INDIANAPOLIS — Outside of Lucas Oil Stadium, a statue of Peyton Manning mocks the Broncos. He is a reminder of what was and what no longer is. By any measure, the Broncos haven’t been very good without Manning. They haven’t been to the playoffs since Super Bowl 50. They haven’t won the AFC West. They haven’t done much, going 14-25 since 2017, the team’s worst 2 ½-season stretch since 1972.
The Broncos arrive in The House that Peyton Built looking for a reboot during this rebuild. That’s what this is, even without a public declaration. The Broncos are a team in transition, trending even younger after Monday’s trade of Emmanuel Sanders to San Francisco. No offensive starter from the Super Bowl 50 victory remains. Only three starters are left on defense.
This is the time for the kids, namely Phillip Lindsay, Courtland Sutton, Bradley Chubb (when healthy) and Dalton Risner, to take over.
Improvement. Progress. For me, those are the goals moving forward. It won’t be easy – the Colts are 13-3 over their past 16 games, second behind the Patriots.
So how can the Broncos pull off the upset, restoring hope in the process? My Denver7 keys to victory:
The Broncos lack an offensive identity. They run the ball OK, and that’s what they are built to do. The more Lindsay the better. The Colts, however, will likely steal from the Chiefs’ blueprint and stack the box and blitz. How to diffuse it? Screens. Screens to Lindsay. Screens to Royce Freeman. Screens to tight end Noah Fant. Offensive Rich Scangarello must show he can adapt after exhausting his 15-play script following the worst play-calling game of his pro career.
The Colts will make Joe Flacco beat them. Can you blame them? Sacked eight times, Flacco looked lost and flustered against the Chiefs. As the Colts bring pressure, Flacco needs to audible to quick slants. He ranks in the top five in sacks. Half are on the offensive line. Half are on Flacco for holding onto the ball too long. Joe, go with hot routes to Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. Mix in a gadget play to Diontae Spencer. My overall advice? Watch the final 12 drives of last Thursday’s game and do the opposite.
Line in the Sand
The Broncos cannot win when they lose the turnover battle. They are not good enough. That means protecting Flacco is a priority. With Ja’Wuan James set to start at right tackle, the line should improve. There’s no reason to give Garett Bolles all the snaps at left tackle anymore. If he draws a penalty, sub him out the next series for Elijah Wilkinson. If Wilkinson does OK, leave him in the game. The lack of consequences for Bolles’ poor play is something that has not gone unnoticed in the locker room over the past three seasons.
Leave your mark
I was talking with Von Miller about his tattoos on Friday. His favorite is the Super Bowl 50 trophy/MVP art. He might eventually start filling in his back with ink. But what he’d prefer is to leave his indelible mark on this season. He’s off to the worst start of his career – he usually owns six sacks at this point and has 2.5. He’s fine with playing 91 percent of the snaps because it gives him more opportunities. Shooters gotta shoot, you know? However, the Broncos need to switch him sides and employ him more creatively to create pressure on Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Pick Me! Pick Me!
It remains possible this will be Chris Harris Jr.’s last game for the Broncos. The Broncos are not actively shopping the star cornerback, but if a team offers a second or early third-round pick, he could be gone. Harris’ assignment Sunday is plastering T.Y. Hilton. I would love to see Harris notch a pick to help pull off an upset.
Tighten it up
The Broncos have been better at covering tight ends this season. They will be tested Sunday as Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle have combined for 30 catches, 355 yards and four touchdowns. Safety Kareem Jackson and linebacker Alexander Johnson hold the key to stifling the duo on third down and in the red zone.
Embarrassment exists as powerful motivation. It’s hard to believe the Broncos could play worse than they did against Kansas City. Forget talk about contending. Just puff out the chest, throw punches, and compete. It might not result in a win, but it can begin watering the plants for growth over the remainder of the season.
Renck Prediction: Colts 27, Broncos 16