INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts have proven to be resilient under Chuck Pagano by producing victories after each loss they have incurred since 2012.
A bounce-back win at San Francisco was the club's most dominant performance in 2013, and Indianapolis will need another top-shelf performance in meeting a complete Denver team that stands at 6-0, while coming to town as victors in their last 17 games.
The Colts are 13-4 in their last 17 outings. Only Denver and New England (14-3) entered this week's play with a better record than the Colts in that span.
Indianapolis is coming off a 19-9 loss Monday at San Diego, the season's most uneven performance. It is a short week with a huge challenge waiting.
Pagano's troops have responded to numerous previous challenges, and here are SEVEN VICTORY KEYS:
CONVERT, STAY ON FIELD – Last Monday's loss at San Diego was a difficult exhibit of not extending drives and then paying the price. Failing to convert on five third downs in the first half did not lose the game specifically, but San Diego was in the process of seizing and retaining momentum. Indianapolis converted two-of-five in the second half (both in third-and-one situations). It forced the Colts to play from behind on the road. It kept the defense on the field more than 38 minutes. Getting yardage on first (Indianapolis ranks 12th in the league at 5.73, 1.5 yards off the NFL lead) and second down is critical. Two weeks, ago, Indianapolis averaged more than 32 minutes possession time for the season. That would be a good target Sunday against a potent opponent.
RED ZONE EXECUTION – Indianapolis was held out of the end zone last Monday for only the second time in the Pagano era. Admirably, the defense largely did the same, holding San Diego to field goals on three red-zone visits. The Colts have scored on every (17-of-17) red zone trip this year, one of two NFL teams to do so. Denver is not one of those teams, but its 82.1 touchdown percentage on 28 trips is almost 11 percentage points higher than the second-best team. Big Blue, stick it in when you get there. Conversely, the Colts' defense is 14th in TD percentage allowed. Stay sharp, maintain assignments – and locate Wes Welker.
ISOLATE THE ISOLATED – As many as perhaps six dropped passes last Monday (two that could have resulted in scores and certainly would have gained long yards to quell criticisms of a non-vertical attack) spelled part of the offensive doom in a touchdown-less loss. Indianapolis receivers have been pretty reliable all season in securing passes. Pep Hamilton believes, with reason, this was an isolated instance. Hopefully the malady is contained to one game. To compete Sunday and beyond, this has to be isolated.
ABSORB PUNCHES AND LAND BLOWS – The two more pocket-type passers the Colts have faced this year (Ryan Tannehill and Philip Rivers) have helped hand the Colts two losses. Peyton Manning fits that mold and runs his position as well (maybe better) than it ever has been played. Reality tells you (and so have coaches) that he will make plays. Stick to the game plan, absorb those punches when they happen, restrict as many as you can and land your own blows (figuratively). Over 60 minutes, chances will occur. Win as many small moments as possible. ("You don't have to be a world-beater, just do your job," said Robert Mathis.)
NO MILLER TIME – As if there are not enough concerns, Von Miller is eligible to play Sunday. With fresh legs (hopefully the Colts will have the same from LaRon Landry), Miller is a destructive force who had 18.5 sacks, 28 tackles for losses and six forced fumbles last year. That made the two-time Pro Bowler only the second NFL player since 1994 to record at least 15 sacks, 25 TFLs and five FF in a season. This is what opponents feel in preparing for Mathis.
NO HOLLIDAY ON SPECIAL TEAMS – Trindon Holliday won't be the first special teams challenge this year, but he's a potent one. For the second straight year, Holliday has multiple return scores. In 15 games with Denver, he has a total of six (three KOR, three PR), two shy of the franchise record set by Rick Upchurch in 124 games. This LSU product puts a tiger in the tank for the Broncos. With an 81t PR and a 105t KOR, touchbacks and smart punting are in order.
PAY ATTENTION TO USEFUL EMOTIONS – Sunday will be chock full of emotions on the field. The large majority figure to be in favor of the Colts solidly, so feed off those. Because emotions are unpredictable, that's why this is being mentioned. Use all positive vibes to build the monster.
QUOTE TO NOTE(Chuck Pagano on the best way to go about stopping Peyton Manning)
"If I told you that right now, I might as well fax our plan to Coach Fox and the rest of them. We're going to do what we feel we need to do and what's necessary. They're going to make plays. He's going to make plays. They're going to move the ball. They've moved it on everybody. We'll come up with the best possible plan that gives our guys the best possible chance to do well and win the football game."