1. Jeff Saturday:
In his scouting report on the Raiders defense, ColtPower.com's Brad Keller is quick to remind Colts fans that despite a 4-9 record, the Raiders are ranked fifth in the NFL in pass defense and have kept most games close. Oakland's corners play a very physical brand of press coverage, but can also quickly backpedal into a zone that keeps most everything in front of them.
The area to exploit against Oakland is their 31st-ranked run defense, which is giving up an average of 150.4 yards per game. Only the winless Dolphins give up more yards on the ground.
This is where center Jeff Saturday will play an integral role. The main weakness here is the Raiders defensive tackles. As Brad pointed out in his article, "One of the primary reasons that the Raiders rank so well against the pass is that Gerald Warren and Warren Sapp can be fairly easily overpowered at the point of attack and teams have had success running inside on them."
So why pass on them when you can just run the ball right up the gut and control the clock?
If the Colts' interior line is able to get a good initial push, they should have considerable success against the soft middle of this defense. Watch Saturday closely to see if he is able successfully overpower and seal off Warren Sapp. Besides taking Sapp out of the play, it also allows a guard to get to the second level and open a larger seam for Colts running backs.
It's also very important in terms of pass protection. Sapp may not be as quick as he was during his Pro Bowl days in Tampa, but he still requires some double-teams in pass protection. Saturday won't require help blocking Sapp often, but he may need help from one of the Colts' guards in some third-and-long situations.
Because of his excellent initial quickness, Sapp is still an above-average pass rusher in a 4-3 scheme when able to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback.
2. Jeff Charleston:
With Robert Mathis unlikely to play, DE Jeff Charleston could get his first start of the season. With Mathis, Freeney and even Raheem Brock out, Charleston will not only get his first start but will also see more in-game snaps than at any point this season.
Charleston registered his first sack of the season last week and will be looking to add to that against a Raider offensive line, which has given up 33 sacks in 13 games. Normally Charleston gets his most extensive time while rotating with Josh Thomas at right defensive end. Now, with both likely to start, Josh Thomas will move over to left end while Charleston stays at RE. Both will probably see time at each end of the line, however.
Both of Oakland's tackles, Barry Sims and Cornell Green, will have at least a 40-pound weight advantage over Charleston. Combine that with the fact that the Raiders lean heavily on their rushing attack, which averages 131.2 yards per game, and Jeff can probably expect plenty of runs in his direction. How well he is able to hold up the point of attack will be crucial to stopping the Oakland running game.
Kelvin Hayden battles Houston's Andre Davis
Bob Levey/Getty Images
3. Kelvin Hayden:
After a tumultuous 2006 season, wideout Jerry Porter has become the Raiders go-to-receiver in 2007. Despite facing double coverage most of the season, he has 36 catches for 611 yards and five touchdowns, and is a comfortable target for current starting QB Josh McCown. The assignment of slowing Porter will fall on Colts corner Kelvin Hayden.
Hayden has proven to be a great fit in Tony Dungy's defense. He is tough, disciplined and intelligent. He's not afraid to challenge the receiver off the line and is strong in press coverage. Still, Porter has the speed to stretch the field vertically, so it will be important that Hayden successfully keep Porter in front of him.
If safety Bob Sanders is dropped down into the box, the onus will be on free safety Antoine Bethea — or, if he's not recovered from his knee injury, Matt Giordano — to be the last line of defense. Look for Bethea or Giordano to roll coverage toward Porter because of his downfield ability.
4. Dallas Clark:
Tight end Dallas Clark always presents a dilemma for opposing defensive coordinators: do they trust a linebacker to cover him, or put in a nickelback to handle the duty? What will Raiders coordinator Rob Ryan do?
When the Raiders opt to stay in their base 4-3 defense, linebacker Thomas Howard will shadow Clark. Howard will try to hit Clark within five yards in hopes of getting him off his route and to mess up any timing patterns. Howard has the speed to run with Dallas in the short to immediate areas, but not deep. Oakland does not want Howard to get into a footrace with Clark downfield.
Another defensive option is to put a corner on Clark. But the danger in having an extra defensive back on the field is that it takes a linebacker off the field, making it easier for Indianapolis to do what Raider opponents have done all season — run right at the Raiders 31st-ranked run defense. Spreading them out to run on them is a definite game plan option.
5. Anthony Gonzalez:
The Raiders will match up their corners depending upon the opposition. Nnamdi Asomugha will usually draw the opponent's No. 1 receiver. This week, that will be WR Reggie Wayne, while corner Stanford Routt will take the other outside receiver. And that Routt-Gonzalez match-up is something to focus on.
Routt started the season behind CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Fabian Washington on the depth chart, but was able to unseat Washington as a starter in mid-October. On early downs, especially, Oakland likes to play cornerbacks Asomugha and Routt in pressing man-to-man coverage.
When in man coverage, Routt is the one most likely to be picked on. It was Routt who was on the wrong side of Brett Favre's third-quarter bomb to Greg Jennings, who turned the catch into an 80-yard touchdown last week. Routt explained the bad coverage on the fact that he mistimed his leap.
If QB Peyton Manning sees a safety blitzing toward him and single coverage on his right, you better believe he'll take some shots deep for Anthony Gonzalez — just like last week when Anthony caught two touchdown passes of 40 and 57 yards.