Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks/Colts, Part 4

Who is the Colts' MVP on defense this season? And which player from that unit is criminally underrated? ColtPower Publisher Ed Thompson answers those questions and more from Seahawks.NET in the final installment of our Q&A series this week.

.NET: What is the key difference in Indy's 2005 defense? What has made them such a factor this year, from a positional standpoint? Who is the defensive MVP, and who is the one criminally underrated player on that side of the ball?

ColtPower: Experience. The Colts had very little turnover on defense, so not only are they more familiar with Dungy's defensive scheme, they also now have a better feel for how their teammates are going to react to specific situations during a play. The Colts have gap assignments that are essential to their success against the run. In the past, players too often let their instincts overrule their assignment, and they would chase the flow of the play, leaving gaps wide open. Offenses exploited that for huge gains, leading to Indy's reputation for being awful against the run. They are much more disciplined this year and it has paid off.

The defensive line has been at the center of their success this year. Robert Mathis (11.5 sacks) and Dwight Freeney (10.5 sacks) have continued to put amazing pressure on the quarterback and have forced 14 fumbles in the process. Corey Simon is the big body that the Colts were missing to help stuff the run on short-yardage plays. Raheem Brock shifts from DE to DT depending on the play situation and has contributed 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. And RDT Montae Reagor has 5.5 sacks and has been one of the most consistent players on that line in terms of creating disruption on both passing and running plays.

The defensive MVP is a tough call, but if forced to pick one I would go with Freeney simply because when he isn't making big impact plays, he's drawing double or triple teams that are opening up opportunities for his teammates. The criminally underrated guy is middle linebacker Gary Brackett. He leads the team in tackles and has quietly filled that position very capably in his first-year as a starter. He was an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers three years ago who was primarily a nickel linebacker and special teams player. He's done a really nice job out there, despite many people questioning if he had the size to hold his ground at middle linebacker.


.NET: Even dominant teams have their "dings". What is the one weakness of this team, and what needs to be done to fix this weakness?

ColtPower: Kickoffs and kickoff coverage. Rookie kickoff specialist Dave Rayner out of Michigan State has been so inconsistent, especially in recent weeks, to the point where the Colts released him on Tuesday and brought in former Cowboys and Vikings kicker Jose Cortez.

Their kickoff coverage unit has some real stars including Robert Mathis, safety Gerome Sapp, and linebacker Rob Morris -- who all have 20 or more tackles on special teams. Linebacker Keith O'Neil, who missed a few games this season, is another great contributor with 16 tackles and really flies around out there. He throws himself into the action with such fervor that he dislocated his shoulder while leaping at the kickoff return wedge of players -- scattering them like bowling pins earlier this year. He's got a bit of a kamikaze instinct out there.

The Colts have had some very solid games out of the kickoff coverage unit, but a few that were simply awful. They are currently in the bottom third in the league in covering kickoffs.


.NET: Is there a different feeling in Indy about the Patriots in the post-season this year? Do you think the Colts feel that they have to get to the Super Bowl by walking over the Patriots to get there? Would it in any way marginalize their postseason efforts if they did get to the Super Bowl without facing New England?

ColtPower: Over the past two seasons, Colts fans lamented the fact that the Colts had to play the Patriots in New England – especially in the snow – in the playoffs, believing that the outcome would have been different had those games been played in the RCA Dome. This year we may very well find that out. I think the win up in New England this year was tremendous in ending the hype that the Colts can't beat the Patriots. And I think the general feeling is that the Patriots are still too banged up to match the Colts, especially with the secondary problems New England has been battling.

That said, I don't think the Colts care one bit if they reach the Super Bowl without facing the Patriots. Since they already beat them this season, I don't think there's much of an argument to be made either way. The bottom line is to get to Detroit anyway they can, beating whatever team shows up at their door.


.NET: Since the Seahawks will most likely see a great deal of the Colts' backups, tell us a bit about any second-string standouts. Tell us about Jim Sorgi, James Mungro and other second-tier guys the Seahawks should be watching for?

