The Broncos offense against Jacksonville was more Hyde as they didn't score on important opportunities in the red-zone and turned the ball over on another scoring chance.
The defense played a weak Jaguars offense soft in coverage and didn't stop the Jags passing game on key plays on third-down and in the red-zone. Against Seattle though, the Jekyll emerged and the offense was consistent. They avoided penalties on key possessions and scored when they had the ball close.
Meanwhile, the defense made key stops in the red-zone, allowing them to overcome the success the Seahawks had against them all day, especially on third- down.
Peyton Manning’s Colts will try to counter the Broncos strategy, and are the best team in the league at making adjustments according to what the opposition does. This means that the focus is more on the Broncos' moves as the Colts will likely change their approach throughout the game according to the success—or lack thereof—of the Broncos game plan.
Broncos Offensive Game Plan
Quarterback Kyle Orton must avoid the Colts pass-rush and make quick decisions in the passing game. If the play is not there, he has to quell the urge to hold onto the ball and wait for receivers to come open because the Colts pass-rushers are fast and relentless.
That said, the pressure from the Colts comes from the defensive ends and very little up the middle so staying in the pocket, and stepping up into it when necessary, should allow Orton enough to time to hit his receivers.
As for the running Game, Knowshon Moreno is out with a hamstring injury so the bulk of the carries will go to Correll Buckhalter and Laurence Maroney. Andre Brown will get some carries as well, but both Buckhalter and Maroney have experience in the Josh McDaniels’ passing game; the coach has more faith in them picking up blitzes, running screen-plays, and in the shorter check-down routes.
Unfortunately, not a lot can be expected from the running game as far as yardage is concerned as the Broncos have neither the backs nor the experience on the offensive line to do anything significant against a fast and aggressive Colts defense.
They must, however, run the ball anyway to keep the safeties and linebackers honest. If they can also keep the defensive secondary honest, it will allow the receivers more room to operate on pass plays.
Passing has become the strength of the Broncos offense and will be the key to its success and keeping up with the 20+ points the Colts always score. The emergence of Demaryius Thomas last week gives the Broncos a legitimate No. one receiver who will help them on both short and intermediate possession routes as well as deep.
The Colts defense has struggled against four receiver sets and the Broncos have at least five legitimate receivers to rotate in the game: Thomas, Eddie Royal, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, and Eric Decker.
The Broncos need to stay patient and move the ball using short and intermediate routes on early downs to avoid costly third-and-long situations where the Colts pass rushers can tee off against them. Extensive use of play action, while occasionally spreading it out with four receiver sets, will help keep the defense off balance and help them score despite a struggling running game.
Broncos Defensive Game-Plan
The Broncos have not shown the ability to stop the run consistently this season and the Colts will have some success running the ball. The Giants made the mistake against the Colts of keeping five defensive backs in and getting out of their core 4-3 defense.
The Colts took advantage and ran the ball with remarkable success. The Broncos need to play their game here, and be a lot more aware of the Colts ability to move the ball on the ground than the Giants were. The defensive line needs to stay its ground and hold the edge and the linebackers need to stay disciplined and make tackles.
The Colts will move the ball in the air and they will score. Against the pass, it's important for the Broncos to limit their success and not give away cheap yardage and points due to poor tackling or missed assignments. Complicating matters for the Broncos are the injuries to Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman. If Champ is out the Colts chance of success will increase 20-25%. If Goodman is out as well the odds go up another 10%.
Goodman hasn't’t played well in the first two games, giving up big plays with the opposing quarterbacks missing on a few others. If only Goodman is out, there are capable replacements in Perrish Cox and Nate Jones. But it gets thin if Cassius Vaughn and Syd’Quan Thompsen have to play significant minutes.
The fact that the team didn't sign any additional cornerbacks this week is good reason to believe that both Champ and Goodman will play on Sunday despite being listed as "questionable" on Friday’s injury report.
Broncos Special Teams
Special Teams Coverage; The Broncos must cover better on special teams, period. Every kick is like a scene from a keystone cops video clip; players running out of their lanes, running into and tripping over each other, missing tackles, in short - pathetic. If they get beat on special teams against the Colts, the game will be over very soon as you cannot give Peyton Manning good field position constantly and expect to win.
Coaching and the Home-Field Advantage
Stay patient and adjust. The Broncos coaching staff have to stay patient and make the appropriate adjustments on both sides of the ball as the game progresses.
The coach of the Colts offense is Manning and he will make the play calls at the line of scrimmage throughout the game. The Broncos defensive coordinator, Don ‘Wink’ Martindale, can’t let Manning into his head and call too many blitzes or gamble with coverages that will lead to easy Colts scores.
McDaniels needs to let the offense work the field, using the passing game to control the ball and time-of-possession while staying with the run as long as there is positive yardage. The play calling on offense is sometimes too easy to predict, and the bubble-screens and mundane runs between the tackles on first and second down should at least be mixed in with some roll-outs, slants, and even more originality, like the Moreno-to-Orton-to-Royal pass play against Seattle.
He doesn’t have to use gimmicks, but McDaniels has to keep the Colts defense guessing; the pass-rush will be hard to avoid if the passing offense becomes predictable.
The Right Place and Time
The Broncos had their best success last year at home.Despite the late season meltdown, they beat the Cowboys, Patriots, and Giants at home and were underdogs against each one at the time (we’ll ignore the Pittsburgh and San Diego blow-outs).
They are catching the Colts at the right time, early in the season, and outside on the natural turf at Mile-High. If there is a good time place to play the Colts, it is now. Hopefully the win against Seattle is a big step forward to re-establishing Mile-High as an intimidating place to play.
Teams that beat the Colts usually play them physical and do not make key mistakes. The Broncos are more than capable of playing well enough to win, and with the weapons they have on offense, they can score enough to win a game that goes into the 20’s and 30’s.
The offense will pass often and move the ball effectively, and the defense will keep the Colts under thirty points. This will allow the Broncos to win a close game and move to 2-1 on the season before going to Baltimore and Tennessee in the following weeks.
Prediction: Broncos 28 Colts 24