NFL Week 8: Colts to Put Broncos' Defense to the Test

Editor's note: senior NFL writer John Clayton's "First and 10" column takes you around the league, with a look at the best game of the week, followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 8 of the 2006 season.

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos

After 2003 and 2004, Mike Shanahan thought outside the box when making plans.

While most coaches rebuild their teams to win the division, Shanahan went beyond the AFC West. He worried about the Indianapolis Colts, and he did it with good reason. In the 2003 season, the Broncos went 10-6 but lost to the Colts in the playoffs 41-10. So, trying to keep up with the Colts, Shanahan started to work on his defense.

He picked up Champ Bailey, the game's best cornerback. The Broncos went 10-6 in '04 but lost to the Colts 49-24. For 2005, the Broncos grabbed every Cleveland Browns defensive lineman they could and the strategy worked well enough for the Broncos to advance to the AFC title game. What also helped was not playing the Colts. Sunday's home game against the Colts is the ultimate test for Shanahan's defense, which has given up only two touchdown drives in 65 possessions. The success can be attributed more to the talent than the scheme. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer abandoned a lot of the successful blitzes of last season and concentrated on winning with talent.

In many ways, Sunday's game is a playoff preview for the Broncos, and it's an important one. But there isn't as much pressure as you would think. The Broncos are 5-1 and lead the AFC West by a game. Sure, a win over the undefeated Colts would give them a tiebreaker against the Colts for possible home-field advantage, but the idea is to see how good this defense really is.

The Colts enter with the league's third-ranked offense, but it really hasn't kicked into gear yet. The running game is just starting to click as backup Joseph Addai gets more comfortable making the jump from college to the NFL. Third receiver Brandon Stokley has missed most of the season with injuries, so the three-receiver offense hasn't really gotten going.

Slow starts have put the team in a position in which Peyton Manning has had to orchestrate second-half comebacks, but a lot of those problems were attributed to the defense's inability to stop the run early. The addition of defensive tackle Anthony McFarland helped solve that problem. The Colts will have an interesting test trying to stop Shanahan's efficient run scheme.

This season, it's offense that worries Shanahan. Jake Plummer has generated only seven touchdown drives in 69 possessions. While Plummer has the complete support of Shanahan, fans are calling for a quarterback change. Plummer's problem has been starting slowly. His first-quarter passing statistics have been virtually nonexistent. One of Shanahan's formulas for success is getting a lead and letting the defense pressure opposing quarterbacks.

This game is a fascinating matchup, a test of elite AFC teams. Shanahan just wants to see how well he's done in catching up on defense to what the Colts' offense can do.

And 10. Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers

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