Believe it or not, the Indianapolis Colts have had the Denver Broncos’ number over the last few seasons, winning three of four matchups since Andrew Luck was drafted in 2012.
In Oct. 2013, the Colts welcomed back their beloved Peyton Manning with open arms and then promptly ruined his new team’s perfect 6-0 record en route to a 39-33 barnburner. A year and a half later, the Colts went to Denver and upset the heavily favored Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round, 24-13. And last November, with a banged up Andrew Luck, the Colts were able to hand the eventual Super Bowl champs their first loss of the season yet again in a 27-24 victory in Indianapolis.
The Broncos of course went on to win Super Bowl 50, despite having to replace a struggling and bruised Manning — the perks of having a once-in-a-generation defense. Brock Osweiler filled in nicely in the absence of the Hall of Famer, but was ultimately pulled in favor of Manning once the playoffs rolled around. That seemed to work out just fine for John Elway’s team.
The Colts had their own quarterback issues and far less success on the field last season. A battered Luck was limited to only seven games, leaving the now-retired Matt Hasselbeck to lead a flawed Colts roster to the postseason — a feat that was just out of reach after finishing 8-8.
For Indy, Luck is healthy and the offense seems to be clicking early. The defense is… we’ll say, suspect. You know, Colts fans, the usual. The success of this team yet again appears to rely solely on Luck, provided he can stay healthy and on the field.
For Denver, Manning retired and Osweiler signed with Houston as a free agent. Trevor Siemian beat out veteran Mark Sanchez (now in Dallas) and first-round pick Paxton Lynch for the starting quarterback job, and after just one game, it’s the same formula. Let the nasty Denver defense control the game, and don’t screw it up on offense. After all, this worked pretty well last season.
Indianapolis at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Better Safe Than Lucky
This is nothing new, but it’s more important against the Denver defense — The Colts absolutely must keep Andrew Luck upright. The funny thing is, Indy has actually done a better job of protecting Luck against the Broncos the last few meetings than they have against any other team. According to Kevin Bowen of colts.com, the Broncos have only sacked Luck one time in his last 79 passing attempts, and pass rusher extraordinaire Von Miller has not recorded a single sack in his three games against the Colts.
But don’t let those stats fool you. Denver’s dynamic blitzing duo of Miller and defensive end DeMarcus Ware are always forces to be reckoned with. And don’t forget, this was the same Denver defense in Week 9 last season that not only knocked Luck out of that but effectively ended his season.
2. Siemian Still Growing
Watching Trevor Siemian last week against the Carolina Panthers, you likely wouldn't have guessed that the Northwestern grad threw more interceptions than touchdowns his senior season. But fast-forward to this summer and Siemian won the Broncos’ starting job with No. 26 overall pick Paxton Lynch waiting in the wings.
While Siemian’s numbers last week (18-for-26, 178 yards, TD, 2 INTs) won’t jump off the stat sheet, he was more than serviceable against a very tough Carolina defense, and helped lead the charge in a comeback win. It will be interesting to see how head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison use Siemian against a much less intimidating Colts defense, which is still thin in the secondary and doesn’t have much of a pass rush.
3. Who Establishes the Running Game?
Last year in the upset win over the Broncos, the Colts relied heavily on Frank Gore (28 carries, 83 yards, TD) to milk the clock and buy the defense as much time while nursing a 17-0 lead. Last week, trailing most of the game at home against Detroit, Gore only had 14 carries and was pretty much rendered useless after another slow offensive start by Indianapolis. The Colts have to set the offensive tempo in this game by running the ball effectively early, keeping their defense off the field and Luck off the turf, especially in a tough environment like Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Likewise, the Broncos would like nothing more than to control tempo and game flow with their running game. With Siemian still getting a feel for operating an NFL offense, Denver needs C.J. Anderson to lead the way just like he did in Week 1. Against Carolina, Anderson showed how important he is to this Denver offense and just how explosive he can be by gaining 92 yards on 20 carries on the ground while also hauling in four passes for 47 yards to go along with a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).
With Indianapolis’ defense already dealing with depth and injury issues, the responsibility to win falls directly on the offense and Andrew Luck. The Colts know Denver will bring a lot of heat, down after down, to keep Luck from getting comfortable in the pocket and making throws down field. If Indy can rattle Trevor Siemian early and force a few mistakes to get its offense some extra possessions, then the Colts have a shot of winning their fourth game out of the last five against the Broncos – easier said than done.
Prediction: Broncos 28, Colts 24
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.