NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - INSIDE SLANT
Sunday night's nationally-televised home game with the Denver Broncos will mark the return of former Indianapolis Colts quarterback to Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium.
Yes, the Broncos will bring an unblemished 6-0 record into the game against Indianapolis' 4-2 mark. Denver is tied with Kansas City, the National Football League's only other undefeated team, for first place in the AFC West. The Colts, at 4-2, have a one-game lead for first place in the AFC South.
But the story in the days leading up to the game is Manning's trip back to face the team that had originally drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998.
"Everybody's been waiting for the 20th of October for a long time, wanted to talk about it. It's finally here," Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano said this week.
"Obviously big week, big game. Got a great team coming in here. National stage. Sunday Night Football. Great opportunity for us to get back on track and play a great, great football team. Got a roster that's littered with talent. Got balance all over the place: offense, defense and special teams. A couple first-ballot Hall of Famers on that squad."
Pagano knows all about playing a Peyton Manning-led offense. He did that a few times as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator.
He's also aware of the love and respect the Colts' fans have for the team's former signal caller, for what he did accomplished both on and off the field during his time with team.
"What can you say or what can't you say about Peyton? What Peyton has done for (the Colts) organization, this city, the fans and for football in general speaks for itself, obviously," he said.
"I know everybody (in the Colts' headquarters) probably and our fans will have mixed emotions on Sunday, but I know at the end of the day that (Indianapolis')12th man will be behind the horseshoe and our football team like they always have."
Pagano admitted that he doesn't have to prepare his team for the hoopla that will be associated with Manning's return. His major concern is more about having his team ready to play against a very good Broncos team.
"The obvious is the obvious. It is what it is. We've got things to clean up, so we're going to go back to work. We're going to try to get better (this week). Try to play better Sunday than we played last Monday (in a 19-9 loss at San Diego). So, that's our goal. That's always our goal. We're going to stick to the process," he said.
One thing he stressed is that he doesn't expect second-year quarterback Andrew Luck to try and equal whatever Manning does play for play.
"No, he knows what he has to do. He knows, everybody knows what they have to do. We have to play better than we played on Monday night. We have to execute. We have to convert on third down. We have to get off the field on third down," the Colts coach said.
"We got to score touchdowns in the red area. We got to force field goals, we got to tackle, we got to block. We got to catch, we got to run. We got to do all the fundamental things that good football teams and good football players do."
Luck understands his mission this week.
"I think we're aware of how explosive the Broncos' offense is. As an offense, we're not preparing to play against them. We're preparing to play against a very solid Denver Broncos defense with good players, with (outside linebacker) Von Miller coming off the edge, (cornerback) Champ (Bailey)," he explained.
"From our perspective, our defense will worry about their offense. Our offense will worry about their defense. Special teams will worry about each other."
The Colts' quarterback also knows that after the loss to San Diego, Indianapolis needs to win to stay on track in the divisional race.
"I don't think there's any problem for anybody keeping focused. It's a football game. We're not ignorant. We know who's coming to town," Luck said. "We know it's a great football team and a great challenge for us, a great opportunity for us. I don't think there will be any problem keeping focus this week."
SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 11-8. Indianapolis has won both playoff meetings. The Colts have won six of the last eight regular season matchups, including a 27-13 decision at Invesco Field/Mile High Stadium in 2010. Indianapolis posted a pair of AFC Wild Card playoff wins over the Broncos in 2003 (41-10) and 2004 (49-24). The Colts are 5-5 against Denver in home games (7-5 counting post-season games) and 3-6 in away games. Indianapolis is 1-0 in games against the Broncos played at Lucas Oil Stadium (28-16, 2009). In the last regular season meeting between the two franchises (12/13/09), then Colts QB Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes - three to former Colts TE Dallas Clark - in a 28-16 win. In the last regular-season matchup between the Colts and Broncos (9/26/10), Manning fired three TD passes, two to former Colts WR Austin Collie, at Invesco Field/Mile High Stadium.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - NOTES, QUOTES
-- "I don't think there's any problem for anybody keeping focused. It's a football game. We're not ignorant. We know who's coming to town. We know it's a great football team and a great challenge for us, a great opportunity for us. I don't think there will be any problem keeping focus this week." Colts QB Andrew Luck on being ready for big weekend vs. Denver.
-- "He's doing it like the first pick of the draft should do. He's taking it in stride. We as his teammates are doing our best to try to make him look good. He's being Andrew. What you see is what you get. He's always the first one in here and the last one to leave. He's handled it quite well and hopefully it gets better from here." Colts WR Reggie Wayne on Andrew Luck following Peyton Manning as team's starting quarterback.
-- "That's why we talk on the phone. It's not like I hadn't spoken to him since he's left. We talk quite often. It's nothing different. Y'all are turning this into a circus. It's a circus coming in town. It's just another game, another opportunity for us to go out there and play what Colts football is all about. Hopefully we do better than last week and keep it moving." Wayne on keeping in contact with Peyton Manning since he left for Denver and the hoopla over his return on Sunday night.
