When you're battling Andrew Luck, it's never easy. The 3rd year quarterback from Stanford is arguably the league's premier "Captain Comeback". And he didn't disappoint tonight, despite being down 24 points in the 1st half.
Despite the final score being 31-24 in favor of the Broncos, Denver led in this game from the beginning and never looked back.
An onside kick that should have been covered by Julius Thomas allowed Luck his typical late game heroics. However, this time, he came up short. And the reason why is the new-look Broncos defense.
The Colts made some great adjustments at halftime and were able to hold the Broncos to just 7 second half points. This put the Broncos defense in a tough spot. The Colts possessed the ball for the majority of the 2nd half, but the Broncos won the TOP battle 32:24 to 27:36.
A FEW QUICK OBSERVATIONS
After 3 years of underachieving as the Broncos' "Mike LB of the Future", Irving finally received the full opportunity to lock down the role in the middle. And tonight, in his first start at Mike, he did not disappoint.
Even though he missed some time with a lower leg injury, Irving notched 5 total tackles, 2 of which were for a loss, along with a sack. He was all over the field. I'm no longer concerned about the question marks surrounding the Broncos middle linebacker. Nate Irving can play.
Marshall stepped in at Will and fully embraced his role and all of the responsibilities therein. Trevathan wore the helmet with the green dot, which signifies who receives the defensive coordinator's calls from the sideline. That torch was passed to Marshall.
Tonight, he was a tackling machine and played well in coverage. With 10 tackles, 2 for a loss, and a pass defensed, Marshall more than held his own with the Broncos starting defensive unit. It always hurts to lose your team's leading tackler, but Marshall will mitigate that sting and won't miss a beat.
The rookie, who just moved up the depth chart, had a phenomenal game. Roby was tasked with primarily covering a future Hall of Famer in Reggie Wayne, and he held his own. In the 1st half, Roby was instrumental in a 3rd down stop on the goal line that kept Hakeem Nicks from getting a touchdown.
Roby's pièce de résistance came in the last defensive play of the night. Down by 7 points, with under 2 minutes to go, Andrew Luck and the Colts were driving. On the previous play, the Broncos stopped them on 3rd down.
On 4th and 6 from the Broncos 39 yard line, Luck needed to convert to keep the Colts hopes alive. Luck targeted the rookie, Roby, and tried to edge a pass into the old reliable WR, Reggie Wayne. But Roby had excellent coverage and broke the pass up. The Colts were out of timeouts. Game over.
His final stat line? 7 tackles, 3 passes defensed. Tonight solidified Roby's status with the 1st unit and he set the tone for what will surely be a remarkable rookie campaign.
Ware was the only Broncos defender to get consistent pressure on Luck throughout the night. He led the team with 1.5 sacks and made it clear to the NFL world at large that at 32 years old, he's far from over the hill.
I did find it interesting that the coaching staff had Ware on a bit of a snap count. They obviously want to keep their $30M dollar man fresh, which will give some reps to 2nd year defensive end, Quanterus Smith.
Miller had a quiet night. But everyone needs to keep that fact in perspective. Although he's out on the field, he's still getting comfortable with his surgically repaired knee. He hasn't seen the field since December of last year. Like Ware, the coaches had Miller on a snap count. He was able to get some pressure on Luck on one play. Don't worry about Miller, Broncos Country. Give him a few weeks to get his confidence back. He'll be just fine.
Chris Harris, Jr
Like Miller, Harris is recovering from a late season ACL injury. Tonight was his first action since January. He did not disappoint.
Harris had 2 passes defensed on the night and was key in neutralizing the Colts trio of WRs.
Watching him play across from his former college teammate, Aqib Talib, is going to be a pleasure throughout the season. Welcome back, Chris.
Sanders had a very nice night in his first game with his new team. He was targeted 9 times by Manning, hauling in 6 of them for 77 yards. He also chipped in a rushing attempt that gained 11 yards.
Sanders brings an explosive element to the Broncos offense that is exciting to watch. His pure speed and short area quickness adds a dimension to this offense that was lacking last year. He keeps the opposing defense honest in their coverage. He's going to have a huge year.
Ball has his work cut out for him, replacing the departed Knowshon Moreno. Ball didn't have an impressive yards per carry average, but he did tote the rock 23 times, netting 67 yards rushing and a touchdown.
The Broncos offensive line didn't do him any favors, as they struggled to open holes that could get him to the second level. The Colts defense played the Broncos a lot tougher than I expected, based on what I saw in the preseason. But we probably shouldn't expect anything less from a Chuck Pagano team. Ball is going to get a lot of opportunities this year to ply his wares.
In his 2nd year as a full time starter, Thomas worked hard all throughout the offseason to hone his craft. And if tonight was any indication of the result, then the NFL should be scared out of their minds.
Thomas led all Broncos receivers with 7 catches for 104 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fantasy owners, who were already head-over-heels about him, are now in full blown love. Another Pro Bowl nod is likely imminent for the Portland State product.
As mentioned above, Manning had a dominant 1st half tonight. But when the Colts adjusted, coming out of halftime, Manning had a difficult time getting back in a rhythm.
The Sheriff might not have shook off every Super Bowl monkey from his back tonight, but he did come out and make it clear that he is even more comfortable in his new(ish) Mile High home and will settle for nothing less than his 2nd Lombardi Trophy.
You can find Chad Jensen on Twitter @CJ_Broncos.