Five to Watch: Colts versus Panthers

Brad Keller points out the five players you'll want to keep a close eye on during Sunday's matchup between the Colts and the Panthers -- and why. Get the details inside...

Marvin HarrisonThe feeling here is that he'll be worth watching until he fully recovers from his knee injury or breaks out of his season-long slump (or, more likely -- both).  With him ailing/struggling, the onus for carrying the passing game is on Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Addai and Kenton Keith.  Six games into the season, Harrison is not in the top 50 in receptions or yards.  Even though the Colts have already had their bye and Harrison has missed a game due to injury, that is quite telling.  The odds say that he'll break out eventually, but with a tough matchup this week against Chris Gamble, he's going to have to earn it if his breakout game is to come against the Panthers.

Tony UgohUp until he left the game with an injury, Ugoh was playing brilliantly and the Colts ran behind him successfully on numerous occasions, including a couple of long gains by Addai.  He may have reached a point where he has "put it all together" and the game is starting to slow down for him.  He faces another try-hard player with an outstanding motor in Mike Rucker.  How he holds up this week could tell us a lot about the rest of the season.  Ugoh is worth watching just to make sure he doesn't get hurt.

Kelvin Hayden
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kelvin HaydenWhile all eyes seemed to be on Bob Sanders in the Monday night game against Jacksonville, Hayden quietly had a spectacular game with eight tackles, four passes defended, and an interception.  This week, he draws a slightly more difficult dance partner in Steve Smith.  If Hayden is able to stay within the scheme (as he's done all season) and -- more importantly -- stay with Smith, Indianapolis should be able to keep the damage to a minimum.

Dwight FreeneyColts fans should have a lot to watch for when it comes to Freeney on Sunday, because he will face the overmatched and overwhelmed Travelle Jackson.  Jackson does not possess the footwork, hands, strength, speed, or size to slow Freeney down and pass blocking is not DeShaun Foster's or DeAngelo Williams' long-suit.  If tight end Jeff King is not motioned over to Freeney's side of the field, starting quarterback Vinny Testaverde will be wishing that David Carr had been healthy enough to start.

Ryan Diem:  Diem has, by all accounts, had a stellar season so far.  However, he has accomplished this in part because he has yet to face an elite defensive end.  It is customary for the opposing team's best pass rusher to line up at right end opposite the offense's left tackle.  In Carolina's scheme, Julius Peppers plays right end, though they have been known to line him up everywhere on the defensive line.  Peppers has lived up to his lofty draft status and has earned his reputation as one of the premier defensive players in all of football, regardless of position.  Needless to say, Peppers presents a stiff challenge for Diem and by far the stiffest challenge he has faced all season.  How Diem holds up, and how much help the Colts need to give him, will go a long way in determining whether or not Diem's stellar grade thus far is justified.

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