Key Matchup: Proehl vs. McCleon

Two veterans will try to outsmart each other on Sunday when Colts slot receiver Ricky Proehl runs his routes against Texans nickel back Dexter McCleon.

Against the Patriots, the Houston Texans started out in the nickel package with Dexter McCleon as the extra cornerback. Because of Indianapolis' explosive passing game and the fact the Colts showed plenty of three-receiver sets on Monday night, Houston is apt to use the nickel package a good percentage of time this week as well.

One reason the Colts consistently played a three-receiver set against the Bengals -- and may do the same thing this week -- is because of injuries. With tight ends Dallas Clark and Bryan Fletcher out with injuries Monday night, Indianapolis just didn't have the personnel for the two TE set.

This week, Clark has already been declared as out, while Fletcher is just getting back in the swing of things following his quad injury that he incurred during last Saturday's practice. And while Proehl has been hobbled a bit this week as well, you should still see plenty of him against the Texans because the Colts need to make sure he's got his timing down with quarterback Peyton Manning before the playoffs kick in.

Indianapolis signed Proehl on November 27th, so he's still learning the offense and trying to get more familiar with Manning. Proehl is a 17-year veteran who has an excellent understanding of how to attack coverages. Against a zone, for example, he can find the soft spot or camp out in a seam. And he's still a crisp route runner who gets separation by accelerating into and out of his cuts. So playing a Houston team that usually plays only zone, he should get more opportunities.

Ricky Proehl in 2000 as a member of the NFC Champion Rams (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
Proehl is more of a possession receiver at this point in his career. He lacks real speed, so he isn't much of a deep threat. Though he has lost a step, he has excelled in the slot in recent years because of his football smarts. He knows how to exploit matchups. Coming out of the slot, he frequently lines up against younger and still developing corners, who just don't know the game as well as he does. This week though, it won't be one of those young corners lining up across from Proehl.

The Texans' Dexter McCleon is not the same type of cornerback he was even a year or two ago. The nine-year veteran has slowed a bit as well, and as a result has some limitations in man coverage -- but he's still a very good Cover 2 corner. He excels in off-coverage where he can sit back, read and react quickly.

Proehl and Manning might be able to take advantage of McCleon's tendency to play off in coverage and complete a good number of short, underneath passes. While Proehl isn't going to make many people miss after the catch, he is big and strong enough to push his way through lighter defensive backs and roll for some additional yards after the catch to help keep the chains moving or to get the ball across the goal-line.

This should be an intriguing matchup between two veterans who know the game well. Neither one of these guys will likely show the other a move or trick the other hasn't seen before. So it should be fun to watch these two get after it on Sunday afternoon. Keep an eye on them and see if either one emerges as a clear winner in this key matchup.

Colts Blitz Top Stories