Key Matchup: Nick Harper vs David Givens

Greg Talmage sizes up the matchup between cornerback Nick Harper, who is off to one of his best starts as a Colt, and Patriots wide receiver David Givens. Can Harper keep Givens from using his size to his advantage? That's a key question in this matchup.

Colts cornerback Nick Harper, an undrafted free agent out of Fort Valley State and the Canadian Football League, has been a consistent starter for the Colts since late in the 2002 season. So far, though, his 2005 season has to be considered his breakout season with the team. Through seven games, Harper has looked like a rejuvenated man. He has two picks, five passes defensed, and opposing quarterbacks rarely pick on his side.

Zone coverage is his strength. Here Harper can use his instincts and good range to excel. While he lacks the quickness and change-of-direction skills of an upper-echelon corner, Harper shows good burst out of his cuts and exhibits good short-area cover skills. But he still tends to let too much happen in front of him and can give opposing receivers too much cushion.

It's likely that Harper gives receivers that extra cushion because his recovery quickness leaves him vulnerable. If a receiver gets by him, he is by him. Harper simply doesn't show a second gear downfield. He's rarely left on an island due to this weakness, coupled with the fact that he doesn't muscle receivers out of their routes or get physical at the point of attack.

Wide receiver David Givens has emerged as the Patriot's number-one receiver. He is deceptively quick, has good hands, and knows how to use his body to shield the defender. Although a bigger receiver, he still gets to his top gear in a hurry. Givens has no reservations about going over the middle and will make plenty of catches in traffic. He is also very effective in the red zone because of his size and ability to physically go up and get jump balls.

Givens is much more of a possession receiver than a vertical threat. Quarterback Tom Brady loves to hit him on a quick out or slant, where Givens can use his body to create separation and make the catch. This is something they will try to maximize on Monday night, especially if Harper is giving his normal cushion.

New England likes to get the ball out to their receivers quickly before the safeties have any effect on the play. Their overall strategy is to get opposing defenses to start playing the short stuff and then go deep to wide receivers Deion Branch or Andre Davis.

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