Big Matchup for Indy: Wayne vs. Hobbs

Greg Talmage says that Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne's matchup with New England Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs is one of the key battles to watch this Sunday. Find out why...

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne is in the midst of a very nice stretch of football. Over the past three games, he's caught 23 balls for 361 yards and two touchdowns.

On paper, those are some pretty impressive numbers. But ask Wayne, and he'll offer a different perspective.

"Nothing special," said Wayne, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 668 receiving yards on 44 receptions, including five for touchdowns. "We've got too many weapons on this team. I'm just out there doing my job. When the ball comes to me, I want to catch it and get what I can and make plays.

"With this team, it can be anybody."

Above everything else he's offered this season, Wayne (6-foot-0, 198 pounds) has become the Colts top deep threat, possessing the ability to make the big play every time he steps on the field. This week, he draws a formidable matchup in the smaller, but feisty Ellis Hobbs, standing at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds.

Many remember the last time Hobbs and Wayne faced off in the 2006 AFC Championship game. Hobbs played well, holding Wayne to just five catches for 68 receiving yards. But his performance will be forever linked with a controversial penalty in the third quarter.

With the Colts facing a 21-13 deficit, the Indianapolis offense was beginning to come together. Deep in New England territory, Manning attempted to find Wayne in the Indianapolis end zone on third down. The pass went incomplete, but not without a flag, as Hobbs was called for pass interference.

The penalty set the Colts up for an easy score from the New England 1-yard line, tying the game at 21 after the two-point conversion.

The call left a bitter taste in Hobbs' mouth, but he's learned to deal with it.

"I'm still alive," the third-year cornerback said during a break in preparations for Sunday's rematch with the Colts. "Calls are made during the game. Whether they're right or wrong, you pouting about it or however you feel about it doesn't matter - it's still the call.

"You can't change anything out there. The only person who can do that is the instant replay, and obviously you can't instant replay those types of calls. You just deal with it and move on."

Hobbs disagreed with the call at the time, and the NFL later sided with him, mailing him a letter of apology. It was a nice gesture, but a meaningless one because, as he later emphasized, "I still went home."

Ellis Hobbs celebrates after an interception
AP Photo/Winslow Townson

After eight weeks, the verdict is not yet in on Hobbs this season, but some New England reporters can offer some useful insight. Ian Clark of the New Hampshire Times-Union evaluated Hobbs' play like this:

"Asante Samuel grabbed an interception and week in, week out plays shutdown defense on his side of the field. Ellis Hobbs continues to struggle at the other side, however. But when a team that is behind and needs to pass only accounts for 177 total passing yards, things aren't too bad."

Meanwhile, reporter Rich Garven's Patriots midseason report card for the Worcester Telegram wrote:

"The DBs collectively have yet to have a standout game. Asante Samuel skipped the preseason, but quickly displayed the elite cover corner skills that may ultimately price him out of New England. Because of that, Ellis Hobbs has been picked on quite a bit. Sometimes he's stood up for himself, other times he's gotten bowled over."

One game in particular where Hobbs struggled was in New England's week-five matchup against the Cleveland Browns. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards' size and downfield speed gave Hobbs all he could handle. Edwards finished the game with six catches for 110 yards.

Following that mode, it's important that Reggie uses his strength off the line to get behind Hobbs, and then uses his size and speed to make plays downfield.

On the other side, Hobbs must use his exceptionally quick feet to steal routes and to stay in front of Wayne. Both Hobbs and his counterpart left cornerback Asante Samuel are notorious route jumpers. Hobbs has confidence in doing this, because he has the closing burst in short areas to make plays on a speed-out or hitch. Reggie needs to stay crisp in his routes, keeping his body between the ball and Hobbs.

The Patriots are not afraid to play both Marvin Harrison (if available) and Wayne man-to-man, but they won't do it very often. Having Harrison play will be important because it will help keep the safeties honest and open the potential for more Hobbs versus Wayne one-on-one situations downfield. And that's a scenario the Colts like.

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