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Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Patriots/Colts game
It's always a hoot when old friends get together
Last week's Eyes wasn't far off, on anything but the score that is. But why dwell on the past? Especially when the most hotly anticipated game of the year is coming up tomorrow night. It's finally here! Colts vs Pats, let the hype...just sort of peter out. This season hasn't gone the way fans of either one of these once dominant teams have wanted, but with one eye on the past and the other on the future, it's easy to miss seeing just what will happen this week. Be watching for:
1. Points. Neither one of these teams is really clicking right now, although the Pats have had a couple of solidish games in a row. The big weakness on both clubs is in the secondary, where the Pats got old fast and the Colts got injured. Now New England has also lost cheater/thug/team leader Rodney Harrison forever and the Colts lost the only viable nickle back on the roster in Marlin Jackson. Wes Welker and Reggie Wayne may be in for huge games.
2. Watch for a course correction. Everyone has been questioning why Peyton Manning has had such low numbers. Some of that is due to injuries to himself and the offense culminating in a massive loss of practice time. Some has to do with a brutal schedule of pass defenses. In just 7 games, Manning has played 4 of the top 5 defenses in terms of passer rating. In fact, he's played the three best in consecutive weeks. Both the Titans and the Packers allow opponents under 60. The Ravens and Bears join the Bucs in the top five. The truth is that the Colts ran into the worst kind of opponents at a time when the running game was struggling and the passing game was out of sync. New England's opponent passer rater is almost 90. Manning is going off this week.
3. Watch for anger. 18 said the Colts needed to start playing with some. Bill Belchick's body composition is like 45% anger (the rest is a mix of acid, condescension, moral decay, and sunshine-just to screw with your mind). These teams hate each other. Both need a statement win. This game could get ugly fast.
4. Watch for stability. The Colts expect to start the same offensive line in consecutive games for the first time this season. The line played very decent against a good defense last Monday, and everyone should benefit from a solid week of playing and practicing together. Watch for the run game to continue to improve and for Manning to stay clean in the pocket.
5. Watch the walking wounded. The Colts may well get three key contributors back this week, but don't be surprised if they don't live up to expectations right away. Addai, Sanders, and Hayden are all due back, but especially Addai might not be at full strength. Watch for him to split carries with Dom generously.
6. Watch the safety/linebacker/corner. When Clint Session struggled in coverage last week, the Colts pulled him in obvious passing downs, and moved Bethea into his spot. Now that Sanders is back, the Colts are looking for ways to keep hard hitting Melvin Bullitt on the field at the same time. In nickel situations, watch for Bullitt to play the slot receiver or even to slide in as a linebacker in the zone.
7. Watch for bouncing balls. Indy has not gotten many breaks this season when it comes to fumbles. They are 5th in the league with 13 forced fumbles, but have only recovered 5 of them. All it would take to turn things around is for the team to recover at a normal rate. The defense forced no turnovers against Tennessee despite forcing several tipped balls and near picks. Grabbing a few loose balls will help the defense not only get off the field for one drive, but give them the rest they'll need to stay off the field later in the game.
8. Watch the watch. Some quarterbacks are born with a stopwatch in their heads, Matt Cassel was born with a sundial. He's been solid on throws, but his pocket presence is so bad that if it was gaydar he'd still be pining for KD Lang. If he doesn't fix his internal timing system, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be glad to give it an adjustment.
9. Watch for Wes Welker. With no true physical corner to handle him in the slot, Welker my well operate with impunity over the middle Sunday night. He slaughtered Indy last year, catching the game clinching first down. With Marlin Jackson out for the year, he represents the single biggest mismatch on the field for the Pats. Even 4th string CB Dante Hughes is banged up for the Colts, leaving them scrabbling for someone to play Welker.
10. Watch for the 4-4-3. Dungy responded to the run heavy Titans with a new alignment that brought a safety down into the box on virtually every play. It was very effective at limiting the running offense of the Titans. Surprisingly, the Pats have the 6th most rushing yards in the NFL despite a myriad of injuries to key backs. With the Zombie back on the field, watch for the Colts to try and make the Pats one dimensional.
11. Watch for Tim Jennings on Randy Moss. I just threw up a little in my mouth. The secondary has gone from becoming a strength to a major liability thanks to injuries. I expect teams to throw freely on the Colts for the rest of the year.
12. Watch for tears. From the scalpers at least. For the last several years, the Indy-New England tilts were one of the best money makers around for ticket brokers. Demond would sell our four tickets, buy back a single and essentially pay for half the season ticket. He always tried to sell to Indy fans, but one time a guy with a Broad Ripple address picked up tickets wearing a Rosie Colvin jersey. Sometimes, you just can't win. Judge us if you want, but tickets are expensive.
13. Watch the ratings. Colts-Pats games have traditionally generated more than 20 million viewers, but with the Horse struggling, and Tom Brady gimping around back home, it's unlikely people will tune in at the same rate as before. NBC has to be sick over seeing one of their biggest ratings getters lose so much of it's luster.
14. Watch the tie breakers. In all likelihood Indy and New England will be battling for one of the last two playoff spots in the AFC. The winner will get a leg up in several key tiebreakers. The ones that matter most are head to head, conference record, and record among common opponents. A loss for Indy would mean that they have to hope for the Pats to win the East to even have a chance at the postseason.
15. Watch for irate Colts fans. Fans, by nature, are irrational. Colts fans are angry and depressed right now. They are just coming to terms with the fact that their perennial powerhouse isn't any good. Don't be shocked if there is a lot of booing and gnashing of teeth Sunday night.
18. Watch a big win. The Colts must have this game. If they don't win, I can't see a realistic path to 10-6. I think they get it convincingly, and keep our hopes alive for one more week. Indy 35 New England 24.
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