Colts-Broncos preview: Is best good enough?

Denver's No. 1-ranked defense and quarterback Peyton Manning return to Indy to get some payback for January playoff loss to Colts.

Maybe Dwayne Allen should watch more tape of the Denver Broncos.

Or perhaps the Indianapolis Colts tight end was just trying to downplay the undeniable pressure on his struggling team entering Sunday’s game against the 7-0 Broncos and their No. 1-ranked defense at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I don’t think we have to go out and play the best game of our lives,” Allen said Wednesday, “but we definitely have to account for some really, really good football players.”

If the Broncos play anything like they did last Sunday night, when they humbled two-time league MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 29-10, it might just take the Colts’ best ever effort to snap a three-game losing streak. And even then, that might not be enough.

The Colts’ Tuesday firing of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and handing over play calling responsibilities to associate head coach Rob Chudzinski is another indication of the unrest this team has experienced all season. A 3-5 record with a struggling offense and quarterback Andrew Luck throwing a league-high 12 interceptions means what was once considered a legit Super Bowl contender is now a team just trying to make the playoffs while playing in the NFL’s worst division. The Colts could also be without No. 1 wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (left foot sprain), who missed practice all week and is listed as questionable.

Then along comes a familiar face, five-time MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, and he’s got a defense that leads the league in sacks with pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and has shutdown cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. The Broncos’ defense is No. 1 in fewest points allowed, total yards allowed and passing yards allowed.

“When you put the tape on, it’s a scary movie,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ve seen some really good defenses and this one is as good or better than any of the ones we’ve faced up to this point, front to back, they’re unbelievable. Wade Phillips does a great job and they’ve got great talent and they’ve got a couple of edge rushers that are phenomenal.

“You look up and down the statistics and they’re ranked it looks like number one up and down the sheet in a bunch of categories. Number one in total defense, leading the league in sacks with 29. They get after you and they bring it. I think we all saw, most recently, that defense against Green Bay. They’re suffocating. Next to the ’85 Bears and the 2000 Ravens, I don’t know if I’ve seen a defense quite like this.”

The Colts are five-point home underdogs. Manning lost 39-33 in his 2013 return to Lucas Oil Stadium. The Broncos won 31-24 in last season’s opener but the Colts bounced Denver from the playoffs with a 24-13 January triumph in the Mile High City.

After a slow start had critics suggesting the 39-year-old Manning was washed up, he emerged from a bye week to play arguably his best game of the season against the Packers, completing 21-of-29 passes for a season-high 340 yards.

As fate would have it, Manning can pass Brett Favre for two NFL records Sunday. The win would be his 187th, most for a quarterback in league history, and he needs 284 passing yards to become No. 1 in that career category. The Colts' defense is ranked 21st in points allowed, 29 in total yards allowed and tied for 27th in passing defense. Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis has had three of his team-high four sacks in the last two games, but the Colts rank 29th in sacks per pass play.

“There are a bunch of challenges,” Pagano said of facing No. 18, “but again, it’s Peyton Manning, arguably one of the best, if not the best to ever play the game at that position.”

On the flip side, Luck has 13 of the team’s 19 turnovers. The Colts are tied with Detroit for the league’s worst turnover ratio at minus-9. Thirteen turnovers have come in the Colts’ side of the field, which puts the defense at a distinct disadvantage in a short field as opponents have turned those giveaways into 59 points.

On Monday night, Luck’s third interception came in overtime and led to Carolina’s deciding field goal in a 29-26 Panthers victory.

“They’re catastrophic mistakes,” Luck said. “They’re not sort of light, easy ones that are easy to overcome. It’s practice, it’s watching the film, making sure you’re your own worse critic and going out in practice and doing what you say you need to do. Obviously you’ve got to do it. You can’t just talk about it.”

Yes, indeed, the time for talk is past.

Manning sure didn’t have much to say about returning to Indianapolis during his Wednesday conference call. That was his way of downplaying its significance and not suggesting it will mean more to him.

Meanwhile, his old team spoke of the importance of playing for each other, being more consistent, not panicking after a coach firing, simplifying the offense, getting off to faster starts and cutting down on turnovers and mistakes.

Oh and, at least from Allen’s perspective, not needing to play the best game of their lives.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.


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