18 Things to Watch in Sunday's Colts-Broncos Game
Daddy's home and he's pissed.
Last week, the Colts got a reality check in the form of a bloody nose at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. This week, they take on the Denver Broncos in what is easily the most anticipated NFL game of 2013. So step right up, ladies and gentlemen, the circus is in town and Peyton is back. Here's what to watch for…
1. Watch for the comparison. Obviously Manning and Luck are the stars of the show, so why fight it? The worst comparisons you'll see this week will be comparing Manning through 22 games to Luck through 22 games. It's bad because everyone knows Manning's rookie year was out of line with the rest of his career. LOTS of players are better than Manning through 22 games. However, Manning made the leap before his second season, instead, lets compare the players through the first six games of their second seasons.
Now we are just getting eerie. Manning played in a more vertical offense so his YPA was amazing. But, he threw more picks to go with more touchdowns and had a lower completion percentage. Matching Peyton Manning through year one? Meh. Matching Peyton Manning through year two? Now that's an accomplishment. You want something to feel good about this weekend. Stare at that chart for a while.
2. Watch for the stars. Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James are coming back for this. I have no idea what Irsay has planned, but if he's pulling out those guys, it's got to be something. As I mentioned on the radio yesterday, I don't think Peyton can be happy about this little ceremony. He wants to only focus on the game, so I think there's a little bit of gamesmanship at play here. Regardless of what happens on the field, the chance to see Marvin, Edge and Peyton together again is worth the price of admission.
3. Watch for the price of admission. Tickets are going for double and triple face value, and that number should only climb. Season ticket holders get screwed as they are forced to pay for preseason tickets, but games like this are their chance to make some money back. We sold two of our four seats already and it helped offset the cost of the rest of the year. Ticket prices are a little lower right now than I would have guessed, and you can still get in the game for under $200. That's a lot of coin, but not outrageous. It will be interesting to see if prices climb by game time.
4. Watch the crowd. I've made my feelings on what I'll wear and how I'll cheer on Sunday well known, but I can't wait to see what the crowd will do. Manning is still incredibly popular, and if he lays a whipping on the Indy D, I suspect the crowd will start to openly cheer him late in the game. If the Colts hang tough, they may turn on him. Either way, it's going to be fascinating. There are many reasons I want to be at this game, but as a Colts historian, I want to be there to take the temperature inside the Luke that night. No idea what's going down, but it will go a long way to framing the story of football in Indianapolis.
5. Watch for the fallout. Irsays's comments earlier this week were deplorably and incoherent and Peyton sounds pissed. Manning has an eff-you mode that can rival Bill Belichick's. I have no doubt that he kept throwing touchdown passes on the Ravens because he did not like Joe Flacco's picture hung up in Denver. Irsay had the chance in 2012 to 'bet on' Manning and passed. Don't kid yourself that Peyton doesn't take that personally and use it as fuel. He's mad, and if the Colts manage to beat him, it will be a serious accomplishment. Remember his "I'll kick your ass for the next 14 years" comment to Polian before the draft? Well, he's not here anymore so I'd say the ass kicking is about to begin. Long-term, I worry that Irsay's comments will have a permanent chilling effect on Manning's ability to return to Indy. I'd love to see him be Elway in this city some day, but that's only going down if the boss keeps his mouth shut.
6. Watch the standings. A win by Indy and a loss by the Texans could all but seal up the AFC South before the bye week. The Titans play the 49ers, so a Colts win could extend their lead past where fans have to worry about the postseason. But should the Colts fall back to 4-3 and either Tennessee or Houston post an upset, everyone is going to start feeling uneasy. Next up after Denver is a tough prime-time game against the Texans. Houston isn't a good team, but I can't believe they are quite as bad as they've looked. That's no lay-up game. If the Colts aren't careful, they could find themselves back at .500 before long. If the Colts are truly an elite team in the AFC, they'll get the chance to prove it. A good showing (win or lose) against Denver and a road victory at Houston, and they'll be sitting pretty in the second half.
7. Watch for the 09 Dolphins. The Colts have to be dying to try and play keep away from the Broncos. Remember that 09 MNF game where Miami held it for 45 minutes and lost? That's the script Pagano wants to follow. Maybe Indy will try and go up and down the field with Denver, but I doubt it. I expect a lot of Trent Richardson early and often (side note: If Donald Brown had rushed for 4.0 yards a carry with a dropped pass and blown block, fans would have killed him. /rant). Pagano believes in his brand of football, so look for the Colts to do ball control, short passes and to try and keep Manning off the field.
8. Watch for the weak link. Greg Toler and Delono Howell were abused Monday by Phil Rivers, and we've all seen what Manning does when he spots a vulnerable player. Manning will go after Toler all night as he's been basically terrible in coverage this year (88.9 passer rating against). Vontae Davis hasn't been as good as fans think, but he's been credible. Toler has not. As for Howell, hopefully he won't see the field. LaRon Landry has been practicing, so if he can go, the Indy defense gets a lot tougher.