-- "Yeah, I'm pretty sure we are going to love to get our chances to get P (Peyton Manning) on the ground a few times. But like I continue to say, it's going to be a fun game. The atmosphere is going to be crazy Sunday night, it's going to be a lot of fun." Colts S Antoine Bethea on facing former teammate Peyton Manning in a real game situation.
--Quarterback Andrew Luck is tied with former Denver and Arizona QB Jake Plummer for the most game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime (9) in the first two seasons of an NFL career since 1970.
--Since the start of the 2012 season, Luck has seven rushing touchdowns. That's the most by an AFC quarterback in that time period.
--Peyton Manning vs. Andrew Luck through their first 22 career starts with the Colts-Manning: 57 per cent completion percentage, 5,418 yards passing, 39 touchdowns, 36 interceptions and a 7-15 won-loss record. Luck: 56 per cent completion percentage, 5,720 yards passing, 30 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, and a 15-7 won-loss record.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Luck has posted a career 9-2 home record at Lucas Oil Stadium in little more than a year and a half in the NFL. Luck has thrown 17 touchdown passes and six interceptions with an 86.8 passer rating in those games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's great with that. It's just like anything else whether he has a bad play or we don't execute the way we're capable of executing and those things happen. Andrew is great about it. He's the first one to go up and grab those guys after the series is over and they're on the sideline and stay with it, keep working, one play at a time. We'll get it back and you'll have another opportunity. He's really good about putting that stuff behind him." -- Colts coach Chuck Pagano on Luck staying positive when receivers drop passes in a game.
NFL Team Report - Indianapolis Colts - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Colts are expected to continue its rotation of RBs Trent Richardson and Donald Brown against the Broncos. Richardson had 10 carries (for 40 yards) in the loss to San Diego Monday night. Brown only had three carries but was used more often as a pass blocker and receiver out of the backfield.
--WR T.Y. Hilton needs one 100-yard receiving game to tie former Colts TE John Mackey (8) for the eighth-most such games in franchise history. Hilton is the team's second-ranked receiver this season with 25 catches for 385 yards and two touchdowns.
--OLB Cam Johnson saw more work in last week's game at San Diego and could see more playing time if rookie OLB Bjoern Werner is unable to suit up for the Denver game. Johnson was acquired ina trade with San Francisco at the beginning of the season.
--ILB Kelvin Sheppard did a pretty good job in relief of starter Jerrell Freeman in the second half of the Chargers game. Sheppard was one of two inside linebackers who saw their playing time increase aftrer Freeman was sidelined with a concussion.
--CB Cassius Vaughn will be facing his former team Sunday night. Vaughn was traded to the Colts from Denver on May 23, 2012. He has seen work as a part-time starter, in the team's nickel defensive package as well as in dime coverages.
--WR LaVon Brazill could see more playing time as part of the Colts receiving rotation this week. Brazill saw limited work against San Diego on Monday night, taking over briefly when starter T.Y. Hilton left with an apparent leg injury. His workload, both as a receiver and as a gunner on special teams, should increase.
--ILB Jerrell Freeman (concussion) was upgraded to full practice on Thursday and Friday and is probable to play Sunday. Freeman was hurt in the first half of the San Diego loss and did not return.
--S Delano Howell (neck) saw full work in Friday's workout and is probable.
--ILB Kelvin Sheppard (hamstring) returned to full practice Friday but was still listed as questionable.
--S LaRon Landry (ankle) was full again in Friday's practice and is probable. Landry has missed the last four games.
--CB Darius Butler (groin) was full in practice Friday and listed as questionable. Butler is expected to play Sunday night against the Broncos.
--OLB Bjoern Werner (foot) is trending in the right direction, according to Colts coach Chuck Pagano. Werner has been ruled out for the third consecutive week, however.
GAME PLAN: Be more consistent running the football. Catch the ball. Protect the football. Force turnovers.
There's your game plan for Sunday night's matchup with the Broncos. But can Indianapolis rebound from last week's sluggish 19-9 road loss to the Chargers? They'd better because it's not going to be easy against an undefeated Denver squad.
The Colts have to be able to establish the running game better. And when there's an opportunity to make a play through the air, Indianapolis can't afford to come up short.
D efensively, don't allow the Broncos to control the tempo of the game. Again, it won't be easy.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Colts WRs Reggie Wayne/T.Y. Hilton vs. Broncos CBs Champ Bailey/Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- Wayne has 30 receptions for 398 yards and five touchdowns in five career games (including playoffs) against Denver. Hilton is aiming for his third straight home game with 100 yards or more (124, 140).
Broncos QB Peyton Manning vs. Colts pass rush -- Manning has been outstanding this season, but he is not a mobile quarterback. Indianapolis has to put pressure on to avoid allowing him to get into a rhythm throwing the football. If Manning has enough time, he will pick a defense apart. OLB Robert Mathis has 9.5 sacks so far this season.