Five to Watch: Colts versus Patriots

Brad Keller points out the five players that will be key in determining if the Colts are undefeated at the end of the day -- and why.

Dwight Freeney/Robert MathisSince this is a tie, both of these men get mentioned as one unit.  Freeney and Mathis will be the key to this game on defense.  They need to pressure Tom Brady, collapse the pocket, and make sure that no throw that the New England quarterback makes is uncontested.  If they are able to stay in Brady's face on a consistent basis, throw him to the turf a few times and get his feet and left hand moving, they will have done their job.  Brady has, in part, been able to carve up defenses thus far this season because he's had an ideal pocket to work from and has seldom been sacked.  If he is allowed to sit in the pocket and survey the field all day, the coverage will not hold -- there is simply too much talent for the Patriots on offense to cover everyone, even with a soft zone.  Raheem Brock and Ed Johnson will play a role here as well, but Freeney and Mathis will be the two most important defenders on the field on Sunday.  Their performances will have a huge impact on the entire defense's success -- or failure.

Reggie Wayne:  Wayne faces a favorable matchup with the small-but-scrappy Ellis Hobbs.  While he was held fairly well in check the last time the Colts and Patriots met, he will likely be the only accomplished wide receiver on the field when the game starts, given that Marvin Harrison is unlikely to play with a knee injury.  In order to keep pace with the high-flying New England offense, Indianapolis will have to throw the ball.  When they do, Peyton Manning will be looking for Wayne and Dallas Clark, but Wayne is the one most capable of making a game-changing play.  Without Harrison and his stellar record against the Patriots to lean on, someone is going to need to step up on offense.  That someone needs to be Reggie Wayne.


Joseph Addai celebrates after a touchdown run against the Carolina Panthers.
AP Photo/Mike McCarn

Joseph AddaiHis work between and outside the tackles will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.  To be effective and keep New England's offense off the field, the Colts will need to run the ball and control the clock.  Above and beyond that, Addai needs to amass yards in bunches when he breaks to the outside and is able to glide past the slow-footed outside linebackers for the Patriots and enters the next level of the defense.  Three yards and a cloud of dust will not get it done when these two teams collide.  Addai needs to make the first man miss, then explode.  He will also be important when it comes to picking up linebackers (or other defenders) that come free on the blitz.  Controlling the clock with Addai is one thing, winning the game on the strength of solid running game that not only gains yards, but dominates the line of scrimmage is another.

Jeff SaturdayWhile Manning does do a lot of the line calls himself before the ball is hiked, Saturday is the quarterback of the offensive line.  When New England varies their personnel groupings and show different looks at the line of scrimmage, Saturday needs to interpret the defense correctly and adjust the line calls accordingly.  The Patriots have been effective creating pressure this season by only rushing four or five defenders.  With Addai in to block in known passing situations, Indianapolis will have the man-advantage.  Saturday needs to make sure that the right line calls are made at the right time so that Mike Vrabel, Rosevelt Colvin, and Rodney Harrison do not come in unblocked.

Peyton Manning:  Now that he has shed the "choke artist" moniker by finally capturing professional football's biggest prize, he needs to reinforce his big-game reputation on Sunday, driving the point home that he still belongs in the conversation of "best quarterback in the league."  The only way he can do that is by having a huge game on Sunday.  Since everything the Colts do on offense starts with Manning, he needs to continue his stellar track record of being able to read the defense when he comes to the line.  Working with Saturday on the line calls, it is absolutely imperative that he hits more often than he misses on protection and accurately and quickly determining where the fourth (or fifth) pass rusher is coming from.  With the ball in his hands, he needs to deliver timely, accurate passes, hitting his receivers in stride and knowing when to put a little extra velocity on the ball in order squeeze it into a tight space.  He has the "can't win a championship" monkey off his back, now all he needs to do is build upon what he has already accomplished.  It's a team game.  Manning can't do everything, but he will be the single most important player for Indianapolis in Sunday's game.  Even though the Colts have found balance on offense, this fact remains: As Manning goes, so go the Colts.


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