The Denver Broncos have been one of the best teams in the AFC for the past several seasons, but if there is any team that they have historically struggled against in their history as a franchise it has undoubtedly been the Indianapolis Colts. Historically, the teams have squared off twenty-five times, with Denver sporting a 12-13 record against them.
The greater issue is how the Colts have had the Broncos' number in recent memory. They have defeated Denver with ease over the past decade and have only lost two games in the past decade against them.
Peyton Manning was one of the primary reasons Denver has had such trouble against the Colts. The image of former cornerback Roc Alexander getting torched by Manning and the wide receiver duo of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne is forever etched into the memories of Broncos fans across the globe.
As the years pass on, a lot of things change, but impressive quarterback play has remained a constant cog with the Colts. They sport one of the league's best in star quarterback Andrew Luck, who has done an admirable job taking over the franchise that Manning built.
It is safe to say that over the years, the Colts and Broncos have quietly built a bit of a rivalry. Both teams know how important this game is. The Colts can't afford to start this year's season at 0-2 and the Broncos would certainly like to notch a mark in win column against a familiar AFC foe.
How will it play out this Sunday? You will have to tune in to see, but for now, here are some of my thoughts in regard to Sunday's gridiron battle.
A Concern for Indianapolis - A Plethora of Defensive Injuries
It is only Week 2 of the NFL season, but if you took a glance at the Colts' injury report, you would feel that it is a lot later than it is given the plethora of injuries they have. Star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was recently added to the injury report, but he is expected to play against the Broncos on Sunday.
On the defensive side of the ball, it is a completely different story. Eleven players on defense are listed on the injury report, with notable players such as Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson, Trent Cole, Henry Anderson and T.J. Green ruled out for Sunday's game.
On top of Davis, Green and Robinson being out in the secondary, further roster decimation exists with cornerbacks Darius Butler and Antonio Cromartie, as well as safety Clayton Geathers being listed as questionable. Despite that designation, according to Colts' Head Coach Chuck Pagano, all three of the aforementioned should be ready to go and will play on Sunday.
The slough of injuries is a definite weakness and presents a great opportunity for the Broncos' offense to not only establish the running game, but provide an expanded chance for Trevor Siemian to step his game up and carve out some nice production in the passing game going up a lackluster secondary.
The X-Factor for Indianapolis - Andrew Luck
It isn't a cop out to say by far the biggest X-Factor for the Colts in Sunday's game is Andrew Luck. He possesses all-world talent and has the ability to carry a team on his back and lead them to victory, much like the Broncos had when John Elway was leading the team into battle each Sunday.
If the Broncos want to win this game, they will have to do whatever it takes to stop Andrew Luck. They've beaten him up and rattled him in past, yet when given the opportunity to come back and win, it is something he seems to always do. With luck at the helm for the Colts, they have one three of the four match up's against the Broncos.
Generating a pass rush will be the key to keeping Luck and his weapons at bay. Look for DeMarcus Ware, Shaquil Barrett, Shane Ray and Von Miller to have very active games against the Colts, who have a questionable offensive line.
Not only will the edge rushers for the Broncos be of the utmost importance, but the defensive line will have to maintain discipline and not allow Luck to extend plays in the pocket. They will need to adhere to their assignments and not allow Luck to scramble free through the rushing lanes, like he has done so often in his young and promising career.
Key Matchups to Watch
Denver's Defensive Line vs. Indianapolis' Offensive Line
Whoever wins the battle in the trenches will be the winner of this football game. The Broncos will have to demonstrate efficacy on their defensive front with Sylvester Williams, Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis and Jared Crick in order to help shut down the Colts' powerhouse offense.
There is nothing to awfully complicated about the Colts' offensive attack, but a key aspect to note is how effective and dangerous they can be when their running game is successful. Establishing the run allows the Colts to incorporate a heavy dose of play action, which could be lethal for the Broncos defense who has struggled to defend T.Y. Hilton and a handful of other offensive players over the past few meetings.
If the Broncos can stop the run and generate pressure with their front defenders, they should have a great chance at winning this game. In their last meeting, the Broncos incorporated a lot of blitzes in order to get to Luck because they weren't able to get the job in one-on-one battles in the trenches.
Unfortunately, the deployment of the blitz was rarely successful and left a lot of open space in the middle of the field for Luck and the offense hit with ease on crossing routes through the duration of the game.
That can't happen this week if the Broncos intend to win this game.
Denver's Secondary vs. Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle
Colby Fleener is no longer a member of the Colts, but Allen and Doyle proved to be formidable players in the Colts' season opener against the Detroit Lions. Tight end play is a focal point of the Colts' offense and it will be important for players like T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart to not allow them to have big days, especially in the red zone.
Of course, Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis will have coverage assignments against Allen and Doyle as well and they will have to play very well against a duo of tight ends who reaped big dividends going up against the Lions last week.
I expect the Broncos offense to be demonstrably better against the Colts this weekend in comparison to their efforts against the Carolina Panthers in the season opener. Once again, C.J. Anderson will have a big game and have a huge role in the Broncos' offense. If Anderson can run and catch the ball as well as he did last weekend, the Broncos offense should be able to move the ball well against a decimated Colts' defense.
Broncos 30, Colts 24.