18 Things to Watch for during Sunday's Colts/Pats Game
The War of 1812 will never be forgotten.
Last week, the Colts skated by the Texans in a huge game. This week, it's the Pats. It needs no further introduction. If the Colts win, they can coast to the number one overall seed, and the Pats will almost assuredly be playing the opening week of the playoffs. If the Pats win, their hopes of a bye stay alive, and the Colts will have to keep it in high gear through the end of December. This week, be on the lookout for:
1. Watch the Legends. Let's get this out of the way first. Manning, Brady. Brady, Manning. Tom Manning Peyton Brady. Pem. Toy. Ingdy. Dying Branning. Manbra. There's no settling this now, no matter what happens this week. Let's move along, shall we?
2. Watch the Legends try to stay upright. This is the real issue. The Colts and Pats are 1 and 2 in adjusted sack percentage. The Colts have a better rush, but their O line has started to show serious cracks (5 sacks the last two weeks). Manning and Brady will be looking deep in this game, and the QB who has more time to throw will make the big plays. Andrea Kramer will snugging up next to one of them after the game, but which one depends on which team protects their QB better.
3. Watch Welker verses Lacey. This may be the biggest mismatch on the field in favor of the Patriots. Lacey will be playing zone, so Welker will get his catches. The key is if Lacey can have tight enough coverage to bring him down quickly after the catch. This is the biggest test of the young corner's life, and because Kelvin Hayden isn't walking through the door this week, he has to pass it for the Colts to win.
4. Watch for courage. Belichick is the master of going for it on fourth and short. Last year, he inexplicably kicked a field goal on fourth and 1 from the 7. The Pats lost by three. This season Jim Caldwell has been a mixed bag. Last week he punted in the 'maroon zone' twice and it almost cost the Colts. The team that plays more aggressively and converts fourth downs will have a major advantage.
5. Watch Charlie Johnson. Early in the year he was solid, but all our fears have been coming true in recent weeks. He's been dicey in run blocking all season, and last week gave up two sacks. A site that analyzes every player on every play recently rated him as the worst offensive player for the Colts. CJ first burst into our consciousness with one of the worst fourth quarters in history against the Pats. His play will be watched closely this Sunday. If he can't keep Manning clean, panic will start to set in among Colts fans.
6. Watch for the record. Freeney needs a sack in Sunday's game to tie the NFL record for consecutive games with a sack. Moreover, a big game (2+ sacks and/or forced fumble) will vault Freeney into the discussion for defensive player of the year. 93 always plays big in the biggest games, so you can expect to see him in the Patriots backfield often on Sunday night.
7. Watch for the big play. Don Brown is back (this time I mean it!). While the Addai v Brown debate has burned up the internet, the truth is the Colts have missed Brown. Addai isn't an every down back, and Colts don't want him to be one. Brown's return adds a dash of danger that can only serve to help the Colts. His blocking isn't good enough yet for him to be on the field for more than 30-40% of the plays, but when he's there, it helps. It helps to change up backs in the red zone when the lead back gets run down from the first 60 yards of the drive. The Pats are a better run defense than pass D, so the Colts will need Brown's best effort.
8. Watch Clark verses whoever Belichick decides to play on him. One of the big mysteries will be how the Pats choose to contain Dallas Clark. Belichick has been inventive in the past with mixed results. It's possible that one of the safeties like Brandon McGowan will have to come down to cover him, which could open things up deep. If the Pats can't contain Clark, especially on third down, the Colts won't have trouble moving the ball.
9. Watch for a lack of respect. Not from the teams and the players, but from the fans. There is a weird vibe to this game. Both team's fan bases are fairly confident the other team isn't actually any good. Usually when the two teams play, the fans are nervous. Not so much this year. Both sides view the other as a paper tiger. Someone is about to be proved wrong in a big way.
