Each week Coltzilla will preview the upcoming game by speaking with fellow bloggers who write about the upcoming opponent. The Colts head to Denver to face the Broncos this weekend. The Broncos are 1-1 and former New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels is now their head coach. Could this become the Colts v. Patriots rivalry, western style? Joining Coltzilla this week is Ernesto Ruiz (ejruiz) from Mile High Report to give us some answers.
CZ: The loss of Elvis Dumervil cannot be a good thing for the Broncos pass rush. How has Denver made up for this loss? How much will it hurt them trying to get to Manning?
ER: Elvis Dumervil’s season-ending injury has — not surprisingly — really handicapped the Broncos pass rush so far. That said, this season was always going to be about the development of Robert Ayers and he’s held up his end of the bargain. Denver has been credited with two sacks and five QB hits through two games, and all but half a sack of that production has been tallied by Ayers. Pairing him with Dumervil would have given us a shot at getting the type of pressured needed to slow (notice how I’d never say stop) an elite quarterback like Peyton Manning. If no one else steps up alongside Robert this weekend, then the Colts should be able to keep Manning’s jersey nice and clean.
CZ: Ryan Clady is one of the better tackles in the NFL, and has to be one of the guys Denver hopes to use against the Colts dynamic pass rush. He is back on the field but has he returned to form completely or might he struggle against the likes of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis?
ER: Ryan Clady has made a remarkable recovery from a very serious off-season injury. Clady’s return was so far ahead of early estimates that it’s no surprise that he’s not 100% back yet. That said, whatever struggles the offensive line has had, they have hardly been Ryan’s fault. Injuries to RT Ryan Harris and RG Chris Kuper, along with inexperience from [Center] J.D. Walton (who has nonetheless been solid) and OL Zane Beadles (who is more of a natural guard being forced to play tackle) have really thrown the front line into disarray. Nevertheless, this is a talented bunch that will get healthier and continue to gel as the season wears on. Slowing (there’s that word again) a pass rush like the Colts is never easy and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dwight Freeney and/or Robert Mathis spending more time than I’m comfortable with in the Broncos backfield.
CZ: The Broncos have been known as a team with a dynamic running game for years. They are probably known more than any other NFL team as a place where workhorse running backs flourish. Two things have changed; Josh McDaniels ran a system that focused more on passing in New England and is now the Broncos head coach, and Knowshon Moreno is young and promising but somewhat different than a lot of Broncos running backs in the past. What do you expect the Broncos to do on the ground against the Colts?
ER: The Broncos have been grinding out rushing yards at an exasperatingly slow pace so far this year and there’s plenty of blame to go around for that. Though the run blocking up front has been consistently shoddy, Knowshon Moreno has done himself no favors by being occasionally indecisive. Moreno definitely improved on this from Week 1 to Week 2, but it seems to me as though he might be turning small to moderate gains into nothing or even losses by trying to set up something big. Josh McDaniels is committed to balance (63 rushing attempts to 68 passing attempts for the Broncos thus far this season) so I expect him to stick with the rushing game. He’ll also find creative ways to get Knowshon the ball in space. By the way, Moreno is another cog in Denver’s offense that should be getting healthier and more comfortable as the season progresses.
CZ: The tragedy surrounding Kenny McKinley has shaken football fans around the league and Colts fans heart-felt condolences go out to the Broncos organization, McKinley’s family, and all who have been crushed by this news. How might this affect the Broncos in the upcoming game? It is hard to know how close McKinley was to him teammates from such a distance but we’ve see two kinds of responses in the past; one of inspired play and another response is sort of coming out flat. How do you think the Broncos will respond to this tragedy?
ER: The death of Kenny McKinley is a true tragedy. I was shocked when I heard the news, so I can only imagine how those close to him must have felt. To transition from that story back to football is difficult, but I guess that underscores the reality that the Broncos team will be facing Sunday. I hope that Denver comes out and plays inspired football, but who could blame them if they came out flat? There are a few holdovers from the days of tragedy that took Darrent Williams and Damien Nash from this world, but all that weighs on the franchise as a whole.
CZ: It has been reported that Champ Bailey has a heel injury, which certainly does not bode well for the Broncos secondary as an outsider. Anything that happens to weaken a team’s secondary prior to a match-up against Peyton Manning probably is not a good sign. How do you expect the injury will impact the Broncos secondary? Who will fill in?
ER: The strength of this Broncos team — on par with the stellar passing attack, led by quarterback Kyle Orton — is the secondary through and through. Champ Bailey is still an elite corner and he’s been playing with a sense of urgency this season. The rest of the nominal starters — CB Andre Goodman, FS Brian Dawkins and SS Renaldo Hill — are all rock solid veterans with plenty left in the tank. Behind them you have young playmakers like CB Perrish Cox and S Darcel McBath, each of whom would probably be starters in a lesser unit. Cox would be the one called upon to step up if Bailey is limited and I trust him, even though he is a rookie. Denver will need all of its quality depth, however, to match-up with a receiving corps like Indianapolis.
CZ: Some have suggested that despite the loss of Brandon Marshall (and Brandon Stokely), the Broncos wide receiving corps has actually improved in 2010 beyond what it was in 2009 with Marshall. Do you feel that way? What match-ups do you like for the Broncos against the Colts secondary?
ER: I have said all along and believe it now more than ever: the Denver Broncos are a better team without Brandon Marshall. This is a text book case of addition by subtraction. Not only did the Broncos shed perhaps THE most problematic diva wide receiver when they offloaded Marshall, but they also reinforced the newly-freed remaining receiving corps. People were concerned because Denver lacked an apparent replacement, but I was instead relieved that they would revert to trusting the system instead of the star. So far this year, their passing attack has been versatile, efficient and explosive. Kyle Orton is now even more of a nightmare to stop and that should be a warning sign for the Colts considering last season. Oh, and by the way, Demaryius Thomas will truly outshine Brandon Marshall sooner rather than later.
CZ: What is your prediction for the outcome of Sunday’s game?
ER: As a Broncos fan, I have tried to condition myself to always believe that my team has a chance. Needless to say, however, I was not thrilled to find the Indianapolis Colts on our schedule once again, early on to boot! I guess the best you’ll get out of me is this — Denver can only win IF (and that’s a big if) they can play a spotless game. They’ll need to do a better job of covering kicks, blocking up front and standing tall in the front seven defensively. If they can add that to the existing arsenal of turnover creation and prolific passing, then they’ll stand a chance. Simply put, the Colts are still the class of the AFC; so to match-up with them, the Broncos will have to play like legitimate contenders to that throne. All I truly ask for is a good, clean and HEALTHY game. Cheers!
Coltzilla would like to thank Ernesto for helping preview the Broncos game this week. To learn more about the Broncos, check out Mile High Report.