Five to Watch: Jacksonville at Colts

Greg Talmage points out who you should keep an eye on during the Colts' AFC South showdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the RCA Dome Sunday. See who he picked and why their performance is crucial to an Indianapolis divisional win.

Antoine Bethea: He might just be the best safety you've never heard of. Antoine Bethea is in the midst of a breakout season. He'll again be a key cog, especially on pass defense, in the Colts' defensive game plan. Here's why.

In their last game against Jacksonville, Indianapolis opted to frequently drop safety Bob Sanders into the box in an attempt to get an extra defender focused on stopping the Jaguars' running game. When this happens, though, it leaves only Bethea back deep in coverage.

Watch to see if Jaguars QB David Garrard checks out of some initial play calls in an attempt to take advantage of this. The Jaguars' coaching staff seems to gain more and more confidence in Garrard each week.

Jacksonville will want to use tight end Marcedes Lewis or a slot receiver like Ernest Wilford to occupy the attention of Bethea in the deep seam. As a result, this will leave wide receivers Reggie Williams and Dennis Northcutt in man cornerback coverage against Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. The Jaguars like any matchup that gets their receivers in single coverage.

Northcutt is having his best year in ages and has become a solid possession receiver. Williams is finally showing signs of being the receiver Jacksonville thought they drafted. He's fearless over the middle and knows how to use his big size to his advantage.

Ryan Lilja: The Jacksonville defense is built around their Pro Bowl defensive tackles, John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. These two create problems in several ways. First off, they require a lot of double teams, thus allowing Jaguar linebackers to be free of blocks and more able to make plays. Their ability to get penetration and eat space will at times close-off the middle and discourage teams from running inside, which then makes the opposition's running game more predictable.

Stroud will miss Sunday's contest as he is serving the final game of a four-game suspension, but the game plan for his replacements is still the same — eat space and occupy blocks.

With Stroud out, the Colts' interior line will be able to focus more attention on Henderson. So expect to see C Jeff Saturday often helping Lilja out with Henderson.

Lilja has actually had more trouble with Henderson in pass protection than anything else. Lilja lacks the strength, agility and punch in pass protection to consistently stun big John Henderson. He is, however, a tough, blue-collar blocker, and while he may have some athletic limitations, he plays with a solid technique, is competitive, and will make Henderson work hard all afternoon.


Dallas Clark
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Dallas Clark: Over the years, the Colts have had some success over the middle of the field against Jacksonville, whether it be a slot receiver or tight ends. The main reason for this is because Jacksonville has often opted to use their two safeties to help on the outsides and trusting nickel corners and linebackers to handle the middle.

Sunday, expect to see Dallas aligning himself in the slot in hopes of taking advantage of the Jaguars' linebackers in coverage. Clark's ultimate goal will be to get behind the linebackers and make safeties Sammy Knight and Reggie Nelson leave their zone to cover him. That will prevent them from providing help over the top against Wayne and Gonzalez.

The one safety more likely to leave his zone will be the one on Gonzalez's side. The Jaguars will likely trust corner Rashean Mathis to cover Gonzalez in single coverage more than trusting No. 2 corner Brian Williams to do it against Reggie.

Right Tackle: The one adjustment you might expect to see is for Indianapolis to kick their pass protection in the direction of Jaguars DE Paul Spicer. Spicer is the Jaguars' most dangerous pass rusher and tallied two sacks against the Colts in the matchup in Jacksonville. Spicer gave Ryan Diem all sorts of trouble that Monday night.

The question now is: will Diem be the guy blocking Paul Spicer Sunday? Diem has been bothered by a sore ankle for a couple of weeks now. He missed practice on Wednesday, although Coach Dungy is still hopeful he'll be a go for Sunday. If Diem cannot go, Charlie Johnson will likely start in his place, but Johnson's status for Sunday is also up in the air. So it could again be Jake Scott moving from right guard to right tackle.

No matter who assumes the right tackle spot, that guy will have his hands full with Spicer. Spicer shows a variety of pass rush moves and knows how to get into a counter when the pass blocker anticipates his first move.

RCA Dome Crowd: Sunday will mark David Garrard's first start in the RCA Dome since his rookie season of 2002. Sunday is a huge game. A win and the Colts have basically a three-game lead (two in the loss column and the tiebreaker) with five to play. A loss and the two teams will have identical records. So this is a big game and the players on each side know it.

According to the Terre Haute Tribune Star, "The Jaguars have pointed to Sunday's game as the 'championship' of the division." Indianapolis' players are approaching matters in much the same fashion.

"I think it is a big game," middle linebacker Gary Brackett said. "We know where we are right now. And we know where they are. We win the game, we're up three games [in the AFC South divisional race]. We'd have a three-game lead with four games left. We lose and I think we'd actually be tied. This is a huge game. We're playing a tough opponent, definitely a rival. A team that for the last several years we've split [games] with them. We've just got to go out there and play football for 60 minutes and handle our business."

This is where a X-factor like the loud RCA Dome can give the Colts a nice boost and cause all kinds of fits for the opposing offense. A loud, rancorous, and thunderous RCA Dome will give even the most seasoned quarterback problems. The noise makes it difficult to hear signals from the sidelines, for the offensive line to hear snap counts and line calls, and as a result teams opt to do more silent counts and hand signals.


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