It doesn't get much bigger than this. The undefeated Indianapolis Colts travel to New England for a showdown with the 6-1 Patriots. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady this Sunday night in what may be the most watched regular season game in NFL history. Time to get the popcorn ready.
Going into last season, Manning had never beaten the Patriots in New England. But after a 321-yard, three touchdown performance in a 40-21 whitewashing of the Patriots, Manning and the Colts finally exorcised the demons of Bill Belichick. Now comes the much-anticipated rematch.
As usual, Manning is directing one of the most lethal offenses in all of football. The perennial MVP candidate is off to another stellar season. After seven games, Manning has tossed for 1,965 yards, 15 touchdowns and only two interceptions. It's just business as usual in Indianapolis for the Colts offense.
The passing game has had to take on an even bigger role this year with Edgerrin James now receiving hand-offs in Arizona. Luckily, throwing the football is what the Colts do best. Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne make up the most feared receiving tandem in the NFL. The dynamic duo has combined for 82 receptions, 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season.
Bill Polian and the Colts front office were banking that Manning and his receivers could offset the loss of James. After seven games, it looks like they were right. Chad Scott, Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs are going to have a big challenge on their hands this week trying to slow down the vaunted Colts passing attack.
While James is struggling to get 3 yards per carry in Arizona, the combination of Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai have done an admirable job in his place. Neither player possesses the overall skills of James but used together, they've done enough to lend the passing game a helping hand.
Addai's role in the offense is increasing on a weekly basis. His straight-line speed and soft hands make him a versatile asset to the Colts offense. Addai had the best game of his short career last week against the Broncos, rushing 17 times for 93 yards. He'll face his toughest test of the season this week, going up against a Patriots defense that's been dominating against the run. New England currently ranks third in the NFL in rush defense, giving up just 78.3 yards per game on the ground.
The Colts defense has really been struggling this season, especially against the run where they rank dead last in the league. Indianapolis was dealt a big blow when defensive tackle Corey Simon was lost for the season. Throw in the other starter at tackle, Montae Reagor, getting into a car accident and it's no wonder the Colts defense is soft up the middle.
In an effort to try to shore up its run defense, Indianapolis traded for Anthony "Booger" McFarland. The former Buccaneer had fallen out of favor in Tampa Bay but the Colts are hoping he can provide another big body to help bolster the interior of their defense.
Facing Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney this week will be a big test to see how the Colts rush defense holds up against a Super Bowl caliber offense. In last week's 34-31 victory over the Broncos, Indianapolis didn't play the run well at all, giving up a whopping 227 yards on the ground to Denver. That's not a good sign for Indianapolis.
Although the Patriots have opted to go to the air in victories over Buffalo and Minnesota, expect them to rely heavily on Dillon and Maroney this week. Bill Belichick likes to exploit a defenses weakness and with the Colts giving up 167.9 yards per game on the ground, the New England running backs have to be licking their chops.
This is a much-improved Patriots team than the one that took the field in 2005. This Sunday night we'll find out if the Colts domination over the Patriots was a one-time thing, or if Manning and the Indy offense have broken the Belichick curse once and for all. It should be a good one.
Last week in Denver, the Colts receivers were allowed to run freely through the Broncos secondary. If the Patriots allow Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne to do the same thing this Sunday night, the scoreboard operator is going to have a long evening.
The Patriots have had success against Indianapolis by jamming their receivers at the line and making them pay once they caught the football. In last year's meeting, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were barely touched throughout the game, as they each torched the New England defense by eclipsing 100 yards.
With Rodney Harrison back and Chad Scott providing a physical presence as well, it's not going to be as easy for the Colts receivers this time around. Since Scott has become a starter opposite Asante Samuel, the New England defense has really returned to that nasty, physical style of play that they have been known for in the past. Scott doesn't have great speed, so that's a concern matching up with the Colts receiver, but if he can disrupt their routes at the line of scrimmage, it will give the New England pass rushers a little extra time to get to Manning.
With Samuel, Harrison and Scott patrolling the secondary, it's going to be up to the Patriots defensive front to make life miserable for Manning. Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Richard Seymour have been dominant against the run but they'll need to provide a pass rush on Manning in this game. Those three, along with edge rushers Rosevelt Colvin, Mike Vrabel and Tully Banta-Cain, must have their best game of the season because if Manning has time, he'll pick any defense apart. Vrabel usually plays well against the Colts and Banta-Cain had one of the best games of his career last week in Minnesota, giving Pro Bowl tackle Bryant McKinnie all he could handle.
69th meeting. The Patriots lead the all-time series 43-25. The Colts finally got the Foxborough monkey off their backs last year with a 40-21 beat down of the Patriots. It's the first time the Colts won in New England since 1995. Even with that victory, this series has been all Patriots of late. Peyton Manning is 1-7 in Foxborough and 3-10 all-time against the Patriots. New England is 24-11 at home against its former AFC East rivals. The Patriots won seven consecutive games from 1996-99 and are 17-6 against Indianapolis since 1993.
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