One problem—Luck and Co. came out flat on Monday Night Football and were embarrassed by the San Diego Chargers.
Now the Colts enter what is sure to be one of the highlight moments of the 2013 season with more questions than answers. We'll answer some of them below while detailing major things the Colts must get right in order to knock off the undefeated Broncos.
Highlight Von Miller
Linebacker Von Miller, owner of 18.5 sacks in his second season last year, is back just in time to give Luck nightmares, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported:
Denver's defense tells two different stories in 2013. Against the run, no team is better—the unit ranks No. 1 in that regard with just 69.8 yards allowed per game. The unit's ability against the pass is a different story entirely as it ranks dead last in the NFL with 337.7 yards allowed per game.
Much of the issue Denver has against the pass can be accredited to the lack of a pass rush. No disrespect to guys like Malik Jackson playing in his place, but none are able to replicate what Miller did a year ago:
|Broncos Pass Rush With and Von Miller Analysis|
|Comparison||Sack Percentage||Net Yards Per Attempt|
|2012 with Miller||8.5% (2)||5.2 (1)|
|2013 without Miller||6.3% (21)||7.6 (31)|
So one half of the offensive formula for Indianapolis is simple—key on No. 58 no matter where he is. Chip him. Double him. Whatever it takes. Just build a game plan around Miller, or risk Luck's performance and health in one fell swoop.
Get. Off. The. Field.
It sounds so simple, no?
Indianapolis does not have a bad defense. The unit has stellar marks against the pass as a top-five unit, but its weakness comes in the form of stopping the run.
Not only does the unit allow 132 yards per game on the ground, it has a serious issue actually getting the ball in Luck's hands as it loses the time-of-possession battle.
The Colts' inability to get off the field was on full display Monday as San Diego won the time-of-possession battle by holding on to the ball for over 38 minutes. To slice it another way—Luck and the offense had the ball for just over 20 minutes.
From a defensive perspective, this means ending offensive drives quickly. Whether it's forcing a turnover or actually forcing a three-and-out, the Colts defense is one half of the equation to a winning formula that starts with a fundamental element—possession of the football.
Cut the Conservative Out of the Offense
The other half of the equation comes on offense. It's great that coordinator Pep Hamilton wants to be a power-running team.
Hamilton has the right back in place thanks to Richardson, but Hamilton does not necessarily have the offensive line to do so—the unit hardly ranks in the top half of the NFL in run-blocking efficiency per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In other words, the Colts must play to their strengths—which reside in a passing game led by one Mr. Luck.
Last week in the loss to San Diego, Hamilton allowed Luck to attempt just three passes 20 yards or more down the field, instead opting for a conservative approach that saw 19 of his 30 passes go for nine yards or less, per PFF.
With weapons like T.Y. Hilton on the roster, who averages just 15.4 yards per catch compared to his total of 17.2 per last season, this is a dumbfounding approach.
It's not as if San Diego entered the game with a dominate pass defense. Like Denver, it too ranks in the bottom 10 of the league. The approach was Hamilton's way of making up for an inefficient rushing attack, but that won't get it done against Manning.
Hamilton must let Luck loose down the field on Sunday to win. Anything else will lead to a similarly boring result like the one on display in front of a national audience last week.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling