Broncos vs. Colts Preview: Pey-Back Coming?

MHH Publisher Chad Jensen previews in-depth the Denver Broncos Week 9 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts.

The (3-5) Indianapolis Colts are reeling right now. In the midst of the first three-game losing streak of the Andrew Luck era, the Colts are in uncharted waters and Chuck Pagano is on the hot seat. 

Following yet another disappointing loss on Monday night, wherein the Colts offense turned the ball over four times, heads had to roll. The scapegoat was offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who was fired Tuesday.

The (7-0) Denver Broncos are riding high, coming off of their biggest game of the season—a 29-10 dismantling of the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers

The Broncos have struggled to beat the Colts consistently. This game will be at Lucas Oil Stadium, which could give the Colts a shot in the arm. Let's do some digging on Luck and the Colts and see if we can get a better picture of what to expect on Sunday. 

Star Wars Numbers

Since the Colts cut him in the early months of 2012, Peyton Manning has been on a mission. Written off and left for dead, Manning did not go quietly into that good night, like many expected him to. 

Since he arrived in Denver, Manning has led the Broncos to three straight division titles and a Super Bowl berth. He broke almost every passing record in the NFL book in 2013 and he's close to owning every career passing record, too. 

The offensive juggernaut Manning has quarterbacked in Denver has been (mostly) an awesome thing to behold, but that next Lombardi Trophy has elluded he and the Broncos. 

Colts owner Jim Irsay once minimized Manning's accomplishments in Indianapolis—Star Wars numbers—all while the Colts have yet to get past the AFC Championship game under Luck. 

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Including playoffs, Manning is 1-2 vs. the Colts, with the biggest loss being the most recent. The Colts destroyed the Broncos in the Divisional playoffs last January 24-13, in Denver, ending the Broncos season and John Fox's reign as head coach. 

The loss left Manning in a precarious position, which ultimately culminated in him returning to the Broncos $4 million poorer, with a new head coach and a new offensive system to learn. 

Some things happen for a reason, as they say. Would the Broncos be 7-0 with John Fox at the helm? No. Under Fox, the Broncos couldn't win a game if Manning didn't play well. 

The 2015 Broncos are 6-0 in games wherein Manning performed badly. John Elway has built this team to win, even if (when) Manning falls short. And with Gary Kubiak now steering the ship, the NFL has finally taken notice that the Broncos are a team to be reckoned with. 

Manning is coming off his best game of the season. He and the Broncos will be looking for "Pey-back" in a big way this week. And I'm not sure the demoralized and punch-drunk Colts have the mettle to withstand it. 

If It Wasn't For Bad Luck...

Andrew Luck's 2015 season has been brutal. He's missed two games with fractured ribs he sustained in Week 3. Without Luck playing at his customary level, this Colts team looks more like the 2011 "Suck-for-Luck' squad than the team that trumped the Broncos on the road this past January. 

Many pundits and prognosticators pegged 2015 as the year Luck would finally take home the league MVP award, possibly even leading the Colts to the Super Bowl. 

Alas, the injury bug is no respector of persons. If it wasn't for bad Luck, the Colts would have no Luck at all. 

Luck leads the NFL with 14 giveaways—13 interceptions and one fumble lost. He's fumbled the ball three times, but the Colts have been fortunate enough to recover two of them. 

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He's playing scared because he's playing hurt. He's pressing. Think of the pressure and scrutiny Manning received through the first six games of the year, with all of the interceptions and lack of production. 

Now imagine what that same pressure would have been like, if the Broncos were losing games, rather than winning. That's what Luck is going through right now and it isn't pretty. 

His offensive line isn't doing much to help him. They've allowed him to be sacked 14 times and hit 23 times. With rib pain, each and every hit must be excruciating for the fourth-year quarterback. 

It's a mess. And it's not going to get any better in Week 9 with the Broncos No. 1 defense coming to town—a defense with 29 sacks and 29 QB hits through seven contests, to say nothing of the best secondary in the NFL. 

The Colts might even be in hot water with the league for not being forthcoming in reporting Luck's rib injury. Even if an injured player receives all reps during a practice week, the team is still obligated to report an injury.  

Defense Struggling To Make An Impact

Chuck Pagano's defense has been put in a lot of bad situations this year, because of the turnovers committed by the offense. But they haven't responded well to them, like the Broncos defense has, for example. 

The Colts are allowing 25.4 points per game—good for 21st in the NFL. And they can't get after the quarterback consistently, even with Robert Mathis back in the fold. 

The Colts have just 12 sacks on the season. Mathis leads the team, with four, accounting for 33 percent. As for coverage, the Colts are middle-of-the-pack, ranked No. 14 according to Pro Football Focus, which is where they finished in 2014. 

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Takeaways have been hard to come by. The Colts rank 19th, with 10. It's their turnover differential that tells the tale of the season for Indianapolis. They rank last at -9. 

Although a player like Andrew Luck, playing at peak performance, can mask a multitude of issues for a team, the Colts problems run significantly deeper than just their quarterback. 

Free Agent Class DOA

During the free agency period earlier this past spring, the Colts signed several players on the back-nine of their careers, in hopes of getting over the 'Super' hump. 

Andre JohnsonFrank GoreTrent ColeTodd Herremans and Kendall Langford represented the core group of the Colts 2015 free agent haul. The median age of the group? 32.2 years old. 

The trusty Gore has been the one player to really pull his weight. He's rushed for 516 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. 

Although as a team, the Colts have the No. 24 rushing offense, averaging just 98.9 rushing yards per game, Gore is ranked No. 12 among league rushers.  

Cole has been good against the run, but was brought in to be a pass-rushing specialist. He has zero sacks on the season. Langford has been solid, contributing two sacks, and has also defended the run decently. 

Herremans has been injured and hasn't played a snap since Week 2. He was brought in to bolster a Colts offensive line that wasn't very good in 2014. It hasn't quite worked out that way. 

That brings us to the 34-year-old Johnson. He and Luck have been unable to form chemistry. The irony of Johnson is that his biggest game of the season came in Week 5 with Matt Hasselbeck at QB, when he caught seven passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns. 

GM Ryan Grigson is not exempt from the same criticism and scrutiny being leveled at Pagano right now. The season is only half done. They still lead in the AFC South.

The Colts still have plenty of time to turn the ship around. The likelihood that it happens this week vs. the Broncos is slim, but they'll get their bye next week. 

They could really use it. But if the second half of the season goes the way of the first half, Grigson and Pagano will likely be looking for jobs in 2016. 

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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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