ColtPower: Sorgi has been a real source of debate amongst the fans. He's not the least bit flashy, isn't very mobile and isn't much of a deep ball threat. He seems to be an intelligent guy, but even in the preseason hasn't shown much yet to get excited about. In fact, the quarterback on the Colts practice squad, Tom Arth, appears to have more versatility and a better arm. And the guy is a smart, hard-working quarterback with a good arm. I'm hoping Sorgi surprises us with some great plays in live action over the next two weeks, but needless to say it would be exactly that – a surprise. The Colts should do themselves a favor and promote Arth, giving him some action during these next two games as well.

Some of the other second-string players that will be interesting to watch are running back Dominic Rhodes, who rushed for over 1,100 yards in ten games back in 2001 when James was sidelined. He's a versatile back with decent hands out of the backfield. James Mungro is a solid short-yardage back who should get some carries.

A few Seahawk fans will probably be surprised to see former Colts starting linebacker Rob Morris out there with the second team. He initially wasn't re-signed by the Colts during the offseason, but still came back after it was apparent he had lost the starter's role to Gary Brackett. Another one to watch for is former Cowboys linebacker Keith O'Neil who played the final 12 minutes a few weeks ago against the Titans' starting offense -- and made seven tackles in that short span.

You'll likely see plenty of the Colts' top two draft picks as well. Number one pick, Marlin Jackson out of Michigan, has been the nickel back and has been showing the physical style of play the Colts hoped for when they drafted him. He should see more time at cornerback as could 2nd-rounder Kelvin Hayden out of Illinois. Safety Gerome Sapp is a very effective safety who will no doubt see extensive playing time in this game as well.


.NET: Tell us about Indy's up-to-the minute injury situation, and how you think it will affect the extent to which the starters will play.

ColtPower: The Colts have taken the stance that if you're injured, you're not likely to play at all in this one. And the Colts have plenty of guys banged up who under normal circumstances would likely line up and be able to play capably. But the Colts want them 100% healthy for the playoffs, so the Seahawks won't be lining up against the usual suspects.

Let's start with the offense. Starting right tackle Ryan Diem is out with a serious knee injury that he hopes to have healthy by the playoffs. Starting right guard Jake Scott will fill in for him and rookie Dylan Gandy will backfill Scott's slot. Marvin Harrison has a mild fracture of his right hand that the Colts have said will take about two weeks to heal whether he plays or not. I think their preference will be to sit him unless Harrison kicks up a fuss. You'll should see more of Troy Walters as a result. Earlier in the week, Colts President Bill Polian said Peyton Manning had some swelling around one of his knees. Manning has since denied that, so you try and figure out who's right. In any case, Manning expects to start but should only see limited action. He got beat up a bit in the last game and I don't think the Colts will risk a repeat.

Defensively is where you're going to see a bunch of replacements. The defensive line will be missing LDT Corey Simon (ankle) and sacks leader DE Robert Mathis (foot). It's also likely that DE Dwight Freeney (foot) will sit out and even RDT Montae Reagor (knee). That would leave DE/DT Raheem Brock as the only true starter. DT Larry Tripplett gets plenty of snaps in the Colts rotation, DT Josh Williams just got back in action last weekend after a stint on the PUP this year with a sports hernia injury, and DE Josh Thomas is a good talent, but it won't be nearly the same caliber of defensive line the Colts have been fielding to date.

OLB Cato June, who leads the team with five interceptions and is a leading tackler, is unlikely to play. He's been battling a sports hernia injury since early in the season, and recently had some knee and ankle problems as well. They need him healthy for the playoffs. Gilbert Gardner, who started two weeks ago against the Jaguars, should play instead.

In the secondary, safety Bob Sanders is having some back problems and will likely be replaced by Gerome Sapp, one of the Colts' top special teams players. Cornerback Nick Harper could even get the day off to rest an ankle problem, providing rookie Marlin Jackson bounces back from the flu in time to play and sub for him.

So while you may see nine offensive starters at the beginning of the game, you may only see 4 or 5 defensive starters. Seattle shouldn't have much trouble moving the ball with their first-string if that's the case.


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