“The Desperate Real Front Office Employees of Indianapolis” probably doesn't have the sexiness necessary to be a hit reality TV show, but it certainly isn't lacking for any senseless drama.
Since training camp, rumblings have been constant that there is major discord between Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson. According to The Indianapolis Star Colts’ beat writer Stephen Holder, the team held a players-only meeting to squash any consternation that may have affected their play the past several weeks.
Many NFL sources have stated that the main cause of disdain between Pagano and Grigson is due to the overreach of the front office into lineup decisions. Also, the current job status of Pagano seems to be fluid, especially after the dismissal of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton earlier this week. Pagano knew that this would be a make-or-break season, but what he didn't expect was his star quarterback, Andrew Luck, to be playing so poorly.
Its been revealed that Luck has been playing with cracked ribs for weeks, which compounded with a bum throwing shoulder makes a rather legitimate excuse for the Pro Bowler's bad play. But it isn’t just Luck’s arm and ribs that are hurting. Mentally, Luck seems to be scuffling, constantly misreading defenses and forcing too many balls deep into heavy coverage downfield. So far this season Luck leads the league in interceptions (12) and has the worst QBR (71.6) of any quarterback on a roster.
But Luck is only at fault to a point. To be fair, Luck’s offensive line is nothing short of horrendous — and that is Grigson’s fault. It makes absolutely zero sense that so little has been done to protect the franchise quarterback by placing a competent line in front of him.
On the other sideline, Peyton Manning returns to play in Indy for just the second time since he was released by the team in 2012. In a somewhat ironic storyline, Manning is only 284 passing yards and one win away from setting NFL career records.
Colts fans would love to see Manning make history by surpassing Brett Favre for the lead in all-time passing yards this Sunday — but maybe hold off on the all-time wins, at least for one more week.
Denver at Indianapolis
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Denver -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Turnover Battle
The Colts are second in the NFL in number of turnovers while the Broncos are second in the league in forcing turnovers. The Denver defense has been astounding this season, and in the early weeks really carried the Broncos as the offense struggled. The Broncos lead the NFL in scoring defense (16.0 ppg), sacks (29) and total defense (261.1 ypg). Last week they somehow made Aaron Rogers look human, holding the MVP to just 77 passing yards. No, really 77 yards — that's it.
As mentioned previously, Andrew Luck has been a turnover machine, but Peyton Manning, now 39 years old, hasn’t been much better — actually, maybe just as bad as Luck. Manning is only one pick behind Luck for the league lead with 11, but he also only has seven TD passes and a 75.1 passer rating.
This game is going to come down to turnovers. If the Colts hope to upset the Broncos and get their season back on track, pressuring Manning into tough passing situations and protecting Luck will be vital.
2. Vernon Davis
As if this game needed another story line or the Broncos needed more weapons, a trade was made earlier this week to acquire former 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. Davis gives Manning another threat, but maybe more importantly a supremely talented middle-of-the-field target for quicker, easier throws to avoid going vertical too many times. Davis is a threat anywhere on the field but look for Manning to target him chiefly in red zone. When Davis lines up in a Denver uniform for the first time, he’ll be looking across the line of scrimmage at his younger brother, Colts cornerback Vontae Davis.
3. Rob Chudzinski
With the removal of Pep Hamilton as the Colts’ offensive coordinator, Pagano has called upon associate head coach Rob Chudzinski to be the new play-caller. As if facing the league’s best defense with a sub-par Luck weren’t a tough enough task, Chudzinski could possibly be calling plays without star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who hasn’t practiced all week. With Luck struggling physically and mentally, and no Hilton, Chudzinski will be leaning heavily on veterans Frank Gore and Andre Johnson to pick up the slack.
The key for Chudzinski will to put Luck in winning situations, first by keeping the plays simple. Under Hamilton, the Colts’ offense took too long to develop long passing routes downfield, which led to poor Luck throws and interceptions. Look for Chudzinski to utilize the tight end duo of Colby Fleener and Dwayne Allen all Sunday long — keeping the Denver defense on the field and Luck in manageable situations.
The Colts will have to play a near-perfect game offensively, something they have yet to do with Luck under center so far this season. Maybe the insertion of Chudzinski as the new offensive coordinator will liven up the offense, or at least give Luck better options to make plays. The Broncos simply have too many playmakers on both sides of the ball. Even with a noticeably declining Peyton Manning, I think Denver pulls out of Indy with the win, giving No. 18 a couple of new records along the way.
Prediction: Broncos 28, Colts 24
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.