Well, it's finally here. Almost, anyway.
The Indianapolis Colts will host the Denver Broncos on Sunday night in the return of Peyton Manning, the new War of 1812. The master will face the student, the ex vs. the new. A team looking much like the old-era Colts did will face a team that has taken on completely different identity (even if it's one that some see as foolish).
Hoosiers have looked forward to this game since the scheduled was released. Now, it's just time to wait. Time to wait for it to be over.
But the Colts can't wait. They have things to prepare in order to defeat the 6-0 Broncos. Even while their defense has been spotty at times, Manning and the Broncos have been downright unstoppable.
So how do the Colts get the upset in front of an emotional home crowd? How do they slow down the Broncos' dream season? That's what we'll look at in this week's game plan.
Be Aggressive on Offense
This past week, the Colts offense was anything but aggressive, scoring just nine points against a poor Chargers defense as the offense was conservative in both specific play-calling and general play design.
The Colts cannot afford to have another offensive letdown against the Broncos.
While the Colts will have to try to keep Manning and the Denver offense off the field, they have to ensure that they can move the ball and score points at the same time. Eight-minute drives that end in field goals are not going to work against a team that is scoring 3.54 points per drive.
So how does Indianapolis do this? The answer is simple: Put a little more faith in Andrew Luck and exploit a horrible Denver pass defense.
It's not about passing more and running less. The Colts called just 13 runs last week while Luck dropped back 35 times.
No, the issue was the overall conservatism on offense. Luck attempted just three passes of 20 yards or more down the field. The first was on the very first play of the game, a 35-yard completion to Reggie Wayne on a flea-flicker. That was the only completion they would have on a play like that for the entire game.
Overall, 19 of Luck's 30 passes were to players nine or less yards away from the line of scrimmage, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Plays like this one, with little to no options for Luck down the field, were extremely common.
With speedsters like T.Y. Hilton and Darrius Heyward-Bey on the receiving corps, along with a very fast Coby Fleener at tight end, that is simply unacceptable.
Against Seattle, the Colts were struggling to move the ball, but came out with a no-huddle, aggressive offense in the second half that sparked great success against one of the best defenses in the league.
Against San Diego, the Colts (with a healthy Stanley Havili, who was injured the previous week) stubbornly continued to come out with a fullback and stayed conservative until the very end. With 4:27 left in the game, the Colts got the ball on their own 9-yard line, down seven. Now was the time to be aggressive, right?
The Colts came out with a fullback, ran a running back screen and then the following two plays.
On that third-down play, Reggie Wayne's wheel route was the only route to go past the first-down marker, and he was a glorified decoy on the play, designed to clear out that area for Hilton and Fleener, whom the play was designed to go to.
Yes, down seven with under four minutes to go, the Colts' third-down play was designed to go to a player short of the first-down marker.
Denver has the 27th-ranked pass defense by DVOA (and the eighth-best run defense). The Colts have to stay aggressive and exploit their weaknesses, or else Manning is going to blow this game wide open.
Do Anything to Keep From Breaking
The Colts have been the perfect picture of "bend, don't break" on defense this year.
Look at the drive stats for Indianapolis. They allow a lot of yards, but rarely allow teams into the end zone. Denver, on the other hand, has been one of the most efficient touchdown-scoring offenses of all time.
|IND Defense||31.94 (20)||1.55 (10)||.145 (6)||.177 (22)||0.82 (5)||2:53 (31)|
|DEN Offense||42.12 (1)||3.54 (1)||.449 (1)||.130 (20)||3.44 (1)||2:37 (13)|
Something has to give.
The Broncos have been so good this season precisely because they get into the end zone. The Colts defense has been above-average because they keep people out of the end zone. The Colts simply have to find some way to keep Denver out of the end zone. Like San Diego last week, Denver will be able to move the ball. The question is can they score touchdowns. San Diego wasn't able to.
But Denver is a much, much tougher prospect.
So how do you do it? How do you keep Manning from throwing touchdowns?
Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri's suggestion? Skip the first three downs.
The answer isn't blitzing him; Peyton Manning has a passer rating of 144.1 when blitzed this season.
What is the answer?
I don't know. Neither does the rest of the league so far.
Maybe you have to hope for a lucky break, like two fumbles on the snap or a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage.
But somehow, some way, the Colts have to force a couple field goals and get Manning off the field. Nobody is going to win a shootout with Manning and his elite receiving corps. They've been forced to score throughout the entire game just once this season: their Week 5 win over Dallas.
They scored 51 points.
A shootout is not an option.
Force a couple field goals, get Manning off the field and stay aggressive on offense, and the Colts might just stumble into a win. Otherwise, Peyton's Homecoming could turn into a bloodbath.