- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Denver’s top-ranked defense spent the early part of this week studying Indianapolis’ struggling offense.

On Tuesday evening, the Broncos started over.

The Colts’ decision to change offensive coordinators at midseason has turned Sunday’s showdown between Peyton Manning and his former team into a guessing game.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “We expect them to run the majority of the things that they’ve been running. Some little wrinkles here and there, but that’s what you’ve got to be prepared for.”

It’s yet another test for a defense that has exceeded all expectations this season.

Denver (7-0) leads the NFL in almost every major category and hasn’t given up a first-quarter point all season. An interception return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery run back for a TD produced the decisive scores in the Broncos’ first two wins. Last week, they befuddled Green Bay’s potent offense by holding MVP Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards passing.

Now they’ll face an Indy offense that has played so poorly Pep Hamilton lost his job after the Colts’ third straight loss.

Andrew Luck has thrown a league-high 12 interceptions and was added to the injury report Wednesday with an undisclosed ankle injury. Receivers have struggled to get open, the offensive line has had trouble protecting Luck, and Indy (3-5) has been shut out in the first half four times this season.

At first glance, it looks like a mismatch. But the Colts do have one advantage: the element of surprise.

And nobody’s saying much about how things might change under new play caller Rob Chudzinski.

“We’re just going to try to clean things up that need to be cleaned up, fine-tune some things, simplify and give these guys a chance to go out there and execute at a high level and not think, and just play,” coach Chuck Pagano said.

It’s a stark contrast to the last meeting between Manning’s current team and his old one. Back then, in the divisional round of the playoffs, Manning was struggling and the Broncos were eliminated - a game Denver has not forgotten.

“That’s my motivation. I mentioned that to the defensive line earlier today,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “I said, ‘Don’t forget. These guys knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so don’t sleep on them.’”

This defense won’t - even if it is not entirely sure what to expect Sunday afternoon.

“Our expectation is to come out every week and shut the opposing team down,” Ward said. “We’re mad if we give them a field goal. That’s our goal every week - no points.”

Here are some other things to watch Sunday:

PEYTON’S PLACE: Manning probably expected to break most of Brett Favre’s career records at Lucas Oil Stadium. On Sunday, he’ll actually have a chance to do it - twice. If the Broncos win, Manning will break Favre’s record for regular-season wins by a quarterback (186). Manning also needs 284 yards passing to pass Favre (71,838) and become the NFL’s career leader. And it could all happen in the stadium Manning built.

COLTS’ DEFENSE: Indy’s defense may be ranked No. 29, but the biggest problem has been turnovers that have forced it to defend short fields. Take Monday night. Carolina grained a combined 161 yards on its six scoring drives. If the turnovers stop, and the Colts’ defense can be stout, it may be the remedy for most of Indy’s ailments.

THE DAVIS BOWL: Two years ago, Vernon and Vontae Davis were supposed to square off in San Francisco. Instead, the 49ers tight end was inactive with an injured hamstring. The two brothers are now getting another chance - one that didn’t exist until Vernon Davis was acquired by Denver in a trade Monday. It’s not yet clear how big a role Denver’s Davis might have. But he could play, and if he does, the brothers could be lined up against one another Sunday.

TOP 10: Colts receiver Andre Johnson hasn’t been as productive as expected. But Chudzinski, who called the plays when Johnson attended the University of Miami, can put Johnson in position to crack the top 10 in receiving yards. He needs 15 yards to pass Hall of Famer Cris Carter for No. 11 in league history, and 48 yards to pass the injured Steve Smith for No. 10.

PAGANO WATCH: There has been plenty of speculation about Pagano’s job status, and with good reason. He’s in the final year of his contract, and the Colts haven’t met their lofty expectations. Jim Irsay has never made a midseason change at head coach since replacing his late father, Robert, as team owner. But if the Colts don’t play well Sunday, next week’s bye would be the perfect time for another surprising change.

___

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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