NEW AND IMPROVED
Colts owner Jim Irsay caught a lot of heat this week for noting that the Colts are building around a different model without Manning. He wanted a more balanced offense, a steadier defense and stronger special teams. It was a big reason the Colts held on Sunday. Indy ran 31 times for 121 yards and kept the ball for more than 31 minutes. Luck still threw for 228 yards and three TDs, and while the defense gave up yards, it limited the NFL’s highest-scoring team to a season-low point total, which forced Denver to play catch-up. Indy had better field position most of the night and it turned a fumbled punt return into a touchdown.
Denver has already lost its starting left tackle and its starting center and things have gotten even worse with the loss of right tackle Orlando Franklin (sprained left knee). So, Denver shuffled the lineup and struggled. The question going forward is this: What kind of protection can Manning expect? While that answer will need to be developed over the next several weeks, it’s clear Denver coaches must take another look at what they have. Left tackle Chris Clark was repeatedly burned by speedy pass rusher Robert Mathis, and with the game on the line, Indy’s other outside linebacker, Erik Walden, got his hand on Manning’s arm to force a rare interception.
RISING TO THE OCCASION
With each passing week, the Colts’ defense takes a step forward saving its top performances for its toughest opponents — as Denver found out the hard way. Indy held defending NFC champion San Francisco to seven points, on the road, last month another NFC Super Bowl favorite, Seattle, to just 16 points over the final three quarters after falling into a 12-0 deficit. While they gave up a season-high 33 points to the Broncos, Indy was the first team this season to even slow down Denver’s offense, which spent most of the night trying to play catch-up after averaging more than 44 points per game over the first six weeks.