ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It seems as though the Broncos have built toward this day for over 11 months: the beginning of a postseason that will define the legacy of the 2014 Broncos and their quest to make right what went wrong in Super Bowl XLVIII.
But some have awaited this moment for longer. Four members of their projected starting lineup Sunday were on injured reserve by the time last year's playoffs arrived: left tackle Ryan Clady, defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, linebacker Von Miller and safety Rahim Moore.
Of that quartet, perhaps none anticipates Sunday more than Moore.
Because of a bout with compartment syndrome that nearly cost him his leg, he spent last year's postseason on injured reserve, unable to atone for his misplay on a deep pass that allowed Baltimore's Jacoby Jones to score a game-tying touchdown late in regulation of what would be a 38-35 double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens two years ago this week.
Moore tearfully owned up to the mistake, then spent the next 10 months trying to make up for it before his 2013 season ended.
Sunday, he finally gets his second chance at a start in the playoffs, one day shy of two years since the Ravens defeat. He's done his best to atone, but that game is long ago in his mind.
"Yeah, I mean, each and every week you've got to go out there and make them forget something," Moore said.
"I'm not eager for [anything]. I'm not anxious. I just want to go out there and have fun and just play as a team."
But at any one point, the team may ride on him, or any other of the 46 players active for Sunday.
"I told Rahim, 'We're riding on you,'" said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., whose postseason 12 months ago lasted just over two quarters before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. "If you go and make plays and be an impact player, that's going to make everything easier for everybody else on their defense."
And given the Colts' love of the deep pass, Moore will be in Andrew Luck's crosshairs.
"They're going to take shots, so Rahim is huge," said Harris. "He's got to be huge this week."
And that brings us to the three keys to Sunday's do-or-die duel near downtown Denver:
- KEEP THE COLTS DEFENSE OFF-BALANCE.**
Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said Thursday that his unit would have to "mix it up" and "disguise" its looks and pre-snap intentions in order to try and catch the Broncos off-guard. But if the Broncos offense can dictate the flow of the game, the Colts won't have the flexibility to try and mask their plans.
Whether it is through varying the tempo, using the run to set up the play-action or continuing to run out of three-wide receiver sets -- as the Broncos have done to success at times in recent weeks -- the Broncos must take control of the game away from Indianapolis' defense, and reduce their tactical possibilities.
2. WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE.
Giveaways have been a problem for the Colts, and the one clear issue for their emerging offense. Indianapolis' 31 giveaways ranks in a tie for 29th in the league, and undermines an offense that is one of the league's most efficient in overall per-play and per-game production -- and leads the league in passing yardage per game.
The equation for success for the Broncos could involve takeaways that make up for yardage allowed. But if the Broncos can't protect the football when they possess it, any advantage the defense gains against the Colts offense will be lost.
3. LIMIT ANDREW LUCK'S OPTIONS.
The Colts quarterback thrives when he can spread the football around, as he did last week when he hit nine different targets for 31 completions, led by running back Daniel Herron's 10 receptions. If Pro Bowl cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. can take care of business, then Luck's collection of possibilities will narrow, and then it will be a matter of ensuring that inside and short targets like Herron and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen don't rack up yardage after the catch.
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How will the Broncos' corners combat T.Y. Hilton? We answer that and more in this week's Five Key Matchups.