Colts wide receiver Brandon Stokley has succeeded as a slot receiver because he possesses all the attributes necessary to play the position. He'?s not afraid to go over the middle, has excellent hands, will give his body up to make a play, and can catch the ball in traffic.
Stokley is deceptively quick. He doesn?t have stopwatch busting speed, but bursts into second gear quickly -- and that gives him excellent deep speed. He really seems to kick it into another level following a catch.
Brandon and QB Peyton Manning have their timing down and a really good personal rapport. So the playbook formula for slowing Stokley says you must beat him up at the line and alter that timing. And keep him in front of you, because if he gets by you he'll kick it into that second gear and the chase is on.
Defending the slot receiver has become Ray Mickens' specialty. This has proven to be a perfect fit for him, because while he may not have the speed he had as a rookie, he has a ten-year veteran savvy, and there is likely nothing an opposing receiver can show him that he has not seen or defended.
He has excellent recognition abilities, diagnosing what's happening on the play quickly. He has definitely lost a step, but still has enough speed to turn and run vertically with most receivers. When playing a zone, he exhibits good closing burst in the short area and gets good breaks on the ball. However, he will get pushed around and will struggle in establishing position when matched against bigger wide receivers one-on-one.
After two weeks, many are starting to wonder if Mickens'? age is starting to catch-up with him. He'?s struggled mightily so far in 2005.
He committed two killer penalties against Cincinnati. Mickens was flagged for end-zone interference and on another play was called for illegal hands to the face -- which nullified Leigh Bodden's 38-yard interception return for a TD. And he was burned on 42-yard touchdown reception by Donald Driver last week at Green Bay.
As a result, expect Peyton Manning to test Mickens early and often. But Cleveland has to be aware of that, so they will likely keep a safety in the the middle focused on helping out with Stokley.
Key Matchup: Brandon Stokley vs. Ray Mickens
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