ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --In Week 1, the Colts defense was in transition. Hindered by the absence of pass-rusher Robert Mathis, Indianapolis struggled to mount a pass rush at times early in the season.
Without Mathis, the Colts lacked the single edge rusher that could change a game on his own. So they had to adapt, using blitzes, deceptive pre-snap formations and a variety of pass rushers to attack with more creativity.
"[Colts Defensive Coordinator Greg] Manusky has done a great job as far as creating pressure. Their pass rush does a good job. They mix it up pretty good and the coverage guys on the back end do a really good job of holding down their ground," said Broncos Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "They've done a good job of mixing it up. They've caused a lot of confusion to some teams."
Pressure could come from Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden on the outside, defensive linemen Cory Redding and Ricky Jean-Francois on the inside, and inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and D'Qwell Jackson on the blitz. Five of the six have double-digit quarterback hurries, according to ProFootballFocus.com, with outside linebacker and pass-rush specialist Jonathan Newsome providing extra pressure; he was credited with five quarterback hurries against the Titans in Week 17.
"You've got to be on it, protection-wise," Gase said. "We've got to make sure that we're studying their blitzes and we're not taking anything for granted. We're going to have to be good on just our rules and protections."
But the Colts know they must account for the Broncos' improved running game -- and if they do, that might put them into pick-your-poison mode against the Broncos' versatile offense.
"You've got to load the box sometimes to stop the run," Manusky said. "Then all of a sudden, you've got a quarterback (Peyton Manning) that knows it's single-high (safety), he knows where he's going to go with the ball.
"It goes hand in hand. You know you got to mix it up on him, you got to disguise, you got to do your little things that you do each and every week."
But Manusky also plans to tweak his defense's work and throw some different wrinkles at Manning and the Broncos.
"We're going to change up some stuff; don't get me wrong," Manusky said.
Noted Gase: "[Manusky] is going to have a whole bunch of new stuff. He always has and he's done a good job with it and Coach [Chuck] Pagano, he's got something that we haven't seen before. But we'll just stick with our rules and make sure we just keep practicing what our job is."
Indianapolis wants to generate pressure, and to force Manning to throw at Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis, who in Week 1 allowed just one catch for 5 yards. According to ProFootballFocus.com, opposing quarterbacks have a 38.8 rating when throwing at Davis, the lowest of any cornerback in the league. "It's a big challenge, especially on Vontae's side. He's one of the best in the game, I can say that," said Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
But the Broncos can't sleep on No. 2 cornerback Greg Toler, who has played his best football of the season in the last two weeks after struggling for long stretches of the season.
"He's a very talented guy, doesn't make many mistakes and you know from watching film lately they're playing lots of man coverage and they're actually winning -- they're doing better than the receivers are," Thomas said.