INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Thursday night meeting with the Broncos in Denver’s Empower Field at Mile High.
Kickoff: 8:15 p.m.
Broadcast: Amazon Prime.
Spread: Broncos by 3.
History lesson, Part I
The Colts rank last in the league in scoring (14.3 points per game) and have scored 20 points or fewer in six straight games. The last time they suffered through a longer streak of impotency: 1993 when they scored 20 or fewer in the final eight games of the season. They finished 4-12.
The 57 points in the first four games are the 6th-fewest since 1984 and the fewest since Peyton Manning’s rookie season in 1998 (40 points).
History lesson, Part II
Yes, we realize 37-year-old Matt Ryan and 33-year-old Russell Wilson won’t be going one-on-one. But their shared stats are downright impressive: 98,899 yards, 668 touchdowns and a 227-159-2 record in 388 regular-season games.
One more. Ryan has been sacked 465 times in his 226 regular-season starts, 11th-most in NFL history. Wilson is 14th with 439 in 162 games. They each were sacked 48 times in 2019, tied for the league lead with Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
Okay, one more. Ryan is 5-3 in matchups with Wilson, including 2-0 in the postseason.
“I’ve had a lot of really good battles with him, some in the playoffs, lots of great games in the regular season as well,’’ Ryan said. “It’s a different set of circumstances, too, completely different teams coming in, but it’s always fun competing against him.’’
The Colts acquired Ryan in a trade with Atlanta in March while the Broncos added Wilson in another March trade with Seattle, then signed him to a five-year, $245 million extension that included $165 million in guarantees.
History lesson, Part III
The Colts are 6-4 in their last 10 Thursday night appearances and have won two straight. What’s interesting is they regrouped quickly following losses in 2021 and 2020 to rout the New York Jets (45-30) and the Tennessee Titans in Nashville (34-17).
Compensate for no JT
Jonathan Taylor will miss his first game at the NFL or collegiate level due to injury (right ankle), leaving the running game in the hands of Nyheim Hines, Deon Jackson and former Bronco standout Phillip Lindsay.
How do coach Frank Reich and coordinator Marcus Brady compensate for the loss of the team’s best player and the league’s reigning rushing champion? The least disruptive approach is to insert Lindsay as the feature back – two 1,000-yard seasons in Denver, remember? – and leave Hines in his runner/receiver role.
Hines would embrace a heavy load in the run game but has had more than 10 carries only four times in 69 regular-season games, and not since a 10-carry, 29-yard outing against Tennessee in week 12 of 2020. In those four games, Hines rushed 48 times for 222 yards (4.6).
In four games, Hines has been an afterthought in the run game: 11 yards on eight carries.
Lindsay will be eager to stick it to the Broncos, who essentially discarded him after his three productive seasons (2018-2020). He attended Denver’s South H.S. and the University of Colorado before signing with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in ’18.
Here’s where we remind you the Colts’ running game is broken. Inconsistent blocking by the offensive line and supporting parts have it ranked 27th in yards per game (87.8) and yards per attempt (3.5). Over the last three games, the averages are 58 and 2.8.
Denver’s run defense is 18th in yards per game (114.0) and 20th in yards per attempt (4.9). Las Vegas gashed the Broncos on Sunday, finishing with 212 yards on 38 attempts. Josh Jacobs was the heavy hitter (144 on 28).
Forget the numbers. The Colts were held to 38 rushing yards last Sunday by a Titans run defense yielding 145 yards per game and 5.8 per attempt.
The only time Colts have been without Taylor was in week 12 of his rookie season, and things didn’t go well. In a 45-26 loss to Tennessee, the running game managed 56 yards on 21 attempts. Hines had 29 yards on 10 carries and Jordan Wilkins 22 on six.
Limit Wilson’s run game
Each running game should be interesting to watch. Javonte Williams, the Broncos’ leading rusher (204 yards, 4.3 per carry), suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against the Raiders. Melvin Gordon III is next in line but is dealing with serious security issues. Gordon has fumbled four times on 45 touches in four games – most by a non-QB – and Las Vegas returned his fumble 68 yards for a TD in Sunday’s 32-23 win.
Mike Boone has 20 yards on just three attempts while Denver added insurance by signing Latavius Murray off New Orleans’ practice squad. Murray won’t know the offense but could hit the ground running. He rushed 11 times for 57 yards and one TD in the Saints’ loss to Minnesota Sunday in London.
The Colts yielded 114 yards to Derrick Henry and 127 to the Titans, but they still are 6th against the run (89.5) and 2nd in yards per attempt (3.1). They’ll be without three key components: linebacker Shaquille Leonard (concussion/nose/back), versatile lineman Tyquan Lewis (concussion) and safety Julian Blackmon (ankle).
Limit Wilson’s chunk plays
Wilson has yet to give the Broncos what they paid for but remains a threat. Denver ranks 3rd in the league with 17 completions of at least 20 yards. Seven different players have contributed to the total. The main threats are Courtland Sutton (24 catches, 343 yards, 14.3 per catch) and Jerry Jeudy (11, 183, 16.6). Jeudy has two TDs – 67 and 20 yards.
Wilson is one of the best in the business at eluding the rush and buying time for his receivers to work free. The Colts did a good job of not allowing Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to do damage in that manner and will be tested again.
An interesting note. Denver has six TD drives, tied with the Colts and Chicago for the fewest in the league. Wilson had at least one completion of at least 25 yards on each. The Broncos haven’t shown any ability to sustain drives. Five of the six TD drives have consisted of six plays or fewer.
And the winner is: Broncos 19, Colts 17
We won’t be the least bit surprised if the Colts quiet their irritated fan base and reassure owner Jim Irsay they’re still relevant by handling Denver. Despite investing heavily in Wilson, the Broncos are nothing special four weeks in. Besides, Indy generally is at its best with its shoulders squarely against the wall. But we can’t trust them until they get the offensive line fixed.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.