The second game in the post-Manning era for the Denver Broncos has arrived. After dispatching the Carolina Panthers a week ago, Denver will have a crack at Manning's old team, the Indianapolis Colts, and his successor, Andrew Luck.
Last Sunday, the Colts' rally came up short as they dropped their opener to the Detroit Lions. Their offense, Luck especially, was firing on all cylinders into the second half before a Matt Prater game-winner sunk them. The 35 points their offense compiled became nil; the Colts defense and its suspect secondary just couldn't slow down Matt Stafford and Theo Riddick.
The stage is set. The Broncos will start their second-year quarterback, Trevor Siemian, and task him with slaying a dragon, Luck, just a week after he defeated the reigning NFL MVP. How can he and the rest of the team make that a reality? Here's three keys to victory:
Luck Can't Beat You from the Sideline
By no means is it a revolutionary idea, but it's an effective one. The best way to beat the elites like Brady, Manning, Luck, and Flacco (?) is to limit the damage they can do by keeping them off the field. It's easier said than done, but there's a few ways to pull it off.
The first is to control the clock on offense by running the ball well. Execute long drives that ultimately result in points, preferably touchdowns, and you can keep your defense fresh while 12 watches from the sideline. If not, the game is in his hands, and that's less than ideal to put it mildly. C.J. Anderson needs close to 100 yards on the ground, and Devontae Booker will have to perform better than he did in his debut. Keeping the ball off the carpet would be wise, too.
The way to hold up that bargain on the other side of the ball is to GET OFF THE FIELD ON THIRD DOWN. I don't mean to yell, but it's vitally important. It's also imperative that the Broncos defense maintain lane control and keep Luck from scrambling and converting third-and-long situations. If he beats you with a perfect pass, you can live with it, but it's unacceptable to let Luck loose.
Additionally, pass-rushers have to be disciplined. Like with Cam Newton last week, if the linebackers rush too far vertically and not at angle, they become useless. A quarterback with as much pocket presence as Luck is only susceptible to a great interior rush. Get him moving from side to side instead of up the field.
Luck will get his. It's inevitable. What the Broncos can't have is a bunch of three-and-outs from Siemian and the boys while Luck mounts decade-long drives and keeps stacking points. Short defensive series plus sustained offense is the winning formula.
Hit 'Em Where They Hurt
To some extent, it was the case last week. The Panthers were starting young corners that had the unenviable task of keeping up with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. To be fair, they held up pretty admirably.
The Colts aren't necessarily starting young cornerbacks, they're really just starting back-up cornerbacks. With Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson sidelined this week, plus Antonio Cromartie and Darius Butler being questionable, the Colts have a glaring void on the back end.
DT's status is up in the air for Sunday and Bennie Fowler will sit this one out, but if the offense can get Manny Sanders in as many one-on-one situations as possible, chances are he'll come down with some long passes.
And of course, none of this will happen if Siemian isn't afforded time. There's no reason he should be under duress, however. Henry Anderson is out, Kendall Langford is questionable, and the ageless Robert Mathis may not play either. The offensive line had a tremendous showing against the front seven of the Panthers, and it's time to follow up that great start with another sturdy game.
In a way, this coincides with the last goal; keep the chains moving by hitting the big guys on the outside, convert third downs, and let Luck become a spectator.
General A. Luck Knows No Surrender
The Broncos must keep General Luck off of the field of battle. (Stop) Private First Class Siemian must take aim at the depleted Colts secondary. (Stop) And finally, the war shall be won in the fourth quarter.
No lead is safe when Andrew Luck is starting back at you. If you don't believe me, just ask fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. Seriously, ask them. Do it.
Anyways, the point is that three and a half quarters won't get the job done. Denver needs to be stronger on the ground in the fourth quarter than they were in the first. They have to feed C.J. late, let Andy Janovich lead the way, and bust out the four-minute offense should they be fortunate enough to have the lead late in the game.
The more chances Luck gets in the fourth quarter to air it out, the more likely he is to do just that. All it takes is one play for T.Y. Hilton to break the top off the defense and break the game open.
Luck is just one of those T-1000 players like Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady where you just can't be sure they're dead until you see the clock hit triple zeroes. It's of the utmost importance that the Broncos finish, and finish on offense where Luck and his speedy receivers won't have a chance to do anything too crazy late in the contest.
It's just not in The General's nature to waive the white flag.
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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.