Colts Key Matchup: Mathis vs Pennington

For the second week in a row, Colts defensive end Robert Mathis will line up across from a rookie offensive tackle. Will he be able to boost his team-leading sacks total at the rookie's expense? Greg Talmage fills you in on this key matchup...

Before their game last week against Green Bay, the Bills revamped their starting offense line by changing personnel at three positions. RT Jason Peters replaced Mike Gandy at LT. Gandy moved inside to play left guard in place of Tutan Reyes, who is now the lead reserve. Rookie seventh-round pick Terrance Pennington was inserted at right tackle.

How will this revamped line fair in Indianapolis? That depends a lot on just how well the rookie handles Robert Mathis' speed in just his second professional start. In his first start, Pennington had some struggles with Packers DE Aaron Kampman. At times Kampman overwhelmed him, producing four quarterback hits and a sack.

Pennington has ideal OT size (6-foot-7, 325 pounds), exceptionally long arms (36 inches) and good strength. At the Combine he bench-pressed 225 pounds twenty-eight times, which tied for third-best among offensive linemen in the draft.

But Pennington's biggest problem in college reared its head again last Sunday -- his failure to get a good consistent punch off the snap. He frequently allows the pass rusher to get into his chest too quickly. As a result, Pennington can be jolted backwards into his quarterback, giving up the sack. He actually handles the speed rush much better than the bull rush.

Pennington is nimble enough and has the foot quickness to slide out and cut off the speed/edge rusher, but he needs to work on finishing his blocks after that initial contact with the speed rusher who tests his edge. He tends to stop his feet after making initial contact and ends up crossing over, reaching and chasing the pass rusher around the corner.

That's not a good thing this week, because Robert Mathis is in no way the type of DE you ever want to find yourself chasing. Once he's by you, he's gone. Although, he didn't get a sack last week against New England, Mathis had a solid performance with 8 tackles, including 6 solo efforts. And he even got his hands up to tip away two pass attempts. Mathis currently leads the Colts with 4.5 sacks and has been the beneficiary of so many teams game-planning their blocking scheme around Dwight Freeney. This allows Mathis plenty of one-on-one situations.

But I don't see the Bills risking many one-on-one situations with Mathis this week. Before Pennington's first start, Bills Head Coach Dick Jauron talked about the need of using a tight end to help the rookie in pass protection. "We've got to help him," Jauron said. "We don't want to leave him alone out there, I would say, much of the time at all in this game."

I don't expect that strategy to change much this week against Indianapolis.


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