INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts (4-2) welcome the Denver Broncos (2-5) to town this Sunday as they look to defeat their visitors from the west for the first time since 2015.
The Broncos have struggled a bit to begin this season, but they have moments of very solid play, led by their defense. This is also yet another game for the Colts that has an odd connection to the Kansas City Chiefs, whom the Colts defeated three weeks ago: the Colts beat the Houston Texans last week, who also had just beaten the Chiefs the week prior; and now up are the Broncos, who hail from the Chiefs' AFC West Division and also faced them last week, although their fate was much different in a 30-6 loss.
Let's take a look at this week's opponent.
As mentioned, the Broncos were on the business end of a lopsided loss to the Chiefs last week where they put together only 206 yards, were 1-of-13 on third down (7 percent) and totaled just six points. Here's what all rounded out the outcome.
Broncos' Passing Game
Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco went 21-of-34 passing (61.8 percent) for 213 yards (6.3 YPA) with no touchdowns or interceptions, and was sacked a whopping eight times for a paltry 8.3 QBR according to ESPN.
Leading Flacco's air attack was second-year receiver Courtland Sutton, who caught 6-of-8 targets for 87 yards (12.5 avg.), including a long of 41 yards. Next up was now-former Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who caught 5-of-6 targets for 60 yards (12.0 avg.), and then running back Royce Freeman's four catches (five targets) for 32 yards (8.0 avg.).
Broncos' Run Game
Running backs Freeman and Phillip Lindsay had nearly identical numbers, with Lindsay carrying the ball 11 times for 36 yards (3.3 avg.) and Freeman's 10 carries for 35 yards (3.5 avg.) and a touchdown.
As a team, Denver ran the ball 21 times for 71 yards (3.4 avg.) and one score.
Chiefs' Passing Game
The Broncos found themselves staring down the barrel of the gun that is Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' arm, but early in the second quarter Mahomes was knocked from the game with a knee injury. Before exiting, he went 10-of-11 passing (90.9 percent) for 76 yards and one touchdown. Mahomes' backup, veteran Matt Moore, went 10-of-19 (52.6 percent) for 117 yards, one touchdown and was sacked one time (DeMarcus Walker).
With the Chiefs' top receiver, Tyreek Hill, back for a second game, he caught 3-of-5 targets for 74 yards (24.7 avg.) and one touchdown, while tight end Travis Kelce caught 6-of-8 targets for 44 yards (7.3 avg.), and receivers Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman combined to catch 5-of-8 targets for 59 yards (11.8 avg.) and a score.
Chiefs' Run Game
On the ground, the Broncos did a decent job against Kansas City's backfield, especially considering the reliance on it due to Mahomes' injury. LeSean McCoy ran 12 times for 64 yards (5.3 avg.) while Damien Williams ran it nine times for just seven yards (0.8 avg.).
As a team, Kansas City ran the ball 27 times for 80 yards (3.0 avg.).
Broncos' Passing Game
The Broncos' passing game has been relatively underwhelming this season, save for the continued development of Sutton in Year 2. Just today, the Broncos traded Sanders and a 2020 fifth-round draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a third and fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, so the Colts won't be going against Denver's second-leading receiver. Outside of Sutton and Sanders, Flacco has relied heavily on the short passing game with his running backs, as Freeman and Lindsay are the team's third and fourth-most-targeted receivers so far this year.
A big area the Colts should be able to take advantage is against the Broncos' leaky offensive line. Denver is near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed while the Colts have seven sacks just in the last two weeks. The Colts have been able to capitalize against weak passing games so far, holding both the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders to fewer than 200 passing yards. On paper, this matchup leans heavily in the Colts' favor. Here's who's left after the Sanders trade:
- QB Joe Flacco — 65.7 percent completions, 1,648 yards, 7.2 YPA, 6 TD, 5 INT, 23 sacks
- WR Courtland Sutton — 36 catches (54 targets), 564 yards (15.7 avg.), 3 TD
- RB Royce Freeman — 25 catches (31 targets), 177 yards (7.1 avg.)
