INDIANAPOLIS --** It's been a fascinating week, hasn't it?
A tweeting and quotable team owner. Some ruffled feathers -- but crucially, none belonging to the quarterback whose return to the place he made his professional name has been at the epicenter of this week's drama. One of the league's elite players returning from a six-week suspension with added bulk and perhaps added resolve to make up for lost time. And the first duel between the immediate past and the bright future of a storied Colts' quarterback lineage that dates back to Johnny Unitas and is the connective tissue between two cities and wildly disparate eras.
The media horde at Broncos headquarters Wednesday was more like what you'd expect to see for the week leading into the AFC Championship Game, illustrating the national interest in this matchup. And while it would be unwise to attach that level of importance to a Week 7 game, this game is a demarcation point for the Broncos.
It's their first game against a team with a winning record since last year's postseason, and it offers a chance for them to silence the one doubt attached to their performance so far: that it has come against a soft schedule. That changes in the next six games; only one opponent they face in that span is currently below .500.
The past few days have been tinged with nostalgia. But when kickoff arrives Sunday night, it's all about the present and its impact on the near future -- specifically the next three and a half months.
1. IF THE COLTS' CORNERS PRESS, THEN ADAPT.
Indianapolis' cornerbacks haven't been timid about disrupting routes near the line of scrimmage, and if they continue this tactic instead of opting for more conservative play, the quick timing passes that have been the Broncos' standby might not be there as they'd usually be. But this could force the Colts into pick-your-poison mode; this might help on short slants, outs and crosses, but it also could give Broncos receivers a chance to get open downfield and get their yardage in bigger chunks. The method might end up being different, but the offense could end up in the same place as it has throughout the season, and if that proves to be the case, the Broncos have a good shot to sustain their flawless start.
2. DON'T LET THE COLTS CHEW THE CLOCK.
It's possible that the Colts could choose to turn their tactics 180 degrees and attempt some quick strikes. But given their knowledge of Peyton Manning and the type of game he'd prefer, don't be surprised if Indianapolis attempts to establish a more deliberate pace that evokes half-court offenses of this state's basketball field houses rather than what Manning established in his years here.
As mentioned Thursday, Trent Richardson is one of the few runners to have any measure of success against the Broncos in the last calendar year, and he was on pace to easily surpass 100 yards at the Broncos' expense while with the Browns in Week 16 of last year.
Richardson's overall success has been spotty in his brief two-season career, but he's more powerful than the other running backs the Broncos have faced this year. The need to account for Andrew Luck's mobility could also force the Broncos to pull back a bit on an all-out assault from the interior on the Colts' developing run blocks.
The expected return of Miller and defensive end Robert Ayers should help solidify Denver's run defense even further.
3. PICK UP THE PASS RUSHERS.
Indianapolis' pass-rush strength is on the edges, starting with veteran Robert Mathis, but the Colts could use stunts and twists to force speed-on-size duels that they could perceive as mismatches against a Broncos offensive line that is likely to be in a state of flux, given that right tackle Orlando Franklin is doubtful and did not practice all week. The Colts may try to attack the right side of the Broncos' line, particularly if Denver uses Louis Vasquez at right tackle and Chris Kuper at right guard, as was the case last week.
Vasquez fared well in moving outside against the Jaguars, but this will be his first time working there in an environment as raucous as Lucas Oil Stadium will be. For Kuper, the questions aren't about skill, but endurance after missing most of the offseason following ankle surgery. Practices have been no problem and he held up well with his workload last week; if he answers these questions, the Broncos should be in good shape.
Nevertheless, Denver's running backs must be prepared to stay in the backfield and keep Manning upright a little more than usual, knowing that the Colts will be aggressive up front.