DENVER — The Indianapolis Colts have given the Denver Broncos fits in recent years.
The Colts (0-1) head into a Sunday game against the Broncos (1-0) having won eight of the past nine meetings, including three of four with Andrew Luck.
The fifth-year quarterback came back impressively from a lacerated kidney that prematurely ended his 2015 season, throwing for four touchdowns and nearly 400 yards in the Colts’ season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions.
"The last couple of years they came in here and beat Denver in the playoff game and then beat us last year," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "It’s the same team pretty much, so we’ve got a lot of respect for them. Offensively, they probably have as many weapons that we’ll see all year long, and then defensively, they’ll give you a lot of trouble protecting the quarterback."
Said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson: "They got our number, to be honest."
The Colts upset the Broncos in the playoffs two years ago and ended the Broncos’ run of seven straight wins to start last season on Nov. 8, though Denver went on to win the Super Bowl. That game was also Luck’s last of 2015 after he was hit simultaneously by two Denver defenders in the open field, injuring his kidney.
Denver’s hard-charging defense was at the center of the team’s championship season last year, and from the looks of it, not much has changed early on this season. As the Broncos did in their Super Bowl win over Carolina, the pass rush repeatedly got to Cam Newton in a season-opening win over the Panthers, hitting, hurrying or knocking Newton down over the course of the game.
Their aim is to apply similar pressure Sunday in hopes of slowing Luck, though the aggressive tactics could draw more scrutiny from the officials after linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety Darian Stewart each were hit with league-imposed fines for helmet-to-helmet collisions with Newton.
"We play hard," Kubiak said. "We’re going to continue to play hard."
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said his squad knows what it is up against in trying to protect Luck from linebackers Von Miller, the Super Bowl MVP, and DeMarcus Ware.
"Those guys are relentless pass rushers," Pagano said. "We understand exactly what we have to do to keep Andrew clean and keep him upright and give him a chance to operate."
View from the sidelines: NFL cheerleaders 2016.
The Colts, meanwhile, have shown some vulnerability on defense, where they have been hurt by injuries, especially in the secondary.
They will be working to stall the development of Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, who helped the Broncos win their opener in his first career start. Despite throwing a couple of interceptions, Siemian spearheaded the second-half rally that carried the Broncos past the Panthers, throwing for a score and leading a drive that Anderson finished with a short touchdown run.
"We’re just using that as a building block and getting ready for Indy," Siemian said.
Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had some limitations in practice in the days leading up to the Indianapolis game because of a hip injury, though he is expected to play.
"We’re going to take it a step at a time this week," Kubiak said Wednesday. "We knew today we had him set for certain plays in practice, and tomorrow we’ll pick it up, but he’s on course to make it on Sunday and be ready to go."
Denver wide receiver Bennie Fowler, who missed the opener last week after breaking a bone in his right elbow during a preseason game, did not practice Wednesday. Tight end Jeff Heuerman (hamstring) took part in practice in limited fashion. He did not play in the opener.
The banged-up Colts listed 13 players on the injury report. Among them was cornerback Patrick Robinson, who is recovering from a concussion, and safety T.J. Green, who missed practice time this week because of a knee injury.
The Colts’ depleted secondary also is missing cornerback Vontae Davis, who has been dealing with an ankle injury that forced him to miss the opener.
"Everybody’s dialed in," Pagano said. "It’s going to be one heck of a challenge. We all know that.
"It’s a great football team that we’re going to play. We’ve got to handle the elements, the travel, the altitude, the time change. We all know that. But the good thing is that we’ve got guys in the locker room who have been down this road, they understand this. That stage and all that stuff won’t be too big for them. We’ve got to do a great job of preparing and getting these guys ready to go in all three phases."