Broncos might have the right formula to beat Colts

The Denver Broncos have spent the week heaping profuse praise

upon the Indianapolis Colts. Underneath all that reverence, though,

is a sense that while Peyton Manning & Co. may be unbeaten,

they certainly aren’t unbeatable.

The Broncos (8-4) trust they have figured out the formula for

beating the Colts (12-0), who are aiming for their NFL

record-breaking 22nd straight regular season win Sunday.

“This is a league where any team can be beaten on a Sunday,”

said Broncos outside linebacker Darrell Reid. “If we prepare and

play like we are supposed to and play like we did in our wins this

year, we have a good chance of beating the Colts.”

The Broncos exude a quiet confidence in the game plan and in

their ability to execute it.

“You’ve got to go into every game confident,” Denver

receiver/returner Eddie Royal said. “Half the battle is

confidence.”

They sure have the swagger, having positioned themselves to end

a three-year playoff drought in Josh McDaniels’ first season as

coach.

The case for a Broncos upset, however, really starts with the

secondary.

Manning has traditionally picked apart the Broncos by exploiting

their weakest link in the passing game to unravel Denver’s defense

– remember Roc Alexander in the playoffs? – but these Broncos sport

a seasoned secondary that owns a combined 20 Pro Bowl selections

now that Ty Law has joined Champ Bailey, Andre’ Goodman, Renaldo

Hill and Brian Dawkins in a defensive backfield like none other in

the league.

“They bring experience to the situation,” Broncos secondary

coach Ed Donatell said Thursday.

So, it’s the game’s best at-the-line play-caller against the

NFL’s most experienced defensive backfield.

“He looks for mismatches,” said Broncos receiver Brandon

Stokley, a former teammate of Manning’s in Indianapolis. “He reads

defenses so well that he knows where the vulnerable spots

are.”

Only this time, when he scans the Broncos’ secondary, Manning

won’t find those quite so readily.

So, the key now is can Denver camouflage coverages well enough

to fool Manning, who is so adept at deciphering disguises?

“We are going to do our best to make sure that we don’t make

the game easier for him than it already is for him,” Dawkins

said.

Already, the Broncos have confused the likes of Tom Brady and

Ben Roethlisberger this season, although “Big Ben” was so good at

ad-libbing on the fly that he led Pittsburgh past the Broncos last

month.

Tricking Manning is another story.

“He’s hard to fool,” Bailey said. “If we can confuse him a

little bit, that would definitely help.”

So would some pressure.

Although the Colts have only allowed 10 sacks, the Broncos

feature the league’s top pass-rusher in Elvis Dumervil, who has 15

sacks and is thriving in his switch from a 4-3 defensive end to a

3-4 outside linebacker.

Of course, the easiest way to keep Manning in check is to keep

him on the sideline, and the Broncos have just the offense to do

that, providing they can dink and dunk their way downfield without

many negative plays that swing the pendulum back toward Indy’s

dominant defense.

Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, the prototypical game manager

who is perfect for Denver’s low-risk offense, said the Colts are so

bothersome because defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis,

who have combined for 20 sacks so far, are free to focus on rushing

the passer while “everybody else rallies to the run.”

Although standout right tackle Ryan Harris is out for the season

with a toe injury, the Broncos ground game should take some

pressure off Orton.

Correll Buckhalter is actually faster at 31 than he was at 21

following three career-threatening knee injuries and is averaging a

career-high 5.4 yards a carry. Rookie Knowshon Moreno is hitting

his stride with three TD runs in the last two games.

The Broncos know that controlling the clock can be crucial

against Manning, although it’s no guarantee, as the Miami Dolphins

discovered earlier this season when they held the ball for 45

minutes and still lost to the Colts 27-23 because Manning not only

has a knack for being exceptionally effective but also

extraordinarily efficient.

“It doesn’t take them long to make big plays,” McDaniels

said.

There’s another, psychological, factor that could help the

Broncos: the AFC wild-card leaders need this win more than the

Colts do.

Indy is so far ahead of everyone else in the conference that a

top seed and first-round bye are almost formalities. And the Colts’

real desire isn’t for an unblemished record but playoff

success.

“Streaks are meant to be broken,” said Reid, who spent his

first four seasons in Indianapolis. “I saw them go 11-0, 13-0. I

don’t think their focus is winning every game or going undefeated

this season. I don’t think that’s what their focus is.”

The Broncos realize that even if all these factors fall into

place Sunday, it might not be enough.

“There’s been a lot of teams that have played them tough,”

McDaniels said. “They’ve won seven games under a touchdown this

year, which tells you that they execute in those pressure

situations.”

That’s because Indianapolis excels in the red zone, on third

down, in the two-minute drill and in crunch time.

“Well, they got Peyton back there, that helps,” Stokley said.

“When you got Peyton back there, you know you always have a

chance. No matter what’s going on, no matter how many points you’re

down, you always have a chance and he’s shown it time and again

that he’ll deliver in the clutch.”