Colts QB Peyton Manning vs. Broncos CBs Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman: Bailey (leg/ankle) and Goodman (thigh) were both hurt in last week's win over Seattle. If they can't play, Manning could wind up facing a pair of rookie cornerbacks — Perrish Cox and Cassius Vaughn.
Broncos QB Kyle Orton vs. Colts DE Dwight Freeney: Orton is a mobile quarterback and the Broncos like to move him around in the pocket. Freeney, who had a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles in last week's win over the Giants, admits that he enjoys playing in Denver with the Broncos' game-day atmosphere.
Colts RB Joseph Addai vs. Broncos S Brian Dawkins: Addai is the Mr. Do-Everything for the Colts offense — runner, pass blocker, and pass receiver. Dawkins plays a similar leadership role on the Denver defense.
Broncos WRs Brandon Lloyd and Demaryius Thomas vs. Colts CB Kelvin Hayden: Lloyd already has a NFL-best four catches of 25-plus yards and Hayden has so far proven vulnerable to the deep ball, drawing a long pass-interference penalty vs. Houston's Andre Johnson and getting beaten down the sideline for a TD by the Giants' Hakeem Nicks.
Thomas is the wild-card here, though. He subbed for Lloyd in his league debut last week and put up eight catches for 97 yards with a TD. The size of Brandon Marshall gave the Colts fits last year to the tune 21 catches, and while Thomas is a work in progress, he has the same kind of size (6-3, 229) that could prove bothersome for the smaller DB (6-foot, 195).
Broncos CB/S Nate Jones vs. Colts TE Dallas Clark: The Broncos problems healthwise at cornerback nothwithstanding, Clark is a true wild card working the middle of the field. SS Brian Dawkins doesn't have the foot speed to match Clark and other than perhaps ILB D.J. Williams, the options at linebacker aren't appealing, either. Williams is athletic but doesn't have the change-of-direction skills needed to combat someone who can get downfield as quickly as, and possesses the shiftiness of, Clark.
That leaves Jones or FS Renaldo Hill as the most likely possibilities. Denver used to use a third safety to cover the elite AFC West tight ends, and if McBath plays, that's a possibility, too. But Jones is the team's regular nickel back and a part-time safety and at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, he has the physical demeanor to handle the challenge.
COLTS GAME PLAN: The Colts want to control the clock while getting off to a quick start offensively on Sunday. While the running game showed improvement in the win over New York last week, Indianapolis will need a similar effort against the Broncos.
Defensively, the Colts can't let the Denver quarterback create plays on his own. Indianapolis has to get after the quarterback and force him into turning the ball over. The team's run defense will be tested by the Broncos once again.
BRONCOS GAME PLAN: The Broncos will have to be judicious in their blitz packages against the cerebral Manning. Denver will instead likely attempt to send four man pressure from different angles out of a 3-4 front, borrowing a blueprint from Houston, which had some success giving the Colts QB happy feet with various stunts. Communication on the back end also is being stressed to help offset the fast-paced, no huddle Indy will implement.
The Broncos offensive objective is to get off to a fast start to counterbalance the quick-strike ability that Indianapolis brings to the table. But the bottom line is having at least some success with the running game to be able to successfully work the play-action game. McDaniels has pointed out to his team that Indy has led in 61 of their last 65 games and must be prepared to play from behind at some point. Denver fell behind 21-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium last year but then held the Colts without a first down for 22 minutes, 39 seconds with four three-and-outs and three Manning interceptions. Chances are the Broncos don't defer this year in hopes of squeezing out an extra offensive possession.
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