one, but there has been a lot of excitement about McGill recently.
On the offensive side of the ball, I think a lot of people have been encouraged by the play of wide receiver Phillip Dorsett in week one. A first round draft pick last year, Dorsett had his best game as a pro against the Lions, catching four passes for 94 yards. He showed off the speed that makes him dangerous, but he also made some really nice adjustments and plays on the ball. He's Indy's third receiver, but he'll get a ton of playing time this year and took advantage of it on Sunday with a big performance.
5) What are your three keys to victory and how do you see this game shaking out?
The biggest key to the game is rather obvious: Andrew Luck. With the weakness of the Colts' defense and the strength of the Broncos' defense, it probably goes without saying but the Colts won't win the game if Luck doesn't play well. He has done well against Denver in his career and based on what we've seen from him so far there's reason to believe he'll have a good game, but he's the biggest key to the game.
The second one goes along with that: protecting Andrew Luck. While Luck was terrific on Sunday, no matter how you look at it, an underrated factor was the protection he received from an improved and upgraded offensive line. Detroit has a good defensive front, but it's not as good as Denver's front seven - so the line will have a bigger challenge this week. We've seen in years past Luck make plays even when the pocket collapses and the line stinks, so we know he's capable of doing so... but it's still pretty important to keep him standing to allow him to make plays.
And then the third one is on the defensive side of the football: play fundamentally sound. I won't lie and say that the Colts' defense can suddenly become a quality unit this Sunday, as they'll still be bad - but they don't need to add to their struggles. Talent-wise, they're not great - but against the Lions they made things much worse by missing tackles and failing to do the fundamental things well. If they can even do that - make tackles! - then we should see at least some improvement from the unit. They still wouldn't be good, but they also wouldn't be as terrible as they were a week ago.
In terms of what I expect from this game, I think it should be a close game. The Colts' defense isn't very good, and the Broncos would be wise to utilize C.J. Anderson as much as possible - both in the run game and with short passes to get him in space. That should provide them with a nice offensive output, and while I don't see Denver putting up the same show that the Lions did last week, I still think they should be able to score some points.
That puts the pressure on Andrew Luck, and he probably will be under more pressure (literally) this week than he was a week ago as well. There's just something about Andrew Luck against the Broncos that leads to a nice game from him, however, and so I think he'll have some success this Sunday as well.
Because of Luck I think the Colts absolutely have a real chance in this game, but considering how much is going wrong for the Colts right now besides Luck (defense, slow starts, etc.) I'll take the Broncos at home in a close one.