INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts return home tonight, as they play host to the Denver Broncos in a Thursday Night Football primetime matchup.
The Colts (3-10) are coming off an exhausting, if not entertaining, 13-7 overtime loss to the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday, a game that featured a heavy snowstorm — and inches of snow on the field — from start to finish. While Indianapolis rallied to tie the game at 7 late in the fourth quarter, Buffalo would use a 21-yard walkoff touchdown run by LeSean McCoy late in overtime to seal the victory.
The Broncos (4-9), meanwhile, were able to snap an eight-game losing streak on Sunday by shutting out the New York Jets, 23-0, at Sports Authority Field. Denver was able to jump out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead and didn't look back from there.
So what should fans be looking for in this Colts/Broncos Week 15 matchup on tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium?
1. Thawing Out
While both teams tonight will be taking the field after just four days "rest," it's the Colts who are coming off a grueling overtime loss to the Bills in "The Blizzard in Buffalo," where heavy snow started falling — and the winds started howling — about an hour before kickoff, and just never stopped, creating whiteout conditions for most of the game. The conditions forced both teams to scrap their original gameplans and go with more of a run-heavy approach, which is obviously a bit more of a throwback style of football — and can be much more bruising overall. So one thing the Colts cannot afford is a bit of sluggishness to start tonight's game as they get re-adjusted to the physicality — and the overall speed — of the game after trudging through the snow for 70-plus minutes on Sunday. And you definitely can't do that against this Denver defense, which remains one of the top overall units in the league and is built to pin its ears back with a lead, much like we've seen from the Jacksonville Jaguars twice already this season. But the best news heading into the game for the Colts? As team owner Jim Irsay tweeted this morning "Forecast for tonight at kickoff: 70 degrees, zero wind, zero chance of a blizzard!" So, phew.
2. Shake Up Siemian
Trevor Siemian has had quite the ride along the Broncos' quarterback carousel this season, as he won the starting job heading into the regular season, started the first eight games, battled through turnover issues, was replaced in Week 9, but has returned as the team's starter for the last two games, and will make it a third straight start tonight against the Colts. So far this season in 10 games, he has completed 201-of-340 passes (59.1 percent) for 2,218 yards with 12 touchdowns to three interceptions, while he has also added a rushing touchdown, but has fumbled five times, losing two of them. It's a far cry from the promise Siemian showed last season in 14 games as the Broncos' starting quarterback, when he threw for 3,401 yards with 18 touchdowns to just 10 picks in 14 games (all starts). But Siemian appeared to get himself back on that right track on Sunday against the Jets, throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown — and, perhaps most importantly, not turning the ball over. For the Colts to have success tonight, however, they'll need the Trevor Siemian of the first half of 2017 to show up, which is something the defense will need to force rather than just expect, which will be easier said than done against some real offensive threats besides the quarterback. "They've still got their same cast of characters really," said Colts safety Darius Butler, who picked off Siemian last season in the Broncos' Week 2 victory over Indy. "They've still got 88 (Demaryius Thomas) and 10 (Emmanuel Sanders). (Trevor) Siemian has kind of been in and out of the lineup. You've got (C.J.) Anderson and (Jamaal) Charles back there, so we've got our hands full. They've got some good weapons. We've got to find a way to limit those guys and try to create some turnovers.
3. It's (Not) Miller Time
Pound for pound, there might not be a better defensive player in the league than the Broncos' Von Miller. Since entering the league in 2011, Miller has racked up 396 tackles, 83.5 sacks, 21 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and one interception, which he returned 26 yards for a touchdown back in 2012. After averaging more than 12 sacks a game in his first six years in the league, Miller is at it again this season, as he has 51 tackles with 10 sacks and one forced fumble through 13 games played. Miller was also a huge menace last season against the Colts, as he had three sacks in the Broncos' 34-20 victory at Sports Authority Field. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said that kind of performance simply cannot repeat itself tonight. "That's all we've talked about since we walked back in the building," Pagano said. "(Miller) is a game wrecker, he's as good as there is in the league. … 58, we've got to make sure that he doesn't wreck the game and handle their defensive front."
