INDIANAPOLIS – It's time.
After nine months of building, waiting and anticipation the Colts will open up their 2014 campaign on Sunday night against the Denver Broncos.
What should fans be looking for when the Colts take on the Broncos to kick off the regular season?
1. Getting To Manning
-Scratch, crawl, fight, do whatever it takes to disrupt Peyton Manning's incredible rhythm. The Colts got to Manning more than virtually any other Broncos' opponent last season. Gone is Robert Mathis and his NFL-best 19.5 sacks though. All eyes will be on Bjoern Werner filling in for Mathis but some sort of interior push is a must to try and keep Manning too comfortable on Sunday night.
2. Ball Control Colts
-Last year, the Broncos had 17 offensive drives against the Colts. That's a dangerous number for such an elite offense. How the Colts can combat that on Sunday is with a consistent ground attack, which will drain the clock---and attempts for Manning. That means a heavy burden on the likes of Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw running behind an inexperienced Colts interior.
3. Winning The Money Down
-This falls to both sides of the ball. Again, we look back at last year's meeting and the Colts defense was beyond impressive in getting Denver off the field when it needed to. Denver had seven three-and-outs (the Broncos offense averaged less than two three-and-outs per game in 2013). The Colts held Denver to 5-of-16 on third-down in last year's win, after the Broncos came into that Week Seven matchup converting 57 percent of third-downs.
4. Protecting Andrew Luck
-Browns All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller was very quiet in last year's meeting but now he has DeMarcus Ware opposite him. The Colts have their bookend tackles in place but again all eyes will be on the interior spots needing to give Andrew Luck plenty of time to make his progressions through a slew of elite skill players.
5. Handling The Tempo
-Outside of the Denver offense itself, a combination of factors will test the Colts defense on Sunday night. Some steamy weather, high altitude and the potential for a quick tempo will play a major role in how the Colts handle substitution patterns against the Broncos. The Colts defense needs to stay ahead of schedule to keep the Broncos from continuing their ability of quick-strike scoring drives.
6. Create Chances
-In the Colts 39-33 win last year, a trio of turnovers led directly to 19 points (nine for the Mathis strip/safety). Turnovers are the obvious game changers but field position is critical, too. The Colts punt coverage unit pinned the Broncos inside the 20-yard line on six different occasions last year.
7. Weather The Storm
-Getting off to fast starts is a point of emphasis for the Colts in 2014. Sunday night in Denver would be an ideal place to begin that. A scoring drive to kick things off on Sunday would quiet the Broncos faithful and hopefully be an indication of a season-long pattern early in games.