The Denver Broncos will enter Sunday three wins away from the mission that escaped them last year. The Indianapolis Colts have come to town with the number one passing game and will try to upset another season for the Mile High faithful. Given the many storylines present and the talent on both rosters the game should be a riveting contest. There will be three crucial players for Denver that will not only be relied on to play but to play exceptionally well in order to keep the dream of a championship alive.
C.J. Anderson has been the key to creating a balance on offense that was talked so much about since February, but Sunday his pass protection will be almost as important as his rushing skills. The defense will also carry a huge load of responsibilities due to Andrew Luck and the receivers he has at his disposal. Two first year Broncos, Bradley Roby and DeMarcus Ware will have to disrupt the passing game in different ways.
C.J. Anderson went from an undrafted free agent in 2013 to nearly the MVP of the offense this season in seven short weeks. He is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has created a balance the Broncos desperately needed. He is aware of the problems the balance creates for opposing coaches.
“You don’t want to be one-dimensional in the NFL. These coaches, they spend countless hours trying to game plan and shut you down and slow you down. If you can be balanced, it can make it tough on defensive coordinators.”
It is safe to say that Anderson will be a huge piece of the offensive game plan and get 15-20 carries on Sunday. Another major factor of his game will be just as vital. In pass protection Anderson will have his hands full. The Colts 41 sacks in the regular season came from 16 different players and the team leader, Jonathan Newsome had only 6.5 meaning that they send rushers from odd places often. Anderson will rely on his physicality and trust with Manning to keep the quarterback safe from the many blitzes he expects Sunday.
“We know when we have to pick up the blitz we got to step up and hit them in the mouth. That’s the only way to stop the blitz,” Anderson said Wednesday. “I don’t want to put words in his (Manning) mouth, but from his side it’s, ‘I know C.J. knows it.’ And from my side, it’s, ‘I know I know it and he knows I know it,’ so he trusts me. So I think that’s the biggest thing about it.”
Anderson will need to run with the same efficiency he has recently and will have ample opportunities to gain yards on the 18th ranked run defense of the Colts, but it will be his blocking that may help the most in creating big plays for the offense.
Along with the running game and Anderson’s emergence the defense was another area that the Broncos were desperate to fix since the fateful night in New Jersey. Roughly 11 months later the Broncos enter the divisional round with the third ranked defense in the NFL. Conversely they will be playing against the Colts third ranked offense in total yards per game.
By far the most pleasant surprise on defense has been the play of rookie, first-round draft pick Roby. He was asked to matchup with veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne in week one and his play has steadily increased every since. In fact, he has participated in every game this season and has only played in less than 65% of the defensive plays twice. He has vastly improved over the season and expects the Colts offense to remain similar to what he saw in week one.
“Playing them once before kind of gets you ready,” he said from his locker Thursday. “The calls can change up and stuff like that, the tendencies that certain players have, they kind of stay the same. Offenses keep the same mindset towards attacking the game. They might come up with a few tricks here and there. They’re going to stick to what they know and what they do best.”
The coaching staff as well has his fellow teammates have been impressed with Roby’s progress and realize the benefit of having him step up so quickly, especially when facing a team like the Colts.
“It’s been huge,” Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said Thursday. “It’s a big role for a young player to come in and embrace. I think he’s done a good job throughout the year. If you go back and look at our first game that fourth down stop at the end of the game was Bradley Roby. He’s been involved from the beginning throughout the whole season, he’s had a good year and having that kind of depth is imperative nowadays in today’s NFL. You’re going to go against teams that have three, four, five really talented receivers.”
With the effectiveness that Talib and Harris Jr. are having against teams the likely target for Luck will be the receiver Roby is covering and Daniel Herron and tight end Coby Fleener Sunday. If Roby can show that he is not the same player that the Colts saw in week one it will have an enormous effect on the Colts passing attack.
Lastly, Ware joined the Broncos this offseason in hopes of reaching the playoffs and contending for a title and now he has reached that moment. He has been an essential part of the pass rush, totaling 10 sacks in the regular season but has been shutout in recent weeks. Von Miller again has been a force and his youth and speed will give him an edge this weekend against his opponent. Ware does not have that luxury, but will have to disrupt Luck as well in order to contain the Colts offense. He is aware that defenses have been game planning against him recently and expects it again Sunday.
““A lot of the teams with me and [LB] Von [Miller], no matter what, they are going to start chipping us a lot more. They are not going to leave us one-on-one on the tackles. They are going to put a tight end; they are going to slide the line. That is what lately everybody has been doing so we have something that is going to be ready for teams that do that.”
Ware also benefits from the play of the secondary and their man-to-man coverage. He attributes some of his success to Harris Jr. and Talib’s play in particular saying, “When you have two guys that can play man-to-man that gives the rush up front a lot more time. When the quarterback is getting the ball out fast, he can’t get the ball out fast when you’re playing man-to-man coverage and it gives the pass rusher up front a little bit more time to get there.”
The Broncos have missed Ware’s pressure recently and he will have to face the most consistent offensive lineman the Colts have. Anthony Castonzo has been a rock on an otherwise mediocre line. Due to their ineffectiveness this season Luck has been under pressure often and it has resulted in 29 sacks, 16 interceptions and 13 fumbles by Luck, 6 of which were lost to the opposition.
Ware knows how rare the playoffs can be and as he enters only the second postseason of his career he will have to find a way to impact the game. A sack, a forced fumble, anything can swing this game in the right direction.
The Broncos weathered a tough regular season and enjoyed a much needed bye week. The goals they have been chasing for so long are now all too close. They appear to be a superior team this week and execution is all that is left. Ware understands the pressure and is making sure his teammates share his mentality.
“You just look at it and say, ‘We have arrived and now what are you going to do about it?’”
The coaches, team and all of Broncos Country simply hope that they take care of business and put another team in the rear view mirror as they continue on their mission.
Prediction: DEN 31, IND 17
Notable Injuries: Quanterus Smith-OUT, Brandon Marshall-QUESTIONABLE