Colts - Saints: Key Matchups Analysis

Greg Talmage provides a mini-version of his regular season matchup analysis for tonight's game between the Colts and the Saints. He not only tells you where the key matchups are, he explains the impact they could have on the flow of the game. Enjoy his expert analysis...

First-team Colts defense matchups to watch

LE Robert Mathis vs. RT Jahri Evans: Inconsistent play and injuries have forced rookie OT Jahri Evans, a 4th round draft pick , into the Saints starting line-up a tad earlier than the head coach Sean Payton probably would have liked. When the Saints drafted Evans out of Bloomsburg University, a Division I-AA school, they knew the youngster was coming into the NFL without having faced anything close to NFL-caliber talent in college. As a result, he would need some extra time getting acclimated to the speed and strength of the NFL. Oh well, it's going to be baptism by fire on Saturday night for Jahri! Like all lower-division draftees, handling the speed is the ultimate test. While I'm sure Jahri lined up against some decent DEs at Bloomsburg, I guarantee you none of them had the quickness off the edge and initial first step of a Robert Mathis. This will be a great test for the kid from Bloomsburg. Ironically, the highly-talented Mathis is a lower division college football talent as well.

MLB Rob Morris vs. RB Reggie Bush: One of the many dimensions of Reggie Bush that gets the people of New Orleans and especially his quarterback -- Drew Brees -- excited is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. The Colt defender likely to be most responsible for keeping an eye on Bush as a receiver will be MLB Rob Morris, who is expected to start in place of Gary Brackett due to his minor knee injury. So far this preseason Bush has made 4 catches for 25 yards in 2 games. This will be a key component to the Saints offense in 2006, so it's something they'll want to get dialed up in exhibition play against the Colts. 
Another reason Bush may see some additional balls thrown his way is due to the Saints featuring several young offensive linemen. This group excels at run-blocking but is still developing their pass-protection skills -- especially at the offensive tackle positions. Their growing pains will likely result in Brees having to check down quicker than he'd like, and as a result dumping off to Bush more often. 

First-team Colts offense match-ups to watch

RT Ryan Diem vs. LE Charles Grant: Last year, Colts offensive right tackle Ryan Diem had his share of struggles against speed rushing defensive ends. The game in Jacksonville where Reggie Hayward consistently beat Ryan off the snap or had him on his heels is one that sticks out in particular. Most believe a nagging injury that eventually caused Diem to miss two games at the end of the season is what really slowed him for the better part of the season. Now he must prove to that he is 100 percent healthy and fully able to handle the bull rush. Ironically, the player lining up against Diem on Saturday in Jackson also needs to demonstrate that he has returned to form as well. DE Charles Grant was slowed by toe and knee injuries and only had 2½ sacks last year after posting double-digit sack seasons in 2003 and 2004. Speed is Grant's game, and last year he just wasn't able to go full speed. New Orleans loves the talent of their front four, but a lot of their success hinges on Grant's ability to create havoc. Watch the running game in this matchup as well. Diem is known as a run-mauler and Grant has a tendency to overpressure the edge and get out of position quickly.

WR Reggie Wayne vs. CB Fred Thomas: Heading into camp, it looked like a three-way battle between Fred Thomas, Joey Thomas and Jason Craft for the starting right cornerback spot. However, 11-year veteran Fred Thomas quickly became the frontrunner thanks to his consistent play. Thomas isn't going to go gear-to-gear against most NFL receivers anymore and needs his fair share of safety help. But to his credit, after 11 years in this league Thomas knows how to approach each matchup in order to do his job effectively. Reggie Wayne's size and strength should help him in this match-up. Thomas lacks ideal upper body strength and will give up the inside too frequently, especially when pressing. If Wayne can quickly get to Thomas' inside shoulder and then use his bigger frame to shield the defender, it will present a nice target for Manning. The Manning-to-Wayne combination has looked every bit of being ready for the regular season so far. Wayne has 4 receptions for 97 yards and 1 touchdown in short-duty during the first two games.

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