10. Watch Marooney. The Colts defense has had success this year by making teams one dimensional. The Pats will try to establish a rejuvenated Lawrence Marooney on the ground. Marooney has had success in recent weeks, upping his YPC over four yards a carry. The Colts have become a credible run D, with a DVOA below zero (which is good on defense). If they can get the Pats to waste plays on the ground, it will go along way to holding down their offense.
11. Watch for the long field. The Colts and Pats have two of the best kick coverage units in the game. They also field below average kick return units. While a big return can breakout at any time, these two offenses are likely to be starting around the 20 all night. The Colts and Pats force the most plays per point on defense anyway, so expect long grinding drives with lots of key third downs. This likely won't be a track meet.
12. Watch the red zone. The Colts offense has struggled inside of the opponents 30 in the last few weeks. Though Donald Brown's return should help, the Pats field the best power run defense in the NFL (per FO). With the way Indy has struggled in short yardage recently (despite a nice start to the year), the Colts should be looking to throw even in close on third and 1. This could also hurt Indy if they are trying to run out the clock late in the game. The Colts have not been successful in two of three opportunities to do so this year (Houston and Jacksonville). For the Pats, they have Randy Moss, the best redzone weapon of all time. Just throw a lob up about 8 feet high and let him jump for it.
13. Watch for a scuffle in the studio. Tony Dungy will be politely diagramming a play from the epic Chiefs/Raiders tilt (throw out the records when those two get together! Actually, save yourself the trouble and throw out the teams). Suddenly, Rodney Harrison, over-emotional from the thought of not being on the field for the monster game and crazy with roid rage will lash out, throwing a elbow to the jaw of the venerable ex-coach. An enraged Dungy will spring to his feet and announce, "In the words of Dr. King, I have a dream...of kicking your ASS!" Dungy then decks Harrison and begins to let out all his pent up hostility toward Keith Olbermann. Meanwhile, Costas curls up into a ball and weeps softly. Hey, it could happen. Colts/Pats will drive you crazy.
14. Watch for the one clear advantage. If there is one area that the Pats have huge leg up on Indy, it's in place kicking. Gostkowski has become one of the best kickers in the league, and the Colts have Matt Stover. Stover has hit all his kicks, but his range is limited. These games are always tight, and could come down to a field goal late in the half or game. The Colts will need to get an extra 5-10 yards more than the Pats in those situations (unless they let McAfee kick from long distance). Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
15. Watch the implications. For the Colts, a win keeps them two games clear of the Bengals/Steelers (and probably Denver) in the race for the #1 seed. A loss could really tighten things up if the Steelers (who have 1 in conference loss) win. The Steelers would automatically win any tiebreaker over the Colts at the end of the year because one of their losses was to an NFC team, and the Colts already finished inter-conference play at 4-0. For the Pats, a win not only keeps them alive for the first overall seed, but a loss would throw them back into the scrum, and increase the odds they will play wildcard weekend. It would also put them (potentially) just one game ahead of the Jets with one game left to play with them. The Jets already beat the Pats, so not even a division title would be assured. The key game for both teams is the Pittsburgh game. If the Steelers go to 7-2, the pressure mounts for both clubs to win.
16. Watch the handshake. Two years ago, Belchick gave Dungy a frosty greeting at midfield telling him to "F**k off". He's never been known for his sportsmanship, so if the Pats lose the game it will be interesting to see how he greets Jim Caldwell. Likewise, the media always loves the Brady Manning hand shake moment. The look of frustration on the loser's face is always precious to the other side.
17. Watch for empty pockets. Prices for Colts/Pats tickets on ebay and Stubhub are down. In years past, selling four Colts/Pats tickets could pay for three or four weeks of games. Now they running at about double face. The stands will be full, but most people there are feeling the crunch, and fewer people are willing to fly into town just for a regular season game. Considering what a big game this is, it's a bad sign tickets aren't going for more.
18. Watch for iron grip. The Colts defense is better than people realize. The Pats will struggle to protect Brady and have to settle for field goals over touchdowns. DZ thinks Indy will snake out a 21-18 win. Demond says 24-20, Colts.