Much will be said this week regarding Peyton Manning’s return to the home field of a team he broke numerous records and won a championship with. You’ll hear about the “matchup” between Manning and his successor in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck (+15.2 overall, including the second-best QB run grade at +5.1), who has graded better than any quarterback so far this season not named Peyton (+21.9 overall). There will probably be a mention or two about how the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts may have overlooked their Week 6 opponents due to this primetime clash between two division-leading foes with aspirations to go much deeper in the playoffs than they did last season. But, there are other aspects of this game that are also worthy of discussion. Let’s examine three of those aspects, beginning with the debut of another star performer.
Peyton Manning won’t be the only Broncos All-Pro that Colts fans will see making a noteworthy return for this Sunday night affair. Von Miller makes his first appearance of the 2013 season following a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. We’ll leave it to others to discuss Miller’s off-the-field exploits. On the field, however, few players were more dominant in 2012. In fact, we believe that only three players performed better all last season, as Miller tallied 86 combined sacks, hits and hurries, along with 15 tackles for losses. Those 86 total pressures tied him for the lead league with Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, though Miller achieved his feat on 95 less pass rush snaps. Proving again that he was a great all-around player, Miller led all 4-3 outside linebackers in Tackling Efficiency and run defense for the second consecutive season. How great was the second-year player’s run defense in 2012? Including playoffs, Miller received a +36.3 grade against the run; New England OLB Jerod Mayo was second at +8.8.
Any rust that Miller exhibits may be offset by the fact that he won’t face the most dominant offensive line out there. The Colts’ O-line ranks just 26th in the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency at 71.7, allowing 81 total pressures in just 220 passing plays. Don’t be surprised to see Denver move Miller all over the line in passing situations, as Indianapolis does not boast a single Top 20 offensive lineman in our pass blocking ratings. The underwhelming play of the Colts offensive line—in addition to the return of Miller—should make things easier for Broncos defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Robert Ayers (if healthy), who have done an admirable job in the absence of their best defender (both players are in the Top 10 at their respective positions in Pass Rushing Productivity).
Trent Richardson’s Signature Effort
When Trent Richardson was drafted third overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 NFL Draft, many expected instant success due to his collegiate performance and impressive physical abilities, if not draft status alone. At first glance, his base statistics (3.5 career yard per carry average) and rare in-season trade last month to the Colts seem to indicate that he has been unsuccessful professionally thus far. But, as our own Ben Stockwell indicated in his review of the Week 6 Colts at Chargers game, Richardson deserves some credit for the effort he puts in to gaining those minimal yards. A closer look at one of our signature stats, Elusive Rating, shows that Richardson’s combined running and receiving missed tackles forced of 29 is behind only Adrian Peterson (30) and Marshawn Lynch (32). When you factor in number of carries and receptions and yards after contact, Richardson was actually tops in the league this year with the Browns (101.9 Elusive Rating) and finished seventh in 2012 ahead of such notable running backs as Ray Rice, Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles (min. 50% of attempts).
He’ll face a tough test against the Broncos, though. The aforementioned Miller, linebackers Danny Trevathan (fourth in 4-3 OLB Tackling Efficiency) and Wesley Woodyard (higher than Luke Kuechly and James Laurinaitis in Tackling Efficiency), and a rusty Champ Bailey—the three missed tackles in his return last week matched all of 2012—all know how to bring down the ball carrier.
Knowshon Moreno vs. Colts Linebackers
As Luck would not have it, the highest-graded starting running back on the field will actually be wearing a Bronco uniform. Knowshon Moreno (+1.9 running; seventh in the NFL), another former first-round draft pick, has surprised many outside of Broncos team walls by picking up where he left off after getting injured in the playoff loss last season. While some of his numbers don’t blow you away (tied for 18th at 1.45 RB Yards per Route Run), Manning trusted Moreno enough to target him a team-high 10 times last week against Jacksonville.
Expect Manning to continue checking-down to Moreno, as four of the Colts’ linebackers have graded negatively in pass coverage. It’s unclear as of this writing whether inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman (-7.9 coverage)—the Colts’ most frequently targeted LB—will be sufficiently recovered from the concussion he sustained against the Chargers. However, backup inside linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Mario Harvey have not fared much better in pass coverage, allowing a combined 11 receptions and 87 yards after the catch on 13 targets. Therefore, we could see ILB Kavell Conner (+1.4 coverage) active for this game. Finally, should the Colts decide to blitz they may run into an immovable force, as Moreno has yet to allow a single sack, hit or hurry on 21 pass block snaps.