Though many would say that this unit is a case of the sum being greater than the parts, the Patriots actually have a number of talented players along the offensive line, including three first day picks. Guard Logan Mankins is the sole first-round pick of the group. Aside from Mankins, guard Stephen Neal is a former wrestler who excels in hand placement and leverage. Center Dan Koppen has quick feet and does an excellent job with the line calls. As a result of his good work, Brady is very rarely caught by surprise on a blitz. Right tackle Nick Kaczur is playing at a Pro Bowl level and left tackle Matt Light is one of the best in the business.
As a group, their key strengths are their technique and their persistence. When you look at the film, you never seen any of these linemen standing around, they are always in ardent pursuit of someone to block. The interior linemen use their hands and lower body to gain leverage very well in the running game. Both Light and Kaczur are very adept at handling speed rushers, which is bad news for Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, since not only do both tackles have a knack for continually forcing the pass rush upfield, but Brady has a knack for finding just the right moment to step up in the pocket.
In order to combat the skills and technique of this talented fivesome, the Colts will need to play bigger than they actually are, with Raheem Brock and Ed Johnson winning the leverage battles in the trenches while Freeney and Mathis use swim moves outside-in to take advantage of Light's and Kaczur's tendency to push ends up the field.
On early downs, depending on how the game shakes out, Indianapolis should stick with the run blitzes that have been successful so far in order to create penetration against the solid middle of the Patriots' line and force New England into 3rd-and-long situations. While they still may convert in those situations, early success against the running game will not force the Patriots to throw, but they have shown a willingness to abandon the running game early (even if it's working) in favor of their explosive passing attack.
For Sunday's game, many have touted this matchup as Brady vs. Manning.
More accurately, the matchup for Sunday is: Indianapolis' defensive line vs. Brady's hands and feet.
Watch enough tape on Brady and one thing stands out -- if he's having a good game, his feet barely move and his left hand doesn't waiver. If he's having a bad game (no film on that from this year, so you'll just have to trust me), he shuffles his feet, moves back and forth in the pocket, and pats the ball with his left hand. For a perfect and ubiquitous example of this, watch the famous "Tuck Rule" play and keep your eyes on his left hand and his feet.
So the question is, "how do you elicit this behavior?"
Brady moves east-to-west about as badly as anyone in the league, but moves north-to-south better than any other quarterback in the NFL. He has excellent instincts inside the pocket, but generally throws the ball away if he breaks the tackle box. The key is to make the pocket that he is operating from as small as possible. You do that by collapsing the pocket from the outside and pushing the pocket from the inside. Brock and Johnson need to push their men upfield and Freeney and Mathis need to start to the outside -- taking advantage of Light's and Kaczur's tendency to lean in that direction -- then collapse to the inside. Even if they don't get to Brady, they need to get him to move his feet and start patting the ball.
If crowded, Brady's rhythm will be effected and, while he won't suddenly morph into a turnover machine, he will also not be able to plant and throw in as complete a motion as he would like. This will hurt his overall accuracy and the timing of his routes. He'll stop hitting his receivers in stride, start throwing behind receivers, and possibly start hitting defenders in the hands.
In order to get to Brady, it is not a requirement to sack him. He can actually be more rattled by a consistently compressed pocket than by occasionally ending up on his back.
When defending this particular passing game and this particular quarterback, the goal is not total domination. The goal is to win enough battles and create enough disruption to slow this seemingly unstoppable force down.