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Colts at Broncos 5 questions: How has Matt Ryan looked in the first 4 games?

To preview TNF, we go “behind enemy lines” to know what matchups to watch and where the Colts hold the edge.

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

There’s a saying that all colts grow up to become broncos.

If the Denver Broncos have their way on Thursday night, the Indianapolis Colts will grow their loss total.

Both teams come to Thursday Night Football through tough divisional losses and will look to get back on track.

At DraftKings Sportsbook, the Broncos are the current 3.5-point favorites over Indy. Based on where these two teams sit and the fact the game is in Denver (2-2), the line makes total sense.

To preview the game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Colts (1-2-1), the players to watch and what to expect in Thursday’s game with Chris Shepherd from Stampede Blue. For those interested, here are my answers to Chris’s questions.

MHR: Like the Broncos, the Colts added a veteran QB this offseason. How has Matt Ryan looked through the first four games and how would you compare him to Carson Wentz?

Shepherd: Matt Ryan isn’t comfortable in the offense yet. Frank Reich’s offense is complex and very structured. Like we’ve seen in each of Frank Reich’s five seasons, it takes time for this offense to find success with a new quarterback. Back in 2018 Andrew Luck was quoted as saying that it started to click for him around week 10. As Broncos fans you’re familiar with Philip Rivers and the Colts use the same offensive system that Rivers used in San Diego for years, so when he stepped in, in Indy with the arm strength of a high school sophomore he more or less hit the ground running. Wentz never really seemed to get it. Ryan has improved and when he has had time to throw he’s put together drives where he is absolutely dealing. So long story short, if history shows us anything Matt Ryan is going to look a lot better in the offense sometime in the next 4-6 weeks and it sure would be cool to have the same starting QB for more than a year at a time.

Comparing him to Wentz is interesting. He can’t make the crazy highlight reel plays Wentz is capable of making but Ryan’s fumbling issue doesn’t quite feel as low as Wentz’s desire to throw the ball left handed to the defense at his own goal line. So Ryan’s highs aren’t as high, his lows aren’t as low and on a down to down basis his overall level of play is higher. Matt Ryan is a better quarterback, anyone that tells you otherwise is either pushing some bizzare quasi-political/religious narrative or has no idea what they’re looking at when watching football. -I prefer the latter explanation ”Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

MHR: Jonathan Taylor is a special player, but from the outside looking in, Frank Reich doesn’t know how to utilize him properly. Is that accurate and if so, why?

Shepherd: Looking at the stat sheet this year I could understand why someone might think that but just last year Frank Reich used him to the tune of 2,171 total yards and 20 total touchdowns. This season the Colts are doing all of the same things they’ve done in the past but the offensive line isn’t getting the same push as in years past. The Colts have new starters this season at left tackle and right guard and both have struggled in pass pro and run blocking. At times it’s been really, really ugly. I’m more confident that Matt Ryan will improve than I am in the offensive line.

MHR: DraftKings Sportsbook is offering an interesting weekly special of Michael Pittman and Courtand Sutton to combine for 200+ receiving yards at +275. How do you feel about the matchups and would you bet that?

Shepherd: If anyone is going to go over 100 yards receiving for the Colts right now I would bet on Pittman. And with +275 odds I would throw a couple bucks at that and see what happens.

MHR: What are the matchups that will decide this game and where do the Colts have the advantage? Who are the under-the-radar players Broncos fans should keep an eye on?

Shepherd: On offense for the Colts things will be decided in the trenches. If they can protect Matt Ryan, the offense will move the ball. If they can open holes in the ground game, hopefully they keep throwing the ball anyway because I’m not that confident Jonathan Taylor will play. But the biggest factor for the Colts will be the offensive line. An under the radar player to watch on O is rookie tight end Jelani Woods. Like most rookie tight ends he’s coming along at a pace slower than fans would like but each of the past two weeks he’s made big plays and it might not be on Thursday but it feels like he’s poised to really break out at some point this season.

On defense it’s going to be about the pass rush which has been better this year than in seasons past. As a Colts fan I’m hopeful Russell Wilson decides to hold the ball a long time in the pocket and I hope he holds the ball loosely, away from his body. On defense the player to know is Grover Stewart. Stewart is a 1-tech DT. He is a large man that has a quicker get off than anyone his size should. He’s been very good, getting consistent penetration all season long.

Where do the Colts have the advantage? You tell me, I’m having trouble finding an area where the Colts are obviously better. I guess it might be an advantage that this is Nathaniel Hackett’s first Thursday Night Football game as a head coach- but that feels like a stretch.

MHR: What are your expectations/predictions for Thursday’s game?

Shepherd: Well, the Colts are coming off of a highly disappointing loss to a division opponent and they’re playing a Broncos team that many expected to be major contenders in the AFC, so history tells me that it’s time for the Colts to go out and make their opponent play terrible football and eke out an ugly win. They’ve done it over and over again in the Frank Reich era and I promise I’m not weirdly bragging about that. It’s what mediocre football teams do- they lose winnable games and win games no one thinks they should win.

With that said, logically, on a short week, on the road missing their best defensive player (Darius Leonard) and possibly missing their best offensive player (Taylor), the Colts should not win this game. I hope I’m wrong.

This post is brought to you by DraftKings Sportsbook.