Thursday Night Football Preview: Colts, Broncos have plenty in common heading into Mile High clash

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bart Young/AP/Shutterstock (13428070gl) Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) plays against the San Francisco 49ers during a NFL football game, in Denver 49ers Broncos Football, Denver, United States – 25 Sep 2022

Thursday Night Football Preview: Colts, Broncos have plenty in common heading into Mile High clash

Indianapolis Colts (1-2-1) at Denver Broncos (2-2)

Time/TV: 7:20pm CT/Prime Video

The Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos have had plenty in common through the first month of the 2022 NFL season. Both teams debuted new quarterbacks who had been the face of the franchise in another city for nine or more years, and both have been disappointed by the early returns. Matt Ryan led the Falcons for 14 seasons, coming within a second half collapse of winning a Super Bowl there. Russell Wilson took the Seattle Seahawks to the Super Bowl twice in his nine seasons there, and delivered a championship to Seattle in 2014 over his new team in Denver. Both quarterbacks have spoken ad nauseum about the adjustment period to a new franchise and system, and the growing pains have been apparent with both offenses averaging 16 points or fewer through four games. Having seen each quarterback’s apex from afar, fans in Indianapolis and Denver have grown increasingly impatient as the mediocre start to 2022 moves along. 

Unfortunately, poor injury luck has been a theme for both the Colts and Broncos as well. Indianapolis and Denver will both be without their lead running backs for Thursday Night Football after Javonte Williams and Jonathan Taylor both sustained injuries in Week 4. Each team is dealing with a litany of other injuries all over the roster, making it difficult to fully know what to expect when they match up. Denver is also missing defensive stalwarts Randy Gregory and Justin Simmons, while Indianapolis will play without star linebacker Shaq Leonard and safety Julian Blackmon. 

Despite a losing record in the early going, the Colts still may find themselves atop the AFC South division by weekend’s end if they manage to beat the Broncos. Should Denver move to 3-2 with a win, they’ll have the same opportunity in the AFC West should Kansas City lose to the Raiders Monday Night. 

A key matchup for the Broncos’ defense will be cornerback Patrick Surtain II against Colts’ WR Michael Pittman Jr., who figures to play a big factor in Frank Reich’s game plan without Jonathan Taylor. Denver might struggle to produce pressure on Matt Ryan without Randy Gregory’s services at their disposal, making their play in coverage crucial if they want to play to the defensive standard they’d set before their loss at Las Vegas. Denver will need more from Russell Wilson as well, who finally seemed to come alive in rookie head coach Nathaniel Hackett’s offense last week. Melvin Gordon figures to take on much of the load with Javonte Williams out for the season and avoiding the fumble issues that have plagued him through four weeks is his best bet to keep that role. The Colts’ offense will turn to Nyheim Hines without Taylor, who they’re likely to target quite often in the short passing game. 

The quarterbacks will always grab the headlines, especially those trying to make a more positive first impression on a new franchise and fan base. Thursday’s game might be decided instead by these teams’ respective depth, as each is dealing with significant losses on both sides of the football. Whichever team falls short Thursday night will face a significant uphill battle to contend for playoff spot, but the Broncos’ division is far less forgiving than Indy’s AFC South.

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