Key Matchups for the Colts Offense

Marvin Harrison takes on 49ers cornerback Willie Middlebrooks while Ryan Diem squares off against left defensive end Bryant Young. Greg Talmage evaluates these key matchups that could impact Sunday's outcome.

WR Marvin Harrison vs CB Willie Middlebrooks

Injuries have decimated the 49ers' cornerback corps. Both opening day starters at the position, Mike Rumph and Ahmed Plummer, are out. And now Plummer's back-up on the leftside, Derrick Johnson, is questionable with a knee injury.

So now a guy who was released by the 49ers on September 3rd and re-signed on the 27th, Willie Middlebrooks, will likely have the assignment of trying to slow Marvin Harrison. Although he does not want your sympathy, you almost have to feel bad for the guy.

No wide receiver in the NFL is a better route runner than Marvin Harrison. He runs nearly flawless routes, does a great job of selling routes to set guys up and can get in and out of his breaks quickly. While he does not have top end speed, he possesses excellent quickness and an explosive burst. He has a rare feel for the game.

He knows how to get the ball against all types of coverages. And he always seems to know where he is on the field. He shows an amazing ability to consistently get his feet down in-bounds along the sidelines. Harrison also does an excellent job of working back to the ball when the quarterback is flushed out of the pocket.

Harrison and quarterback Peyton Manning work hard on their timing and prepare for every game diligently. As a result Harrison will get open because he understands coverages and communicates with Manning.

Middlebrooks is a former free-safety who possesses a nice blend of size, speed, and athleticism. His instincts and ability to react to routes, however, is lacking. He simply is not comfortable reading and reacting.

He has excellent straight-line speed and is solid in run support. He knows how to use his hands to re-route from press alignment, but is often not in press coverage.

It's safe to say San Francisco will not being leaving Willie Middlebrooks on an island against Marvin Harrison. The Colts wide receiver should expect to see plenty of double and even triple teams on Sunday.

The hardest thing for any person defending Harrison is dealing with his exceptional route running. Just when you think you have an inkling about his tendencies, he does something that will totally surprise you. He lures opposing corners into a false sense of security. For a corner like Middlebrooks, who struggles reading and reacting to a receivers routes, it could quickly become a very long day.

RT Ryan Diem vs LDE Bryant Young

This should be a premiere matchup this weekend. Ryan Diem has been the Colts' most consistent lineman so far in 2005 and DE Bryant Young is the leader and a strong veteran presence for the 49ers young defense.

Ryan Diem is a real road grader. He is a big massive individual who knows how to get adequate hand placement and use his upper body to maintain separation. Ryan takes smart angles, plays with a good motor, and fights to sustain the block once in position. However, Diem -- as the old saying goes -- is much better in a phone booth than out on an island.

Diem's a far better run blocker than pass blocker. He will especially struggle in pass protection if he fails to engulf his man. He lacks ideal lateral mobility, he struggles to redirect inside after starting outside and he is vulnerable to double moves.

Bryant Young is now in his 11th NFL season. And while the guy has lost a step, he is still one of the toughest and hardest working players in the league. He's an all-effort guy both on and off the field. He spends more time in the film room studying the moves of opposing offensive linemen than most defensive players.

Young plays with great intensity and leverage. He keeps those legs driving in an effort to finish a play and get to the passer. You can't rest on the guy. Even though is his getting up there in NFL age, he still commands a lot of double teams. He can collapse the pocket in pass rush quickly and has better than average running ability.

Diem will have his work cut out for him against this hard-working, pass-rushing, pocket-collapsor known as Bryant Young. The key for Ryan is to get contact and engulf. Bryant will likely see a tight end over to help from time to time, but he can also expect to see plenty of one-on-one situations. The Colts simply trust Diem and judging by the way he has been playing you can't blame them.

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