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.''