November 03, 2005
Breakthrough For Colts At Hand?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Cold Hard Football Facts has practically dedicated itself to proving to the world that Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning.
And it is with good reason. Indianapolis plays in the weak AFC South. Only Tennessee in recent years gave the Colts much of a division rivalry. Jacksonville is on the verge of sustained greatness, Houston still a ways away from becoming respectable. Most people go gaga over Manning and his offensive prowess, but are quick to forget who he gets those big numbers against. That includes this year.
The Colts come into Foxborough Monday night with a 7-0 record. But five of those seven wins are against teams far below .500, and the other two wins are against a 4-4 team (St. Louis) and a 4-3 team (Jacksonville). Manning has been winning, yes, but he has not been putting up 2004 numbers in doing so. And everyone is agog at how much better the Colt defense is, but when you examine who the defense went up against, you get a little skeptical (Marc Bulger ran up 28 points on this defense, while David Carr got them for 20).
Meanwhile, the Patriots are a mess in the secondary, and unlike January where Randall Gay and Asante Samuel put the clamps on the Colt receivers and the Patriots won the divisional playoff 20-3, the Patriots are vulnerable in both deep passes and runs up the gut. This may not be the kind of defense which usually confounds and befuddles Manning, or intimidates Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne or Dallas Clark. Manning may have a lot of fish out there this time, and Brady may have to engage Manning in a shootout to win this thing.
Don’t expect this game to turn out like so many of the other Colt games of recent memory. This may be more like the 35-31 nailbiter in the RCA Dome in 2003 when Willie McGinest saved the game, and maybe the season, with that goal line stuff of Edgerrin James at the end of the game. Whatever the Patriots did to Indianapolis in January to hold them to three points, it won’t happen that way this time.
Consider all the problems the Patriots face going into this year’s battle.
Run clock and keep Manning off the field? With whom? How healthy is Corey Dillon? Sure, he had a great game in January (23 carries, 144 yards), but he has been injured for the past few weeks (and no one is saying exactly what ails him, naturally). Patrick Pass had that crazy hamstring pull against Buffalo where he dropped the ball and pulled up lame. This strategy works only if Dillon is at or near 100 percent. Again, is he? We don’t know, and of course, neither will Tony Dungy.
Protect Brady from Dwight Freeney? With Nick Kaczur? It almost behooves Bill Belichick to play Daniel Graham next to Kaczur and help him as much as possible. Use Benjamin Watson for pass routes (now there’s a novel idea). Go to a multiple wide receiver set only with a lead and go back to Dillon (or whoever) late in the game to run clock. Of course, if Dillon is healthy, make it like January and run to the right side.
Shut down James? With Tedy Bruschi alone? Vince Wilfork is now a regular guest on New England Sports Tonight on FSNE. The only reason Gary Tanguay and/or Greg Dickerson didn’t ask something like “So, Vince, when do you finally begin to play like Vince Wilfork instead of getting pushed and shoved around like what we’ve seen every week?” is because they perhaps feared for their lives. Wilfork could break either of them in two like a twig. But they’d be asking a fair and appropriate question. Jeff Saturday is a decent center, but not someone who Wilfork should be afraid of. This is an offensive line the Patriot front seven can and must deal with, and James cannot be allowed to gouge them like Willis McGahee, Tatum Bell, Mike Anderson and LaDainian Tomlinson did.
Shut down the Colt receivers? Here is the one area where Belichick and Eric Mangini may not have an answer this time. You almost have to put Samuel on Harrison, but that means that Duane Starks will draw either Wayne or Brandon Stokley. These two guys will kill the Patriots more than Harrison might. Eugene Wilson cannot help out in more than one place. Belichick might have to find out what Ellis Hobbs is made of. But this is an area where the Patriots are incredibly vulnerable.
So, how do the Patriots go about winning this one?
First of all, nobody thought Gay and Samuel would amount to anything last year, and look what happened. If Mangini found the answer in assignments and communication (which is what Joe Theismann of ESPN said was the main culprit on the touchdown bomb to Eric Moulds), and that Starks and Samuel just need to run their assignments better, who knows what can happen. If the Patriots choose to, they can perhaps play a soft zone, keep everything in front of them, and hold Indianapolis to field goals. But if Mangini and Belichick did their homework in the film room and found that Starks actually can cover if he plays within the system better, Patriot Nation might just be pleasantly surprised.
If Brady has time to throw, and if Dillon is healthy to run as normal, the Patriots should not have any problem scoring points on their own. Indianapolis’ defensive “improvement” rings hollow when your competition is Baltimore, Cleveland, San Francisco and Tennessee, whereby these four teams all have a measly two wins each. The Colts still have a small defense which the Patriots can push and bully around, and Brady should really fear nothing.
Therefore, if it comes to Patriot touchdowns versus Colt field goals, advantage New England. The Patriots have been better of late in the red zone on both sides of the ball, and the Patriots had better be able to convert red zone drives into more touchdowns than field goals if they are to win.
But if Manning does indeed get into a comfort zone, if James has his way with the Patriot defense, if Colt receivers find lots of wide open seams which break off into touchdowns, the Colts will have finally turned a corner. Manning has to show that he can win in Foxborough, and this Monday night contest is perhaps his best shot yet to knock off what has to be the bane of his existence.
And all it will take is this one time, and the Patriots will never be in Manning’s head again.
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