The marquee for this Denver Broncos vs. Indianapolis Colts game would read “Peyton Manning vs. Andrew Luck,” but there’s another show just as intriguing.
Indirectly, it’s the league’s leader in sacks vs. the one gunning for the title despite just serving a six-game suspension. Directly it’s Robert Mathis vs. Peyton Manning and Von Miller vs. Andrew Luck.
Mathis is tied for the lead with Justin Houston of the Chiefs with 9.5 sacks on the year. Mathis spent eight seasons wishing he could touch Manning in training camp and in practices. Now, he’s got his chance.
Dwight Freeney got excited at the prospect of hitting Manning when he went to San Diego in the off season.
“I mean, it will be no different than how it was in practice but then I actually get to make contact,” Freeney said. “There’s no red jersey, there’s no halo, there’s no I can’t do this, I can’t do that. It’s just go after him. I’ve seen him more than anybody probably has seen him.” – Dwight Freeney via USA Today
Mathis has to be feeling the same way heading into Sunday night’s matchup.
“That’s something, if I could avoid, I’d be in favor of it, but it would be a challenge,” Manning said after Wednesday’s practice in regard to the sacks. “Like I said, we finished the game against Jacksonville with our right guard (Louis Vasquez) playing tackle. Our starting left tackle (Ryan Clady) has been out for the season and we’re playing in one of the loudest places to play, if not the loudest, against a great pass-rush team. We’ve got a great challenge from that standpoint.”
While the Broncos will be working on keeping Manning upright, Miller will be trying to drill Luck with that extra 16 pounds of muscle that he’s added.
“He’s going to make a huge difference,” Chris Harris said of his teammate. “Teams have just been coming out and saying, ‘It’s going to be seven-on-seven; we’re just going to throw the ball.’ If they come out and do that now, we have our rusher now to where they can’t just sit back and pass the ball all day like that.”
Miller participated in his first practice on Wednesday and looked sharp according to reports.
“I felt a lot stronger, quicker and faster,” Miller said. “It’s not like I’m running 100 yards or 400 yards, so I definitely felt good. All the feedback I was getting from my teammates and everything, I definitely felt like it was good.”
Miller will be going after a quarterback that can keep plays alive with his legs and maintain a strong presence in the pocket. Luck has only been sacked 13 times, which is 21st in the league.
While Miller hasn’t recorded a sack this season, he’s got fresh legs, and 30 sacks to his name in his first two seasons.
Like I said, it’s not Peyton Manning vs. Andrew Luck. It’s Manning vs. Mathis. It’s Luck vs. Miller. These will be two quarterbacks trying to keep their heads attached to their bodies, titanium in the neck or not.