INDIANAPOLIS —We've got the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts matching up tonight for their 2017 Week 15 showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With an inside scoop on the opposition heading into the game, we check in with Andrew Mason, a senior digital reporter with the Broncos and their website, DenverBroncos.com (follow Andrew on Twitter @MaseDenver):
Walker:** OK, so we've got a short week: Broncos, Colts, Thursday Night Football in Indianapolis. Certainly no playoff implications on the line, which is really weird for a late-season matchup between these two teams, particularly, but, hey, it's where we are. But Andrew, if you can, sum up for me why the Broncos generally find themselves at 4-9 at this point of the season? I'm going to take a wild guess here and say that the quarterback situation is a huge factor.
Mason: "Yeah — inefficient offensive play. The quarterback position has struggled, turnovers in particular, especially early in the game, and a lot of them have come from the quarterback position. The Broncos over the course of this season have a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio, and early-game giveaways, during their eight-game losing streak, in particular, which was their longest in 50 years, played a critical role in sending their season into a spiral. Because they'd have early turnovers, they'd fall behind, they couldn't get caught up, and as that streak got going, the pattern kept repeating itself and the team would kind of get into this mindset of, 'Oh man. Here we go again.' And you kind of get that sense in the locker room, and it's tough to break out of that pattern. Human nature — this is something even John Elway addressed in one of his interviews a few weeks ago — human nature's a tough thing to kind of break through, and so when you have the losses happening in much the same way, it's tough to kind of break through that. So against the Jets last week not only did they not have early turnovers, but the Jets have an early giveaway — Broncos get a strip-sack fumble on the Jets' first possession, cash it in for a touchdown two plays later, take a 10-0 lead, and then they just kind of cruise from there. And they certainly hope that they can carry that forward, that not only did it stop a streak but maybe it can start a new one and get them some positive momentum before the end of the season."
Walker: With all that being said, though, the Denver defense is still, in many ways, really, really good. At the top in yards allowed, really good against the pass, good against the run, Von Miller is still a terror. so even considering how many times this Broncos defense has probably had to immediately trot right back on the field after getting a stop time after time this season, how impressive is it that this unit is continuing to dominate?
Mason: "It's very impressive. They had a little bit of a dip at midseason — the 51-23 game in Philadelphia, that kind of jumps out — but if you look back kind of at the history of great defenses that sustain their performance over multiple seasons, there's always been an outlier performance or two over their run of greatness. And perhaps that game, and then 41 against the Patriots the following week, those were kind of outliers. The other thing that was happening, because of the turnovers, you had the defense that was operating on a short field way too often, and that was part of the frustrating pattern that was setting in for the Broncos. Denver has the worst average drive start position against it league-wide this season, and until last week, not only was it the worst, but it was the worst by nearly a four-yard margin over anybody else, which is just amazing statistically, because there was a greater difference between team 32 and 31 than there was team 31 to the league average. So just a massive discrepancy between the Broncos and anyone else. And then, you go to last Sunday against the Jets: no turnovers, the Jets don't start any possessions from any closer to the Denver goal line than at their 25. And that was a huge difference; it was a huge morale boost for the defense not having to play with short fields. They thought they attacked, really kept the Jets off-balance. So the defense has been doing a very good job in some very trying circumstances this year. It's been better against the run than it was last year. Last year, struggled against the run, they made some changes on the defensive line — Adam Gotsis, a second-year player, he's grown; they brought in Shelby Harris off the scrap heap, he was a reserve future pickup early in the offseason … he's been a nice find; Zach Kerr, former Colt, has been playing a bit more; Domata Peko has been battling a knee injury the last couple weeks, but until he got hurt he was having an outstanding season. So that's helped. And then, of course, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., still one of the best cornerback combos in the league and teams are still pretty afraid to throw at those two guys for the most part. So still an outstanding defense, even though there have been some changes."
Walker: Trevor Siemian gets the start Thursday night at quarterback for the Broncos, and really, to his credit, he played pretty well on Sunday against the Jets … 19 of 31 passing, 200 yards, one touchdown, no turnovers; helped snap the Broncos' eight-game losing streak. What did you see in Siemian on Sunday that maybe gives him some confidence heading into Thursday's game? What had been missing?
Mason: "He played within himself, and the gameplan, really, allowed the offense to play within itself. They got ahead, so they were able to stick with the run a bit more — ran more than they threw. When they took shots downfield, they were judicious ones; there was some one-on-one coverage, they were able to take advantage of. Examples: the 20-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas; Siemian actually does a great job under pressure. He gets hit on the throw, Demaryius is one-on-one at the goal line, makes a very nice play — the sun is in his eyes — Trevor, he takes the hit, get the ball hit, Demaryius makes a nice read on the ball, manages to make the catch despite the sun being in his eyes for the touchdown. And then one series earlier, Cody Latimer, he, on 3rd and 6, makes a nice break back on the ball; he's in single coverage, gets a 27-yard grab that helps the Broncos get a field goal to take a lead on the first series. So the ability to take advantage of what the Jets were giving them in coverage, and also the fact that they were being persistent and sticking with the running game — it wasn't very productive in terms of having big carries; didn't really have a good per-carry average, but they were persistent with it, they got a touchdown at the goal line from fullback Andy Janovich. It was the kind of game that they've wanted to play, and also complemented the defense very well. So I think that's the sort of gameplan that you'll see from the Broncos moving forward, and if they can execute it and continue to play turnover-free football, as they did against the Jets, they have a chance to have some success down the stretch."Walker: I kind of get the feeling the Colts and Broncos are in two different places physically and maybe a little bit mentally heading into Thursday's game. Both will be on four days of rest, I know that, but the Colts had this epic blizzard game, go into overtime and lose to the Bills, while the Broncos got the monkey off their back, snapped a big losing streak and shut out the Jets. Do you think we see a pretty hyped up Denver team coming to Indy on Thursday?
Mason: "I think they'll be hyped up, and I think also they'll be loose. Getting the losing streak snapped, that was a real monkey off the back of this team, I think. That streak, unlike anything the Broncos had known in a half-century, it was weighing on the organization, it was weighing on the players and, of course, because a lot of the losses were taking on a similar tone in terms of early giveaways, mounting frustration in the games, it was getting fairly depressing, understandably so, on a day-to-day basis. I think there's a weight off the shoulders of the players right now. I think they're going to respond with a pretty good performance, a pretty loose performance; I think they'll get back to being themselves. I think they can build off that. I think that even though it's a short week, I think that may actually help the Broncos, and one thing Vance Joseph said even last week is that having a short week like this was the opportunity to get two wins in five days, and that won't change the outcome of the season in terms of they won't make the playoffs, but it can certainly change the narrative and the feeling and emotion on the season, and so far they're off to a good start there."