Key Matchup: Freeney vs. Ferguson

A Colts Pro Bowler will look to school a Jets rookie this weekend when the Indianapolis defense lines up against the New York offense. But is this rookie capable of holding his own out there? Greg Talmage takes a look at this key matchup...

New York Jets right tackle Anthony Clement is notorious for struggling against edge speed rushers. His challenge this Sunday—Robert Mathis—is a whole lot of speed. The Jets will want to protect Clement by shifting extra blockers his way and double-teaming Mathis. This in-turn will likely leave Colts Pro-Bowl DE Dwight Freeney in plenty of one-on-one situations against a rookie left tackle.

Freeney against a rookie! That should have Colt fans chomping at the bit, right? Not necessarily. This is not your usual rookie left tackle. It's D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the 4th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft from the University of Virginia. Given the talent of these two, lots of folks will be watching this battle with much interest. FoxSports.com even listed it as one of the best position match-ups of Week 4.

In his brief 3-game NFL career to date, Ferguson has already showcased why so many draft scouts called him the best OT prospect since Orlando Pace. Last week in Buffalo, facing a rotation of DEs Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay, and Ryan Denney, the 6-foot-6, 312-pound lineman pitched a shutout. None of the three even got close to Jets QB Chad Pennington all afternoon. Pennington had, however, been sacked 7 times in the first two games. Given the fact that the Jets start three rookies on the offensive line, it's still a work in progress. But Ferguson is their foundation.

D'Brickashaw Ferguson is an athletic blocker who really impresses in pass protection. His fluid movement, ability to slide his feet in space, and to adjust to oncoming defenders are all essential to his success. The prevailing thought is that he needs to add a little weight; even so he displays great punch with his hands, plays with forward lean and easily anchors at the point of attack.

His negatives are what you'd expect of a rookie. Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini openly criticized the talented OT for making too many mental errors and false starts in the preseason. He isn't overly instinctive and will mess-up his balance by lunging into his block from time to time. Still thought of as a marginal run-blocker, pass protection is his thing. This weekend we will see just how good he is in pass pro as he faces the one of the premier defensive ends in the NFL.

Dwight Freeney's explosive first step and initial quickness allow him to beat most blockers to the edge. Freeney couples this initial quickness with an excellent motor. He can go all day long. Freeney also plays with excellent leverage; he has the ability to bull-rush and has the strength to knock any OT backwards. Besides speed and power, he also has a plethora of pass rush moves. He can beat offensive tackles with his chop, rip, spin, swim moves or a combination of each.

Freeney was a game-time decision last week because of a strained buttocks/hamstring. But the injury didn't seem to slow him down much. Colts President Bill Polian had this to say on WFBQ about Freeney's performance against Jacksonville, "…Dwight Freeney did a terrific job. I think Dwight, had he had the ability to practice, and had just that little four or five percent more explosion that he would have if he were 100 percent healthy, might have had three or four sacks Sunday…"

This is definitely going to be a fun matchup to watch. Ferguson has all the attributes you'd want if designing an OT to block Dwight Freeney. With the way he moves and slides his feet to protect his edge, he possesses a key skill for facing someone will Freeney's speed. But the challenge that Freeney presents, especially for young blockers, is the fact that he can beat you in a variety of ways. It's not just speed.

Up until last week, the Jets have relied heavily on their passing game to move the ball. That could become tougher this week for the Jets based on how this key matchup plays out in the Meadowlands on Sunday.


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