Ed Thompson: Wes Welker's having a terrific season. If the Colts stay true to their usual game plan, he'll face the very physical Marlin Jackson, who slides in to cover the slot receiver in the Colts' nickel package. At just 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, has Welker had to deal with a really physical defender all game this season? And if so, how did he do?
Jon Scott: You can't stop Welker the whole game, and if you try to be physical -- something we haven't heard much in the past about the Colts -- then you'll see the Patriots put Welker in motion. The thing with Welker is that even though you may be bigger, he's quicker. I spent a lot of time watching Welker in practice and on tape. He's so quick that when defenders try to jam him and miss, they're in real trouble as Welker can get downfield in a hurry.
As I understand, the Colts' defense doesn't ask for defenders to do a lot of man coverage because of the Cover 2 scheme or the Tampa 2 as it's been described. You're going to see the Patriots change formations, put guys in motion, split a running back out, all to create mismatches. When that happens, the Colts will need to adjust. If the Patriots alignment forces Indianapolis into more of a man scheme, I'm not sure Jackson will be asked to use press coverage on Welker because of the coverage behind him. If Jackson is asked to press Welker, I think he'll have limited success. But the Patriots will put Welker in motion to nullify any advantage Jackson may have due to size.
ET: New England has been more successful at completing passes of 20-plus yards than any team in the NFL this year. How much of that success is due to Brady's protection holding up well? And do you expect that he might not have as much luck getting passes off that deep in the face of the Colts pass rush?
JS: I've only seen a little of the Colts defense on tape this year, so I'm not sure how it differs from last year. One thing I can tell you, Brady's ability to move around in the pocket has been the key for teams that really try to bring pressure. While it may not be the big pass downfield through the air, all Brady has to do is get the ball to one of his guys. If Indy decides to try to blitz, I think you'll see a lot more slants, and screens.
When teams try to take the pass away by running a coverage scheme rather than try to pressure Brady, the former Michigan Wolverine has made them pay. After the 48-27 blowout in Dallas, Cowboys coach Wade Phillips -- who has seen a lot of Tom Brady when he was with the Bills -- said that they wanted to challenge the Patriots offense by making Brady beat them through the air. Even with a boatload of pressure, Brady was able to check down to his underneath receivers and proceeded to take a three-point deficit and turn it into a 21-point blowout.
It's not that Brady needs all the time in the world, he just needs enough time to find the open guy. And with this team, there's always an open guy. If you didn't know, the Patriots have scored a lot off of short passes that went for long gains after the catch. That's where Indianapolis' linebackers and underneath defenders need to step up despite the pressure on Brady. If they can't it's not going to matter how many times the Colts blitz.
Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday
Bob Levey/Getty Images
ET: Where's the weakest spot - player or field area -- in the Patriots' pass coverage that Peyton Manning will surely want to test?
JS: Everywhere. No, seriously, Manning is unbelievable. He's so good at finding holes in a defense, it won't matter where they are. I think it will be more of the matchups that Manning wants to exploit rather than a "hole" in the defense. If Manning can get Reggie Wayne in single coverage with no help over the top, he's going to go there all the time until New England stops it. If Harrison or Clark can get favorable advantages in the middle or on a deep post then that's where Manning will go. It's not a matter of taking advantage of a particular player; every defender can be pulled out of position by a good offensive game plan.
To answer your question more to the point, I think you'll see Manning have to go for the middle of the secondary, the nickel and dime corners who are in there to help cover Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzales and the running back out of the backfield.
ET: Other than Peyton Manning, what or who do you think presents the biggest challenge for New England in this matchup?
JS: I don't think there is one. I looked over the rosters, checked the stats, the tendencies in the scouting report and evaluated the matchup. If Peyton cannot get rid of the ball quickly, I think there's going to be trouble. I think he's going to take a beating because New England knows they have to get to him to protect their secondary. One way for Indianapolis to counter that is to use a lot of plays designed to put Joseph Addai one-on-one against a Patriots linebacker. I think Indy will win that battle enough of the time to be successful. If they're way behind, it make it a moot point. If Indianapolis can slow the game down -- and I think they can -- it's probably their biggest advantage, keeping the Patriots defense on the field.
ET: When Manning drops back to pass, who are the players he has to be the most concerned about? And how much has New England been relying on the blitz to get their sacks this year?
JS: Blitzes? Not really as many as in the past. I think Rodney Harrison on a safety blitz has been able to pressure quarterbacks -- a good example is the Dallas game. Tedy Bruschi and/or Junior Seau have used delay blitzes to get to the quarterback in Cleveland. They've even forced blocking mishaps to allow outside linebackers to get to the quarterback.
Mike Vrabel had a career game last week against the Redskins, who didn't know what to do against the outside rush. If the Colts don't do something to neutralize him, it could be trouble. With that said, when you double Vrabel that gives Rosevelt Colvin a jump against the left tackle. With Tony Ugoh hurt, I think Colvin will be as big a factor this week as Vrabel was last week. Add into the mix the pressure Ty Warren and Jarvis Green have been able to put on quarterbacks up the middle and I think you'll see the general pressure get to Manning, not just that from the blitz.
A misunderstanding about the Patriots defense is that both Warren and Green are considered secondary threats compared to Vrabel, Richard Seymour or Colvin. It's Green and Warren's ability to defeat their blocks on the inside that cause the backs to move inside to protect the quarterbacks instead of blocking the outside guys. Then both Colvin and Vrabel have been able to disrupt the offense.
Indy is built differently. If Warren, Wilfork, Seymour and Green can't get pressure up the middle, Manning is just too darn quick to get to from the outside. It's going to be one of the most interesting parts of this game to watch.
Jon Scott is Scout.com's Patriots team expert. Read more of his columns at PatriotsInsider.com.