So it’s time for another showdown between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Unlike the last two times, though, we have a vast gap between the two teams, even though they both happen to be division leaders and are probably going to have little trouble winning the division. And that’s why Ryan Grigson is on his way to another Executive of the Year award, amirite?
Of course, we know the real story is that the Denver Broncos lead a division that has a good team (Oakland), an average team that could challenge them in the rematch (Kansas City) and a bad team (San Diego), while the Indianapolis Colts are leading the weakest division in the NFL, and possibly the weakest division ever since the switch to four divisions in each conference. The Colts and the Texans are below average, with the arrow kind of pointing upward for Houston because they got rid of Ryan Mallett, but it might not be enough to overtake the Colts, who still have enough talent to sweep the division.
And to think I was the guy who thought Andrew Luck might set new records on offense this season.
Anyway, we know that the Colts haven’t done a good job building around Luck, he’s already dealt with a shoulder injury and he may have a rib injury. It’s led to Luck having the worst season of his career, as he’s completed just 54.9 of his passes, he’s thrown 12 interceptions and he’s fumbled three times. The 14 sacks he’s taken aren’t helping matters, either. And keep in mind those statistics are for six games (Matt Hasselbeck started the other two).
The Colts’ struggles on offense led to them firing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and promoting Rob Chudzinski. Changing coordinators may not be enough, though, because of how poorly constructed the team is.
Frank Gore is averaging 4.3 yards per carry on 120 rushing attempts but fumbling was always his biggest problem and he’s done that three times this season. And while he’s been solid, the Colts don’t have a back who is good enough to spell him. They waived Dan Herron prior to the season, giving him an injury settlement in the process, even though his injuries were only to cause him to miss a few games (he’s since signed with Buffalo). Josh Robinson wasn’t good enough to replace him and the Colts had to bring back Ahmad Bradshaw, whose best days are behind him.
The Colts were wise to extend T.Y. Hilton at a reasonable salary for a quality, but not elite, No. 1 wide receiver and he’s still a downfield threat. I do wonder, though, if Aqib Talib is thinking a lot about how much Hilton burned him in last year’s divisional playoff game and wants to atone for it. After Hilton comes Donte Moncrief, who is turning into a good No. 2 receiver, and Andre Johnson, who has been OK in the No. 3 role. Coby Fleener is the primary tight end but he’s never found his stride. Whenever Dwayne Allen was healthy, he took most of the red zone looks, but Allen has battled injuries throughout his career and Fleener hasn’t been able to carry the load.
Then there’s the offensive line, which I went over earlier this season about how terrible it was. Anthony Costanzo is a quality left tackle and the Colts were wise to extend him. Otherwise, the Colts don’t have a good player starting on the line. Jack Mewhort has started all eight games at right tackle and has not fared well. They’ve tried Hugh Thornton, Lance Louis and Todd Herremans in the guard spots and none of them are good. At center, they started Khaled Holmes for seven games and he’s been ineffective, and the other center, Jonnothan Harrison, isn’t much better.
With that said, I wouldn’t count on the Broncos defense running roughshod on the Colts offense. Luck is capable of sustaining drives if he finds open receivers and is on the mark with his throws. The Broncos will have to remain disciplined on defense, pick the times when to rush four or five and disguise their blitzes. If the Broncos do that well, the Colts will have an uphill climb, but it’s up to the Broncos to execute and not let up if they get a large lead.
On defense, the Colts do have a few good players. Their best player on the line is defensive end Henry Anderson, a third-round pick in 2015. He’s having a season worthy of Defensive Rookie of the Year that might get lost, though, because he doesn’t really have much help elsewhere. Robert Mathis has four sacks this season but is nowhere near the player he was in 2013. Their leading tackler is D’Qwell Jackson, a player I know some Broncos fans were interested in when the Cleveland Browns released him in 2013, but Jackson isn’t as effective as either Danny Trevathan or Brandon M. Marshall. After him, you have the likes of Erik Walden and Jerrell Freeman, who are not particularly good at run defense or coverage.
In the secondary, Vontae Davis remains effective but injuries have forced him to take on a larger load. Greg Toler has missed four starts, which has forced the Colts to look to the less effective Jalil Brown.Old friend Mike Adams is still playing good ball, but there’s nobody else in the secondary who is particularly threatening.
Indy’s defense is league average overall, ranked 16th in DVOA, 14th in run D and 18th in pass D. So while not a top-of-the-line defense, the Colts can be effective, particularly if you make too many mistakes. That means the Broncos need to bring the same play they brought on offense against Green Bay, where they not only move the chains, but finish most of their drives. That is particularly true when you consider how good Colts punter Pat McAfee is. He’s very good at pinning opponents deep in their own territory. So the Broncos need effective ball movement to counter that.
So while I made Ryan Grigson jokes to start this Musings, by no means does this make the Colts pushovers. In fact, I’m not expecting a blowout, although a decisive win like that against Green Bay could happen if the Broncos keep bringing a high level of play. The one thing the Broncos have to be careful about is this: If they get a big lead, they can’t let up, because Luck will find ways to close the gap. They can’t necessarily count on him making mistakes.
I do expect a Broncos win this week, because I don’t see anything to indicate the defense’s performance will drop off the cliff and because it appears the offense is headed in the right direction. The Broncos can’t take anything for granted, but if they play this week’s game better than the one last week, they should have no problem getting to 8-0.