By Rich Kurtzman
This is it.
The time everyone’s been waiting for has finally arrived. It’s NFL kickoff week and the Denver Broncos host the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday night in front of a national television audience.
These are two familiar foes – for multiple reasons – and two of the better teams in the AFC, each making the playoffs and winning at least one postseason game as well.
Of course, Peyton Manning played in Indianapolis for 13 seasons, and now The Sheriff is in charge of the Broncos offense as the gun-slinger extraordinaire. Last year he made his valiant return to the “House Peyton Built,” enjoying an emotional standing ovation from the fans in Indy before he and his Denver team were handed their first loss of the 2013 season. The Broncos looked unbeatable up until that point, starting 6-0, and it was a confidence-builder for the Colts as the season went forward.
One of the reasons Indy was able to let go of their long-time great and future Hall of Famer in Manning was the drafting of Andrew Luck in 2012. Through two seasons, Luck owns a 22-10 regular season record and he certainly learned last year how to play quarterback more efficiently. While Luck’s passing yards dropped by 500, his completion percentage (60.1) improved and the youthful QB threw half as many interceptions (9). It only makes sense to assume he will continue to get better, meaning he’ll be a player the Broncos will have to key on to beat the Colts.
And you can’t forget about Luck’s fleet feet; he ran for 377 yards and four touchdowns last season. Speaking of running, Trent Richardson is back with Indianapolis for a second year after being traded there from Cleveland in early 2013. But Richardson has disappointed, with a mere 2.9 yards per carry average and only three scores in eight starts with the Colts.
No doubt the Colts are a pass-happy team and locking down veteran Reggie Wayne as well as star T.Y. Hilton will be top priorities for the Broncos’ revamped secondary. Aqib Talib will likely be covering Hilton, which sets up for a big-time battle on the outside. Hilton enjoyed his first 1,000-yard receiving season with five scores in 2013.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts employ a 3-4 scheme, which features playmakers D’Qwell Jackson and LaRon Landry. Jackson spent his first eight seasons with the Cleveland Browns and is making the transition to Indianapolis currently. He’s put up 118-plus tackles the last three seasons and also knows how to rush the opposing QB. Landry is a hard-hitting, no nonsense safety which brings some grit to that side of the ball.
Interestingly, the Colts will be without pass-rusher Robert Mathis due to a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use. Mathis sacked former teammate Manning twice in the two teams’ last meeting, stripping the QB once, which resulted in a safety. It’s a big blow to be without him this week.
Each team will want a win, there’s no doubt, and the Colts are one of the Broncos’ biggest challenges within this seemingly difficult 2014 schedule.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Rich is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.