ET: The Colts seem to struggle a bit more against the diversity of
blitzing schemes that an opponent throws at them out of the 3-4 -- as long as
the opponent has the proper talent level to execute those schemes well.
Pittsburgh had success in the playoffs defensively with their blitzes, but in
the first matchup earlier in the season they weren't very effective. The second
time around they were much less predictable and did a great job of doing things
out of that formation that weren't anticipated or read properly by the Colts
offense. So it's not simply the scheme, it's what the team chooses to do from a
blitzing perspective out of it that can create the problems. If they can
disguise a multitude of blitzes well, the Jets defense could really put some
tough pressure on Manning, despite a pretty darn good pass protecting offensive
line. But if Manning figures out at the line of scrimmage where the blitz is
coming from, he'll make the Jets pay..
DL: DT Corey Simon hasn't played yet this year after the preseason knee scope. How much do they miss him? It looks like the Jags ran all over the Colts last week.
ET: That's a matter of much debate in Indianapolis. Simon undoubtedly
has the knack for clogging up the middle and being disruptive in the opponent's
backfield on running plays. He would definitely be able to improve the defense
on obvious running downs. Starters Montae Reagor and Raheem Brock are doing
well, but this is Brock's first season as a full-time DT. He used to play DE on
running downs and would slide inside to DT to make rooom for pass-rush
specialist Robert Mathis. Now both of them are full-time players. The Jaguars'
results last week were a bit deceiving and unusual. Against Jacksonville's top
running back, Fred Taylor, the Colts performed well, holding him under 4 yards
per carry. But the Jaguars threw a curve ball at Indy by unleashing rookie
Maurice Jones-Drew who has a significantly different running style. He had just
two carries in the previous games, so the Colts really hadn't seen much of him
on tape working with the first-team offense. Jones-Drew ripped off some long
runs and averaged over 7 yards per carry. But the Colts made some adjustments at
halftime to how they were approaching the run defense and it really paid off.
After getting gouged for more than 6 yards per carry in the first half (157
yards on 18 carries), they surrendered just 34 yards on 11 carries in the second
half (3.3 yards per carry).
DL: With Brandon Stokely likely out, how much does that impact the passing game since he's one of the best #3 receivers in football?
ET: Stokely is a real talent, a terrific possession receiver who can
get some good yardage after the catch. The Colts do miss him, but they've done
well working more out of a two-tight end look with Dallas Clark and Ben Utecht.
That can be confusing for an opposing defense because while the personnel makes
it look like the Colts are thinking more of a short-yardage approach, they throw
Clark out into the slot with regularity, and he provides a legitimate threat in
the mid-depth range like Stokley. He's not as quick after the catch, but he
still gives Manning a third strong receiver out of that set. For a changeup, the
Colts throw 6-foot-3 receiver Aaron Moorehead into the slot as well. And the
second tight end, Utecht, has very good hands as well. So Manning still has
plenty of targets no matter who they put out there on a given play.
DL: There is so much talk about Dwight Freeney, but word is that the Colts defense has another star in safety Bob Sanders. Tell us about him and do you think he will play this week with the knee injury he is dealing with?
ET: Sanders made the Pro Bowl last year for the first time and is a
big-time hitter on the Colts defense. He hurt himself in the season opener
against the Giants and will unfortunately be out for the second consecutive
week. But the Colts have a sixth-round rookie by the name of Antoine Bethea who
was starting at strong safety next to Sanders at the beginning of the season. He
was the leading tackler for Howard University for three consecutive seasons and
has a real nose for the ball. He filled in last week at free safety while Mike Doss returned to his previous starting spot at strong safety last week. That's
the tandem the Jets will face this weekend, and they performed well against
Jacksonville. Bethea's a real player. You're going to enjoy seeing him in
DL: What is going on with the placekicking situation?
ET: That's a huge question mark going into the weekend. Adam Vinatieri
hasn't practiced yet heading into Friday's workouts, so it's not looking good at
this point for his return. Martin Gramatica filled in last weekend capably on
kickoffs and extra points. But he didn't have to attempt a field goal, and
hasn't kicked one during the regular season since 2004 when he was with Tampa
Bay. So it's a source of some minor concern, especially if the game is close and
he has to go out to kick a field goal instead of Vinatieri.