4. Gore's Still Going
Frank Gore was the Energizer Bunny for the Colts' offense on Sunday against the Bills. With everybody around him slipping and sliding in the snow, Gore just kept going, and going and going … to the tune of a career-high 36 carries, while he added 130 rushing yards and one reception for 10 yards. Yes, you read that right: Gore, a future Hall of Famer who has put in 13 marvelous years in this league, had more carries on Sunday than any other game in his illustrious career (it was also the most carries for a running back age 34 or older in a single game in NFL history). Pagano called Gore "a man possessed," but can he be effective tonight, just four nights later? "Yeah, he'll be alright," Pagano said. "He takes great care of himself." So don't be surprised if Gore not only starts and plays once again for the Colts tonight, but gets his usual 18 to 20 carries and draws plenty of attention from the Denver defense. In five career games against the Broncos, Gore has average 22 carries for 83.6 yards and has scored two touchdowns on the ground and one touchdown through the air; if he reaches those averages tonight, then that's more than likely good news for the Colts' offense.
5. Half-Court Offense, Full-Court Defense
That phrase is a popular one among the Colts special teamers, but that theme, field position, will be critical tonight against the Broncos. Denver has struggled in the field position game all season thanks in large part to its many costly turnovers, but it was able to turn it around on Sunday against the Jets, as the Broncos' average starting field position was their own 41, while New York started, on average, from its own 20. Those 21 yards make a huge difference throughout a game, and can certainly be the difference between a field goal attempt and a punt, as well as affecting decisions coaches have to make on fourth-and-short. Denver this season has been pretty good returning kickoffs, as they average 22.8 yards per return, which ranks seven in the NFL, while their punt return average of 9.1 yards ranks 13th. Indy wants to see those averages squeezed down tonight. "They've got good returners," Pagano said. "If we pin them back, it's well-documented — if they've got to go 80 yards, they only score probably, I think, 11, 12 percent of the time. So field position will be huge."
6. Color Rush
Yes, of course, one of the unique parts of playing on Thursday Night Football is the league's Color Rush, monochromatic theme, and tonight's game won't be any different. In fact, while Color Rush actually was introduced two seasons ago, tonight's game will be the first time the Colts will have had the opportunity to wear their uniforms, which will feature blue jerseys with white numbers (styled much like the Colts' uniform numbers of the late 1950s and 1960s), blue pants, blue socks and blue cleats (the white helmet stays the same). Tonight's game will actually be the very first time in franchise history the Colts will sport the blue-on-blue look; the team had some blue pants back in the 1995 season, but after wearing them with the white jerseys for three games, they were stashed back into the closet never to be seen again. The team will also have a commemorative Color Rush cup available at the concession stands, while the Colts Cheerleaders will unveil their new blue holiday uniforms, including blue boots to tie in with the Color Rush theme. The Broncos, meanwhile, won't be hard to miss, as they'll wear an orange-on-orange look for a second time, while they have modified the logo on their helmets to be their throwback "D" logo.
A fun sneak peak at the Colts Color Rush uniforms that they will wear Thursday night against the Broncos.
7. Milestone Watch
Here are a few milestones to keep an eye on tonight, courtesy of Colts PR:
• Quarterback Jacoby Brissett needs one touchdown pass of 60-plus yards to tie John Unitas (five in 1960) for the most in single-season franchise history.
• Tight end Jack Doyle needs three receptions to tie Jacob Tamme (67) for the third-most receptions by a tight end in a single season in Colts history.
• Running back Frank Gore, with one 100-yard rushing performance, would pass O.J. Simpson (42) for the 16th-most in NFL history; he needs 59 scrimmage yards to reach 1,000 for the season, which would be his 12th straight season hitting that mark, only one behind Emmitt Smith's NFL record of 13 consecutive seasons (1990-2002); Gore also needs one rushing touchdown to tie Ricky Watters (78) for 21st on the NFL's all-time list.
• Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton needs one receiving touchdown to tie Marcus Pollard (35) for the ninth-most in franchise history; also, with one 150-plus-yard receiving game he will tie Marvin Harrison (11) for the most such games in franchise history.
• Kicker Adam Vinatieri, with one field goal from 30-39 yards, would tie John Carney (165) for the fourth-most made field goals from that distance in NFL history; if Vinatieri connects on one field goal from 50-plus yards, he'll tie Jason Elam for the seventh-most made field goals from that distance; he also needs 16 points to reach 100 for the season and extend his NFL record to 20 such seasons.