for this game

Broncos defense faces biggest test against Colts

Oct 24, 2006 - 11:34 PM Indianapolis (6-0) at Denver (5-1) Sunday 4:15 pm EST

DENVER (Ticker) -- Mike Shanahan did not have to get past the Indianapolis Colts en route to the AFC championship game last season. He may not be as lucky this time around.

Shanahan and the Denver Broncos host the unbeaten Colts on Sunday in a battle of division leaders.

Indianapolis posted a 41-10 playoff win in January 2004 and a 49-24 postseason victory in January 2005 over the Broncos, but failed to reach the Super Bowl each time. Last season, both teams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.

Shanahan would like to prove that he has the defense that can contain the Colts this time around. Denver has allowed a league-low 44 points and just two touchdowns this season.

The Broncos' defense is built around a speedy trio of linebackers - Ian Gold, Al Wilson and D.J. Williams - and a secondary headlined by six-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey and seven-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch.

But both Bailey and Lynch were on the field in the Broncos' embarrassing playoff loss at the RCA Dome in January 2005.

Peyton Manning passed for 457 yards - the second-highest single-game total in postseason history - and four touchdowns and even ran for a score in that mismatch. The Colts set franchise playoff records for points, touchdowns (7), total yards (529) and passing yards.

With Bailey shadowing seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne ended up hurting the Broncos with 10 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns.

Now with second-year player Darrent Williams at the other corner instead of Roc Alexander, Shanahan doesn't expect to get victimized by Wayne.

Tight end Dallas Clark also had a big game for the Colts, catching six passes for 112 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown.

"That was the best offense I have ever played against," Lynch said. "It was really a helpless feeling in the secondary having to deal with their attack. We believe we're much better equipped to face them this time."

Jake Plummer passed for 284 yards and two touchdowns for the Broncos, but both of those scores came in the third quarter after the Colts had already built a 35-3 lead.

In the 41-10 playoff win the previous season, Manning completed 22-of-26 passes for 377 yards and five touchdowns. Harrison caught seven passes for 133 yards and two scores and Brandon Stokley added three receptions for 131 yards and two TDs.

"They dominated us in those football games," Shanahan said. "Hopefully, we can play much better defensively. It will be quite a challenge. Peyton is a special quarterback. Offensively, we'll need to control the ball and keep their offense off the field. The key will be for us to get balance in our running game and passing game."

Tatum Bell appears to be on his way to becoming the sixth different 1,000-yard rusher with Denver under Shanahan, following Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and Reuben Droughns. Bell leads the AFC with 585 rushing yards.

When the Broncos acquired Bailey for Portis in March 2004, they also picked up a second-round pick in the deal. Shanahan took Bell with that selection.

The Colts rank last in the NFL against the run, but held Portis to 43 yards on 12 carries in last week's 36-22 win over Washington.

Manning threw for 342 yards and four touchdowns, moving into 10th place all-time with 256 scoring passes.

Wayne caught seven passes for 122 yards and a touchdown and Harrison added seven receptions for 73 yards and two scores.

Indianapolis is the ninth team in NFL history to start consecutive seasons with at least six wins. Last year, the Colts were 13-0 before losing at home to San Diego.

Despite winning five in a row, the Broncos have yet to score more than 17 points in a game. Jake Plummer is struggling, completing 52 percent (88-of-169) of his passes for 984 yards and four touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Last week's 17-7 win at Cleveland was a costly one for the Broncos. Reliable left tackle Matt Lepsis suffered a torn right ACL in the first half, ending his season.

After becoming a full-time starter in 1999, Lepsis has helped the Broncos rush for the most yards in the NFL during that period.

Rookie free agent Erik Pears replaced Lepsis last week, but Shanahan may be tempted to switch starting right guard Cooper Carlisle to left tackle for Sunday's game against the Colts.

Either way, three-time Pro Bowl right end Dwight Freeney should be salivating for the Colts. He recorded 51 sacks in his first four seasons, but has none this year.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!