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Colts defense eyes QB Manning and the prolific Broncos

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The Colts know what they must do to beat the Broncos – pressure Peyton Manning.

In a 2013 win, the Colts defense hit Manning 11 times and sacked him four. When they struggled to pressure him in Denver early this season, the Broncos put up 24 first-half points, including three touchdown throws from Manning to tight end Julius Thomas. The Colts sacked Manning just once and hit him a total of three times that game.

The most sacks Denver has allowed in a game this season is two, four different times, including Week 16 in a loss to Cincinnati where Manning was hit eight times and threw four interceptions.

Indianapolis hopes to follow suit and get Manning out of his comfort zone early in Sunday’s playoff game in Denver.

“Every time you go into a game you always try to plan your rush and rush your plan,” defensive end Cory Redding said. “Interior push is absolutely critical this week. He wants to take his steps; he wants work up in the pocket and deliver the pass to his receivers. We know that we have to get push in the pocket. We’ve all got to be on the same page every single play in order to be successful against Peyton.”

Perhaps the most frustrating stat for the Colts against Manning has been their third-down-defense. While not all were through the air, Denver converted on third down seven out of 14 times.

“It starts with us being great on first and second down,” linebacker Erik Walden said. “Get them third and long and pin our ears back and get some pressure. (Manning) gets the ball out quick. If we can get him feeling our presence early will help us a lot, get him to pump (fake) and hopefully give one of our guys time to make a play.”

The Colts’ 11th-ranked defense during the regular season allowed nearly 342 yards and 23 points per game. Denver’s offense ranked fourth, responsible for roughly 400 yards and 30 points per game.

Still, Indianapolis only allowed 144 passing yards in its 26-10 wild-card win over the Bengals and Manning is aware of Indianapolis’ improvements.

“It’s been a long time since we played them. They’ve been playing well, they do a great job on third down, getting you off the field, really make you go on a long drive,” Manning said. “They play good, field-position football. They are playing well upfront, linebackers, secondary, so it really does feel like quite some time since that last game.”

Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson has had a hand in those improvements, leading Indianapolis with 140 total tackles. The nine-year veteran will be playing in just his second career postseason game on Sunday.

“We’re playing against a great opponent; they’ve got weapons all over the board. It’s well-documented what Peyton has done throughout his career and we’re going into his home turf,” Jackson said. “We know the challenge ahead and they’ve also got to prepare for us as well.”

Manning’s ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage is well known throughout the league. Coltslinebacker Bjoern Werner stressed the importance of the defense not showing anything too early for that very reason.

“You try to listen to some of the key (audibles) we talk about all week at practice and usually they hold up, but sometimes you just have to lock in (to your assignment) and play football,” defensive back Greg Toler said. “We just got to disrupt the time between him and his receiver, get him off his mark and hopefully give those guys up front time to (pressure) him.”

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