9. Watch the video. My brother Luke has been aggressive and surly all week. Now that may be cute for those of you who follow him on Twitter, but I have to sit with the dude. He's been in a bad mood and called me several times just angrily rant against those who dare besmirch the name of Manning. I've promised to take video of him during the game and post it on Twitter. I try to keep my feed PG-13, but these posts may come with a NC-17 warning. Of course, it could go the other way. He could be so bummed by watching "Pey-Pey", that he slumps in his seat all catatonic. Either way, I'll be entertained.
10. Watch for the aggression. Guess who has two thumbs and hated Pagano's decisions to punt late in the Chargers game? That kind of conservative play will not fly against Manning. Pagano needs to coach this game much the way Sean Payton did in the Super Bowl. He has to steal possessions. If the Colts have the lead late in a close game, they had better stay aggressive, because if they punt back to Manning, they'll lose. This is the kind of game where a coach has to take his game to the next level just like his players. It's an excellent test for Pagano.
11.Watch for the hand off. As much as we all expect Manning to come out guns blazing, don't think he didn't see the Chargers ripping off huge runs against the Indy defense. Manning is going to give his running backs plenty of work Sunday night. The Colts have one of the worst rushing defenses in football, and we know Manning will take what he can get. I'm not saying he's going to play circa-2005 Manning-ball, but there will be plenty of runs.
12. Watch for the response. So, Andrew Luck. Remember him? He's normally the story of any Colts game, but not this week. He's coming off a disappointing game in which his receivers took a collective dump on his reputation by dropping roughly 135% of the passes he threw to them. They dropped so many passes, that at one point Heyward-Bey dropped a pass, picked up the ball and dropped it again just out of spite. So now with all the attention on Manning, it's Luck's turn to come up huge and prove that he's everything that was promised. He wasn't to blame for the loss Monday, but how he responds in a tight spot is worth watching. He's going against a vulnerable secondary, so look for a big game out of him. Denver is the mirror of Indy. Same quality defense, but much better against the run than the pass. Luck will have to win this game if it is to be won.
13. Watch for gap. Denver has the best special teams play in the NFL. Indy is basically average. The Colts have solid kickoff coverage units, but the Broncos have the best return game in football. Trindon Holiday is as much better than David Reed as the gap between any two other opposite players on the field. Pat McAfee has struggled punting, but his kickoffs have been mostly strong. The Colts need him to have a huge game as they can't allow any extra advantages for Denver.
14. Watch for the myths. The misinformation surrounding Manning's departure continues. I've read every one of these myths in the press this week. Many from guys who should know better. If we are going to have a Luck v. Manning debate, can we at least get the facts correct? The best part about going to the game will be not having to listen to the pregame blather. The evaluation of Luck and Manning is a complex one. There's no simple answer, and there may be more than one right answer. Is it too much to ask that we handle the issue with the complexity it deserves? Anyone who tells you that it's obvious what the Colts should have done because of X, is probably not someone to listen to on the matter.
15. Watch for fatigue. I haven't written 18 points in a long time, so I know that point 14 was just a rehash of a column I already wrote, but go easy. I'm out of practice. I forgot how long it takes to do one of these bad boys, so if I cheated a little bit in point 14, I hope you understand. Plus, I wanted to pimp that article, because honestly it's really good, and I wish everyone should read it. I don't always feel that way about my pieces, but I'm aware when I've written something killer, and that one was important. So thanks for understanding.
16. Watch for disgust. I'm not ok with Wes Welker. I never will be ok with Wes Welker. For one, his first name is Wes. You know who else is named Wes? Wesley Crusher. Ok, so also Wes Anderson, but mostly WESLEY CRUSHER. Watching Peyton Manning throw to Wes Welker makes me feel like this. I don't want to feel like that. You want me to turn on Peyton Manning? Having him throw to Wes Welker 200 times a year might just do it. The problem is that Sunday night, it's going to happen a lot. Welker leads the world in DYAR and the Colts aren't very good against second receivers. Things could get…uncomfortable.
17. Watch the first of many. The scene this weekend is going to be replayed every year until Peyton retires. Indy is going to keep winning the South. Denver is going to keep winning the West. They'll play at least once and maybe twice every year. Manning v. Luck isn't going away. I expect Peyton to play another three seasons at least, so we'll see this matchup over and over. If you think this was bad, just wait until the inevitable playoff matchup takes place. That will be delightful.
18. Watch for a reckoning. Manning didn't like getting cut, and there's no way he liked Irsay's insane comments this week. He is going to bludgeon the Colts without mercy. I don't think Indy can keep up. Broncos 48 Colts 31.