Five to Watch: Colts at Falcons

Greg Talmage points out five key Colts players worth paying attention to during the Colts' Thanksgiving Day showdown against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. See who he picked and why their performance is crucial to an Indianapolis holiday win.

Joseph Addai: Addai has had to work extremely hard for every yard the last two games. At San Diego and against Kansas City, the Colts ran for a measly 141 yards combined (70.5 per game) and 2.7 yards per carry. That's a significant decrease from their typical 124.2 yards per game average and 4.1 yards per carry figure.

Why the downturn? It's because the Colts passing game is failing to keep opponents honest. In the past, WR Marvin Harrison normally occupied a cornerback and at least some of a safety's attention. Teams played their safeties deep to prevent the over-the-top pass to Harrison or Reggie Wayne.

Now, with Harrison out, Wayne has been double covered on most plays, but the Colts have drawn man-to-man looks on the other receivers — Moorehead, Gonzalez or Craphonso Thorpe. That allows the other safety to cheat up to help out on the Colts' running game.

Tony Dungy talked about this after the Chiefs game and explained what exactly Indianapolis needs to do to combat it. "We did get a lot more single safety and a lot more of them coming down into the box," Dungy said of the Colts' victory over Kansas City. "If that's the case, then it's always been that we've got to throw and force people to double-cover our outside guys."

As we all know, that would be a lot easier if Harrison were one of the outside guys. But it won't change until another receiver not named Reggie Wayne steps-up.

Anthony Gonzalez: Help could be on the way for the Colts' running game this week. On Monday, Dungy informed the press that he expects to have Anthony Gonzalez back for Thursday's game in Atlanta.

While Gonzalez is no Marvin Harrison, he is a significant talent and skill upgrade over Moorehead or Thorpe. If able to go, Gonzalez will see plenty of single coverage on Thursday. Gonzalez played a very solid game when he replaced Harrison in the Colts' Week 5 contest against Tampa. He had 7 catches for 71 yards that afternoon.

A similar performance on Thanksgiving would go a long way in getting the Colts' offense back on track and would help get that safety out of the box. So if you see an eighth player dropped down into the box, watch to see if Manning goes to Gonzalez early and often in an attempt to draw that safety up and out.

Colts' DE Robert Mathis
Tom Hauck/Getty

Robert Mathis: The offensive tackle position for the Falcons has been decimated by injuries this season. Both opening day starter LT Wayne Gandy and his replacement Renardo Foster are now on injured reserve. Starting RT Todd Weiner is also out and will miss Thursday's game. Atlanta is hopeful he'll be back soon, but who will be protecting Joey Harrington Thursday?

Tyson Clabo will be on the right side and Quinn Ojinnaka on the left. Of these two, I'm specifically going to focus on the tackle that'll be matched up against DE Robert Mathis.

After going undrafted following his 2003 season at Wake Forest, Clabo has had stints on the rosters and practice squads of the New York Giants, San Diego Chargers and the Denver Broncos. He was even named an NFL Europe All-Pro at Tackle in 2005. He saw his first real NFL playing time last season while with the Falcons, starting eight games at right guard and one at left guard.

This season the above-mentioned injuries forced the move outside. He mostly played guard in college and is considered by most NFL scouts as a guard, not a tackle.

Clabo brings a good combination of size, athleticism and long arms. He has good quickness off the ball and knows how to use his frame and mass to position and wall off defenders. Whether or not he can use that quickness to get in position and subdue the speedy Robert Mathis will be the big question in this matchup.

With Dwight Freeney out, Mathis is obviously going to get some extra attention. Sunday against Kansas City, Mathis proved he was up to the task with a sack and forced fumble. Something tells me not many DEs in NFL Europe match the speed, motor and intensity of Robert Mathis. It will be interesting to see how the Falcons decide to handle Mathis.

Charlie Johnson: Charlie Johnson struggled recently filling in at left tackle. Now it appears, after practicing most of last week and this week, that starter Tony Ugoh might be ready to get back out there.

That, however, does not necessarily mean a trip back to the bench for Charlie. Ed Thompson talked about this in his Nov. 21 blog: "The biggest issue for Johnson is more likely whether he'll be needed on the left side for Tony Ugoh, who the Colts are also hoping will be ready for Thursday, or possibly on the right side for Diem."

RT Ryan Diem has a sore ankle, which kept him out of portions of each of the past two games. If Diem can't go and Ugoh can then Johnson will fill in at right tackle. Past performance seems to indicate Charlie is a lot more comfortable on the right side than the left. It will be interesting to how Johnson plays at RT compared to his starts at LT.

If both Ugoh and Diem are out then Charlie will be back at LT, Jake Scott will move from RG to RT and Dylan Gandy will be inserted at RG.

Gary Brackett: Depending on the coverage called, Brackett figures to spend a fair amount of time dropping back into coverage and helping out over the middle against the likes of TE Alge Crumpler, slot receiver Laurent Robinson and various backs out of the backfield.

The Falcons want QB Joey Harrington to get the ball out of his hands quickly. A lot of times that means checking down to a receiver over the middle or a back. That's why Brackett's play in pass coverage will be a key ingredient to the Colts success on defense.

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