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Three Keys to Broncos-Colts


DENVER -- **Every player has a voice in his ear. Usually, it's that of a coach.

C.J. Anderson has more than that. What he doesn't hear from Head Coach Gary Kubiak, Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison and Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville, he will hear from his mother.

And often, Anderson's mother is more critical than anyone on the sideline in a Broncos polo shirt.

"If I can get my mom to one day say, 'You were 100 percent on my sheet,' I might retire," Anderson said, smiling.

It's doubtful he ever will, of course. It was Anderson's mother who told him last year that he didn't appear to be happy and having fun as he tried to play on an ankle injury that hindered him in the first six weeks of the regular season.

"She told me I didn't look happy [last year]," he said.

After a bye, the ankle healed, and the ebullient, bouncy Anderson returned -- both in demeanor and performance. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry the rest of the season, scored seven touchdowns -- including half of the Broncos' four offensive touchdowns in the playoffs -- and was the power gear in the offense.

Last week, he picked up where he left off. Only two running backs had more yards from scrimmage than Anderson, who racked up 139 yards -- 92 on the ground and 47 through the air, most of which came on a 25-yard screen pass that ended in his first of two touchdowns.

But his mother felt he left some yards on the table.

"She definitely said I looked happy [last week against Carolina], but she definitely said on a couple of runs, I should have went here and I should have went there," Anderson said. "Which is true when you watch the tape; I don't know how she sees it and it's live TV, but she's been doing this through my older brother for a long time, and now she's doing it through me."

Anderson's performance last week came against a Carolina defense that has allowed a 89.6 rushing yards per game since the start of the 2016 season, the fourth-best figure in the league. In that same span, Indianapolis permitted 121.6 rushing yards per game; just seven teams have a worse per-game average.

Still, that Colts defense held the Broncos to a mere 35 rushing yards last November, the team's worst figure for any of the games in which Anderson played last season.

"They're very physical; we know that they get after it," Anderson said. "Since I've been here, I've played the Colts four times and beat them once. They are always getting after us up front. It's a big challenge like it was last week and we're ready for the challenge."

And it's been a big challenge for over a decade. Not only have the Colts defeated the Broncos in three of four meetings since Anderson arrived in 2013, but in eight of the last nine meetings dating back to a wild-card game in January 2005.

What are the keys to changing that?



... or at least play to a stalemate there.

Here are your pertinent numbers:

  • Indianapolis has won 14 consecutive games in which its turnover margin was plus-2 or better;
  • The only team to defeat the Colts since Andrew Luck's 2012 arrival when the Colts win the turnover battle is New England, with two wins. The Colts have won the other 22 games since 2012 with a positive turnover margin;
  • Indianapolis is 12-18 since Luck's arrival with a negative turnover margin, and 6-11 when it is minus-2 or worse (compared with 38-15 at minus-1 or better and 32-8 when it is even or better).

The Broncos' last two regular-season wins have come with turnover margins of minus-4 (against San Diego last January) and minus-2 (last week). But those wins only managed to get the Broncos to 5-10 since 2012 with a turnover margin of minus-2 or worse. It worked those times, but over the long haul, it is not sustainable, and an area in which the Broncos must fare better.



One significant reason why the Colts kept the Broncos at bay during their Week 9 duel last year was their success on third downs; Indianapolis went 12-of-20, and their 60 percent success ratio was the highest permitted by the Broncos last year.

What concerns the Broncos is that the Panthers matched that percentage last week, riding a wave of five consecutive third-down conversions in the second quarter.

"They obviously had a good football team and we didn't play as well on third down, I thought," said Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips. "Obviously we didn't play as well as we did in the Super Bowl, but they made some plays.

"We didn't play as well technically as I thought we could. But again, they didn't have a lot of yards passing either. They had one less point than we did, which was good."

Just as crucial as being better on third downs will be avoiding penalties. Denver defensive infractions led to seven Colts first downs in their game last November, but since then the Broncos have improved, allowing just 2.3 first downs per game via penalty.



Indianapolis' furious comeback fell short against the Lions last week, but it served as a reminder of how no lead is safe against the Colts when Luck is at the helm.

Luck has led successful comebacks from two or more scores down eight times in his career, most famously when he rallied the Colts from a 38-10 third-quarter deficit against Kansas City in the 2014 divisional playoffs to a 45-44 win.

"It's just what he's capable of," Kubiak said. "He's there all the time. You watch him play, he's a 60-minute player. If he gets off to a rough start, he comes back at the end. He does what he has to do. He always has his team in position to get it done. That's what great players do. I think it's just him being resilient week in and week out."

Sometimes the deficit is too great to overcome, but Luck stays calm and keeps his team battling. Twenty times in his career, he and the Colts have faced three-score deficits. The Colts have only managed to win three times in this scenario, but six other times he got the Colts back within one score, including in Week 1 of the 2014 season at Denver, when the Colts turned a 24-0 deficit into a 31-24 deficit with a chance to tie the game late.

Three of those six rallies to create at least a tight game came in the last three times the Luck-led Colts had three-score deficits -- last year in Weeks 7 and 8 against the Saints and Panthers, and last week against the Lions.

It's never over with Luck.

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