- RB Phillip Lindsay — 20 catches (27 targets), 143 yards (7.2 avg.)
Broncos' Run Game
Although Denver's offensive line has had its struggles, its running backs have found a way to be productive, as both Lindsay and Freeman are averaging more than four yards per carry. The team has had at least 90 rushing yards in five of seven games, including three games more than 100 yards.
The Colts got off to a shaky start against the run this year but have settled in recently with linebacker Darius Leonard and defensive end Jabaal Sheard making their returns to the field from injury, holding opponents to an average of 68 rushing yards per game over the last two games. Regardless, Denver has one of the most talented one-two punches in their backfield with Lindsay and Freeman, so the challenge they pose this week is of critical importance.
- RB Phillip Lindsay — 95 carries, 433 yards (4.6 avg.), 4 TD
- RB Royce Freeman — 76 carries, 319 yards (4.2 avg.), 1 TD
- QB Joe Flacco — 11 carries, 11 yards (1.0 avg.)
Colts' Passing Game
The Colts' offensive is primarily known as a running unit, but quarterback Jacoby Brissett has shown multiple times that he can fling it throughout a game. He has two 300-yard passing games and has thrown for multiple touchdowns in all but one game. Last week, he threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns, and is up for Week 7 FedEx Air Player of the Week as a result. Brissett is the second-least-sacked quarterback in the league, while Denver has had its own issues bringing down the quarterback. Another advantage: Colts.
One thing the Broncos absolutely have in their corner is their overall defense, which ranks fourth in the league, including cornerback Chris Harris Jr., edge defender Von Miller and safety Justin Simmons. Against the passing game, Denver ranks third overall, and is tied for fourth in both passing yards per attempt (6.3 YPA) and passing touchdowns allowed (6). The Colts might have their hands full when it comes to moving the ball aerially.
- QB Jacoby Brissett — 65.0 percent completions, 1,388 yards, 6.7 YPA, 14 TD, 3 INT, 7 sacks
- WR T.Y. Hilton — 30 catches (40 targets), 306 yards (10.2 avg), 5 TD
- TE Eric Ebron — 13 catches (25 targets), 206 yards (15.8 avg), 3 TD
- TE Jack Doyle — 17 catches (25 targets), 149 yards (8.8 avg), 1 TD
- RB Nyheim Hines — 19 catches (23 targets), 133 yards (7.0 avg)
Colts' Run Game
Do the Colts go back to their bread and butter this week against Denver and play smashmouth football? They very well might. The Broncos are middle of the road against the run (16th, 107.3 YPG) and have given up games of 153 (Chicago Bears, Week 2) and 269 rushing yards (Jacksonville Jaguars, Week 4), while the Colts rank 10th (128.7 YPG) and have had games in which they ran for 167, 180 and 203 yards on the ground.
- RB Marlon Mack — 119 carries, 514 yards (4.3 avg), 2 TD
- QB Jacoby Brissett — 29 carries, 72 yards (2.5 avg), 1 TD
- RB Jordan Wilkins — 21 carries, 134 yards (6.4 avg)
- RB Nyheim Hines — 14 carries, 33 yards (2.4 avg)
BRONCOS' 2019 KEY STATS
- 25th in total offense (317.4 YPG)
- 25th in turnover differential (-3)
- 26th in passing (207.9 YPG)
- 26th in red-zone scoring (47.4%)
- 29th in scoring (16.0 PPG)
- 29th on third-down conversions (30%)
- 29th in passing touchdowns (6)
- Tied-29th in sacks allowed (24)
- 3rd in red-zone scoring (38.1%)
- 3rd in pass defense (195.3 YPG)
- 4th in total defense (302.6 YPG)
- Tied-4th in passing yard per attempt (6.3 YPA)
- Tied-4th in passing touchdowns allowed (6)
- Tied-5th on third down conversions (33%)
- 8th in scoring (19.4 PPG)
- Tied-22nd in sacks (13)
- Tied-29th in takeaways (6)