This week’s edition of Thursday Night Football comes to us live from Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado as the Indianapolis Colts head West to take on the Denver Broncos today (Thursday @ 8:15 PM ET).
It is a battle of two middling teams as the Colts currently sit at 1-2-1 and the Broncos at 2-2. Both records are good enough for third place in their respective divisions, the AFC South and AFC West.
New Quarterback, Who Dis?
Both the Broncos and Colts enter this game with several things in common, the most notable of which is both teams have been using brand new quarterbacks this year. And neither has really delivered on the kind of results the Broncos or Colts had been expecting.
Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson have looked more like beat-up used clunkers with nearly 100,000 miles on them than they have brand new vehicles. At their respective ages, it’s not all that surprising to have seen both quarterbacks having lost a step, but it is surprising to the degree to which it has happened. Especially in Denver with Wilson. The younger of the two, Wilson came to the Broncos by way of the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson’s final season in Seattle was a solid one as the mobile QB threw for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. It backed up a career that saw Wilson establish himself as one of the top quarterbacks. So, when Denver had a chance to grab Wilson and shore up their rocky quarterback situation of the last few years, they took it. The only problem is, Wilson has been a shell of the guy he was in Seattle.
In his first four games in Denver, Wilson has been at best, average. His numbers have him on pace for his lowest career totals in passing yards, rushing yards, and total touchdowns as Wilson has accrued just five over the first few games. Now, that’s not to say Wilson won’t bounce back and become the QB Denver paid handsomely to acquire. It’s just to say he hasn’t been that guy yet. And there are several factors that have gone into Wilson’s hopeful-temporary decline, not all of which fall on his shoulders. For starters, Wilson went from playing under established, successful head coach Pete Carroll to rookie first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett is still learning how to be a head coach and as a result, has made some questionable decisions over the first weeks of the season. Wilson hasn’t been perfect either though, as the veteran QB has failed to capture the same throwing/rushing dual dominance that made him such a sought-after commodity.
Over in Indianapolis, Matt Ryan was a less sought-after commodity, but one that the Colts believed would be an upgrade over what they had at the position for the last few years. Indy has been looking for their future quarterback ever since Andrew Luck’s early retirement several seasons ago and what they’ve found has been less than great. The Colts have experimented with a revolving door of NFL veterans, finally settling on Matt Ryan this season. Ryan came to the Colts by way of the Atlanta Falcons, where he spent a career establishing himself as a top-10 signal caller in the league. Ryan was vastly underrated in Atlanta as in his younger days, he really was a great guy at the position. Ryan had good pocket awareness and a great arm. He still has these things to some degree, but his status has lost luster with age and lack of results in big games. That said, both Ryan and the Colts hoped a change of scenery would reawaken his best days. That hasn’t been the case just yet.
Matt Ryan was supposed to make the Colts contenders, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Ryan has just five touchdowns to pair with his five interceptions, many of which have been costly. His 1,125 yards are good enough for fourth-best in the NFL, but that hasn’t translated into Colts’ wins as the team has just one this season. Indy has some bad losses as well, which much like in Denver, not all of that falls on the QB’s shoulders. But Ryan does hold some blame as he hasn’t led his team the way the Colts had been hoping.
The truth of the matter is, right now, both Wilson and Ryan have been less than advertised. This is a long season and both still have plenty of time to turn it around. However, at least for the time being, they’ll both need to do so with uncertain running games as the starting backs in both Denver and Indy will be out for Thursday night’s game.
Rushing to Judgment
While the quarterback situation is about even right now, the rushing game has been anything but.
Jonathan Taylor, while not running like the absolutely out-of-his-mind guy he did last year, has still been productive for the Colts. Taylor is sixth in the league in rushing yards and third in attempts. Indy has relied heavily on their star back this season and it’s been okay. Taylor is averaging just four yards a carry, which ranks 33rd in the NFL.
In Denver, Javonte Williams has been having an average season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry for a total of 204 yards this season. In a normal Russell-Wilson offense, the running back benefits from Wilson’s own running, but this year neither guy has really been able to bolster the other. And now that is likely not to happen as Williams tore his ACL last week and will possibly be out for the rest of the season.
That means both the Broncos and Colts, who are dealing with Taylor’s ankle injury, will be without their starting backs for this important game. Neither team can afford another loss if they hope to keep competitive in their tough divisions and the loss of both starting backs could be significant. Likely more so for Denver, whose backup running back situation is much more fluid than what is going on in Indy. Behind Taylor, backup Nyheim Hines is waiting in the wings. Hines has only rushed the ball eight times but he’s been used successfully in the short passing game, wracking up 114 yards on 17 receptions. He’ll now have to take on the role as lead back and time will tell if he is capable of filling in for Taylor for however long he may be out.
Entering this game at home, the Broncos are favored -3 with a total set at 42. Both teams right now have some concerns and both need to find a way to start winning games consistently. That said, there is a real home-field advantage when playing in the Rocky Mountains, probably more so than any other home-field advantage in football. Battling the elements and the altitude are sometimes tough for opposing teams, especially guys who haven’t really played much there in their careers like Ryan. For that reason, take the Broncos as home favorites, and look for the under on 42 as the Broncos and Colts are tied for last in the league in total offensive touchdowns with just six apiece.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.