What We Learned: Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos hosted the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday after a very tumultuous week in which Denver tragically lost one of its own. The Broncos donned number 11 stickers on the back of the helmets to remember wide receiver Kenny McKinley, who committed suicide this past week. This tragedy weighed heavily on Broncos players’ minds this week leading up to the Sunday meeting with Indianapolis. The Denver Broncos played well, but came up short once again against Peyton Manning and the Colts. Let’s take a look at what we learned from this game.
This week wasn’t so much a learning experience, but more of an affirmation of the greatness of Peyton Manning. Manning has always had success against Denver and Sunday’s matchup was no exception. Many people will look at this game and try to peg Colts WR Austin Collie as the star of this game. True, Collie had a breakout game and put up huge numbers, but don’t be fooled. Peyton Manning is once again the true hero. Collie’s breakout game is a product of several factors.
First, Peyton Manning can turn anyone into a star. Peyton continually loses top talent year after year (Edgerin James, Brandon Stokely, Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzales, etc.) yet the Colts always seem to have another player ready to step in and make plays. We saw this last year with Pierre Garcon. Critics continue to worry about what Manning will do now that he no longer has (insert name here) to throw to, yet every year Peyton finds new people to catch the ball. Peyton Manning turns his receivers into Pro Bowlers.
Second, Denver had some injuries issues at cornerback leading up to this game. Starting cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman were both banged up and questionable for Sunday’s game. Bailey ended up being able to play, while Goodman was held out of the game. This left Perrish Cox as the other starter opposite Bailey. Normally, Reggie Wayne is Peyton Manning’s primary target in the passing game, however with Champ Bailey covering Wayne all game long this was a dangerous option. Manning decided to test the rookie CB (Cox) instead of risking it against one of the best CB’s in the NFL (Bailey). The stats for Sunday’s game are telling. Only 4 catches for Wayne, while Collie (who was primarily covered by Cox) had 12 catches and 2 TDs.
Sunday’s game was simply a reminder of how great Peyton Manning is at the Quarterback position. He recognized blitzes, audibled into more favorable routes, and identified the mismatches the Colts offense had against the Broncos defense. Manning also audibled into a couple of key running plays that ended up eating a huge chunk of time off the clock late in the game. Manning didn’t put up gaudy numbers Sunday, but he was mistake-free, tallied yet another 100+ QB rating, and most importantly another win for Indianapolis.
The two facets of Denver’s offense served as complete opposites of one another on Sunday. The passing offense looked very promising, while the rushing offense once again looked completely anemic. Kyle Orton threw for over 400 yards Sunday, his second 400 yard game in a Denver uniform tying him with John Elway for the most 400 yard games. Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd complimented one another nicely, Lloyd on the deep routes and Gaffney running underneath. Stud rookie wideout Demaryius Thomas also had a decent, though not quite of the same caliber as his debut last week. The passing game is definitely the bright spot for the Denver offense three weeks into the season.
As great as the passing game was, the running game was equally poor. Three weeks into the season, Knowshow Moreno is leading Denver in rushing (111 yards) and average (2.8 yds/carry), pretty meager numbers even considering he did not play Sunday. Denver currently sits 30th in the NFL in rushing offense. One might think that a date with the Indianapolis Colts would be the perfect remedy for a struggling run game. Not the case. Denver rushed for a mere 47 yards on 18 attempts. Denver’s running woes were on full display when they were unable to score on straight plays from the one yard line.
The Broncos were inside the Red Zone five times Sunday, they came away with a total of 6 points on two field goals. Denver went for it on 4th down three times inside the Colts’ 20 yard line and could not convert any of those attempts. This includes a first and goal at the one yard line that saw Denver unable to gain that one yard on three separate run plays. Denver coach Josh McDaniels needs to think about possibly implementing the Tim Tebow formation inside the Red Zone and see if their young QB can’t make something happen with his feet and/or his arm.
In short, Denver’s passing game has looked great, but the lack of running game and poor Red Zone efficiency it what cost them this game, and if these problems are not fixed this will cost many more games down the road.
The Colts defense has been heavily criticized over the first two weeks (and past few years) about their porous run defense. They let Texans runningback Arian Foster have a career day in week one, they were better in Week 2 against the Giants mostly due to the fact that New York was constantly playing catch up and had to throw the ball. However, in Week 3 the Colts run defense shut the Broncos down to only 47 rushing yards. Hard to say if this is a sign of improvement in the Indianapolis defense, or just a product of Denver’s lack of ability to run the ball. Maybe it’s a little of both.
The Colts pass defense looked very sloppy, allowing Kyle Orton to throw for over 400 yards and giving up one long throw after another. However, when it really counted (the Red Zone) the Indianapolis defense really shined allowing no Red Zone TD’s. They were also able to intercept a Kyle Orton pass which led to Indy’s first Touchdown of the game. All things considered, the defense looked sharper than it did Week 1 and should be able to keep Peyton Manning in just about every game.
Denver’s defense played extremely well, especially considering the tough spots they were forced into by the offense and special teams. On Indy’s first three possession Denver held them to 3 points, however a muffed punt return put Indy deep in Denver territory. They forced another field goal extending the Colts’ lead to 6-0. A Kyle Orton interception led to Indy’s first Touchdown. Denver’s defense then tightened up once again, holding Peyton Manning to three straight possessions without a score. However, not having Andre Goodman in the lineup eventually caught up to Denver.
Peyton Manning quickly keyed in on rookie cornerback Perrish Cox, who was filling in for the injured Goodman. Cox was asked to cover Wide Receiver Austin Collie. Manning grew fond of the matchup in the second half, completing 8 passes to Collie including a Touchdown. The Denver defense did enough to keep their team in the game; however the turnovers and lack of conversions on 4th down by the offense put the defense in bad situations and did not give them enough support.
Denver and Indianapolis played very similar games. Both teams relied on their passing game to carry them through, while their running game was for the most part nonexistent. Both defenses played well inside the Red Zone; however Denver allowed three Red Zone TD’s while Indy allowed zero. The real key to this game ended up being the turnovers. The two conventional turnovers by the Broncos turned into 10 points for Indy. Denver also went 0-3 on 4th down, all inside the Indianapolis Red Zone (on the 20, 12, and 1 yard lines). That’s at least 9, possibly 21 lost points because of blown 4th downs. Denver missed out on some big opportunities in this game, and they can’t expect to win consistently unless they can start capitalizing on their chances inside the Red Zone.
Denver might need to think about using Tim Tebow inside the Red Zone to run, pass, and deceive the defense. Let's face it, what Denver's doing right now just is not working.