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Film Room: A Study On How The Denver Broncos Must Defend Against Andrew Luck & The Indianapolis Colts

Colts vs. Broncos. It’s time for Denver to get off that losing streak to the boys in blue and reassert dominance.

Since Andrew Luck took over for the departed Peyton Manning back in 2012, the Indianapolis Colts have gone 3-1 against the Denver Broncos, including last season’s 27-24 win in Week 9 at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

You might remember that game for the way the Broncos D bruised and battered Luck around, causing a lacerated spleen and a bruised kidney. Now, the Broncos — who’ve been called a “dirty defense” for the last week or so following Week 1’s beatdown of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers — get a chance to get after Luck behind a morbid Colts offensive line. 

Last week the Colts fell at home to the Detroit Lions, 39-35, despite a furious rally in the fourth quarter by Luck and company. Due to the big rally in the final 15 minutes, I felt it would be a good time to look at the Colts offense and see how they’ll match up in Week 2 against Denver, while also taking a look at what to expect on the field. 

Let’s start with Luck; there’s no question he’s one of the smartest — if not the smartest — quarterback in the NFL. He knows what plays to check into and out of, and knows just where to go with the football, for the most part. 

But the biggest knock on Luck’s game is his turnover tendencies, which should play right into the hands of arguably the best defense in the NFL yet again in 2016. By getting pressure on Luck, the Broncos should expect some turnovers to come their way.

Detroit did a good job early in Week 1 of getting to Luck and getting the Colts offense off the field, but it was a much different story in the second half as the pass rush went quiet. 

Fortunately for Denver, that won’t be much of an issue with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray screaming off the edge almost every snap, where they’ll look to take advantage of a porous Indy right tackle in Joe Reitz, and a declining left tackle in Anthony Castonzo

While the rush off the edge will be key to getting to Luck, interior defenders like Derek WolfeJared Crick, Sylvester Williams, and Adam Gotsis must focus on staying in their rush lanes to keep Luck in the pocket as a sitting duck. Where the Lions went wrong in Week 1 was by getting out of their rush lanes, providing Luck with escape routes to avoid sacks and extend plays looking to take shots down the field. That can’t happen this week with the Broncos. 

In the passing game, Indy’s attack is honestly pretty simple. They rely on a lot of check downs, crossing routes, comeback routes along the boundary and deep in-routes built off of play-action fakes. 

Of course, the Colts can’t build those deep in-routes off of play-action fakes if there’s no running game. In last year’s matchup, the Colts had quite a bit of success on the ground as a team, rushing for 120 yards and a score on 40 carries. 

Although that’s just 3.0 yards per carry for the Colts in that game, the amount of times they turned to the run allowed them to set up play-action passes down the field.

Against the Lions in Week 1, the Colts rushed for 82 yards on 19 carries (4.3 yards per carry), again setting up play-action shots down the field.

Week 1 (2016): 10:33 Third Quarter

While this deep shot is out of the shotgun, the Colts feel very comfortable pushing the ball down the field with Luck’s strong arm to fast targets such as T.Y. Hilton and second-year receiver Phillip Dorsett, who hauls this one down behind Detroit’s No. 1 corner in Darius Slay

This deep ball was a simple post pattern in one-on-one coverage that allows Dorsett to run right past Slay for the big gain. Slay is up there in terms of talent and production with guys like Chris Harris, Jr. and Aqib Talib, so this game was a big step in the right direction for the Colts offense.

Looking back to last year’s game, the Broncos blitzed quite a bit against Luck but got to him just once in the game. They might not blitz as much this year, with Miller and Ware getting a chance to feast against those tackles, but if they do, they need to make sure to watch out for the shallow crossing routes to Hilton, who can run with the best of them at the wide receiver position. 

Week 9 (2015): 10:02 Second Quarter

On the blitz, the Broncos completely sell out in the middle of the field, looking to get to Luck up the middle, but the blitz is unsuccessful and Hilton is left running free across the middle of the field for the huge gain. 

Granted, Harris gets caught up in the wash at the line on the release, but there has to be someone there in the middle of the field to watch for the crossing routes in situations like this play. 

Along with Hilton and Dorsett, Donte Moncrief is emerging into a bona-fide stud at wideout for the Colts, providing them with a significant threat at the position, while also giving Indy some height and physicality out wide, which is something they’ve sorely lacked in recent years. At tight end, gone is Coby Fleener, but Dwayne Allen appears poised for a big year, as does second-year tight end Jack Doyle, who hauled in two touchdowns last week. 

The Colts like to push Allen up the seam vertically to put pressure on the defensive backs, while Doyle mostly works underneath and sees most of his targets in the red zone. 

This is a balanced, pro-style offense that won’t do anything to deceive you, so they have to be at the top of their game in terms of execution. The pressure to do that will only heighten this week as the Broncos D is known to take advantage of any slight misstep and turn it into an advantage for themselves.

The key for the Broncos this week will be to tighten up against the run and force Luck to beat them through the air. Although the QB didn’t make a mistake last week with the football, the Lions D isn’t Denver’s, so expect that to change in Week 2. 

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Josh Carney is a Featured Writer for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @JCarney_Sports.

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