INDIANAPOLIS --This week is just ... different.
The uniforms are different. The logo sticker and helmet stripes on the helmet are different. But most of all, the preparation and recovery time is different.
Players can't do what they normally do to get ready for this game. Film study, rest, recovery, sleep patterns -- everything is different when you take six days of preparation and squash them into three.
"Really tough," running back C.J. Anderson said.
When he walked into the locker room at UCHealth Training Center on Monday afternoon, he looked up at the flat screens, saw Colts game footage flashing, and was reminded of how this week resembles no other.
"Usually you play Sunday, watch your tape on Monday, get Tuesday off, but you get all your cut-ups on your opponent to watch Monday, so you get an extra day," he said. "With this, we don't get a day at all. You've really got to cram it in.
"The good thing about Thursday nights is that you can have those 12 a.m., 1 a.m., 2 a.m. study sessions watching tape to get to know a team, because you get to sleep in a little bit because we come in later for practice. So that's a good thing.
"But it's tough. It's my fifth year in the league and I'm still trying to figure out what's the best way to prepare for Thursday night."
This Thursday night game is different than the others because the Broncos' opponent is not an AFC West foe. Their previous five short-week Thursday games were against division rivals. (The Broncos had Week 1 Thursday night games against Baltimore in 2013 and Carolina in 2016, but those had full weeks of preparation because they were regular-season openers.)
"Usually, with a division team, you know [them], so it helps," Anderson said.
But if you have to face a non-divisional foe on Thursday night, the Colts are the best bet. This is the fifth consecutive year in which the Broncos have faced Indianapolis in the regular season; if they maintain their current places in their divisions, they will extend that streak to six next season.
"I definitely know what Coach [Chuck] Pagano [and his staff] are always trying to do to us," Anderson said. "So that helps, that you do play a team that you've played before, it helps. But New England played Tampa Bay [on Thursday night in Week 5]. Those teams don't ever see each other. So that was tough on them."
And then there is the physical recovery. Head Coach Vance Joseph altered the Broncos' practice schedule; they had a walk-through session Monday night and a light practice in helmets Tuesday, with another on-field session Wednesday before flying to Indianapolis.
The impact of playing on Thursday night is magnified by playing late in the season.
"There are things you can do to try to speed that recovery up, but by the end of the day, you won't be 100 percent later in the year," Anderson said. "Earlier in the year, when we played Kansas City [on Thursday night in 2015] in Week 2, you're fine. Last year we got the Chargers in Week . You're not in that bad period, but you're in that OK period.
"This one here, in Week 15, your body is feeling it. You won't be 100 percent, but I guess that's a part of us being professionals, getting our body ready to play from week to week."
But the Broncos did have an emotional boost this week. Another aspect of the week that was different than previous weeks was the fact that the Broncos came off of their first victory after eight consecutive defeats. The atmosphere around the locker room was energized, and the Broncos hope it will translate to Lucas Oil Stadium on Thursday.
"Night and day, man. To me, I felt like we won the Super Bowl. I'd never been a part of losing games to that magnitude. None of these guys had," safety Will Parks said. "Now we're trying to get two in five days."
What are the keys to doing that?
- Contain the Colts' playmakers**
Tight end Jack Doyle, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and running backs Frank Gore and Marlon Mack are all capable of making plays, but they will face a stern challenge against a Broncos defense that will be without injured starters Derek Wolfe and Justin Simmons, but still posted a shutout last Sunday without them.
If the Broncos can force the Colts to pass, Von Miller and his fellow pass rushers will have opportunities to expand their sack totals. Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett is the NFL's most sacked passer, having been brought down 48 times so far this season -- an average of once every 8.9 pass plays. But he will also take off and run with the football; he's carried it 50 times this year, with one out of every 4.5 runs moving the chains.
"He's essentially a running back once he drops the ball below his waist, whether he's in the pocket or he's outside the pocket," Parks said. "That's why we've got [Miller], [Shaquil Barrett], [Bradley Roby] and all the interior guys, to make sure he doesn't get outside and make sure we can handle our jobs in the backfield."
- Repeat Sunday's formula**
The Broncos played efficient, mistake-free offense, and it worked as a perfect complement to their pressure defense, which didn't have to operate in bad field position and was able to take advantage of the long fields that faced the Jets. Those factors were integral in creating a potent cocktail of complementary football that led to the team's first shutout in a dozen years.
The Broncos' best, most-effective script for successful football involves turnover-free offense and a persistent ground game that gives the defense room with which to work.
3. Keep striving for goals that remain
The playoffs and a winning season are out of reach. Tangible goals are not, particularly on defense. Denver heads into Week 15 leading the league in total defense, and finishing atop the league rankings in that metric is a clear goal down the stretch.
"That's our goal, and we talked about that at the beginning of [last] week," safety Darian Stewart said. "One of the big goals of our defense was to eliminate big plays, and I thought we did a good job of doing that, and each week, that should boost our ranking."
But the defense's goals go beyond that.
"We're not settling for what's out there," Parks said. "Obviously, you see the stats -- No. 1 in defense, No. 1 in this, No. 1 in that. Every time after we first walk into a meeting room, [Defensive Coordinator] Joe Woods says, 'This is who we are, this is what we can be, this is what we should be. And who we should be is definitely what we're aiming at every day."