Five to Watch: Bears at Colts

The Colts are set to kick off a new NFL season Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium. Who will be crucial to the team's success if they hope to start the season off with a win? Greg Talmage provides a handful of players to keep your eye on.

1. Colts Interior Line (Daniel Federkeil-Jamey Richard-Charlie Johnson):

If last season is any indicator, the Bears run defense can be gashed. It ranked 24th in the league in 2007. And, of course, Colts fans remember Super Bowl XLI when Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes combined for 40 carries and 190 yards against the Bears. The key to the Colts rushing success that rainy Super Bowl day was the run blocking of their interior line. Indianapolis ran right down the Bears throats and at the middle of the Bears defense.

Now the three players who made up the interior offensive line in Super Bowl XLI were Ryan Lilja, Jeff Saturday and Jake Scott. None of those three will be on the field this Sunday.

While most will be watching to see how Peyton Manning's new interior line protects a quarterback who missed all of pre-season with a knee injury, I'll be watching to see what kind of success these new starters have creating holes for Colts runners, getting to the second level, adjusting to Manning's audible line adjustments, and pulling around the edge on stretch runs.

We'll see today how Dwight Freeney looks after a foot injury
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2. Dwight Freeney:

One huge unknown for the Colts is exactly how will Freeney perform as he works his way back from a Lisfranc injury. The Colts will likely opt to ease Freeney back and limit his snaps to mostly pass-rushing situations.

The Bears left-tackle situation is fluid. They drafted Chris Williams, Vanderbilt, in hopes that he'd fill the role for years to come. But now thanks to back surgery he's out. John Crist of BearReport explains just how this changes the dynamics for their line: "St. Clair supposedly wasn't good enough to start last season ahead of the departed Fred Miller at right tackle, but now he's protecting Orton's blind side at left tackle after Miller was released and John Tait moved from left to right."

Even though Freeney won't be at full speed and strength, he'll be working against a much slower opponent in St. Clair. So look for the Bears offense to give a lot of tight end help to St. Clair and to chip frequently. It sounds like St. Clair has a long way to go even before Bear fans are comfortable with him on the left side.

3. Marvin Harrison: Just like with Freeney, Colt fans are eager to see Marvin Harrison back in fold and how he comebacks healthy in 2008.

In terms of matchups, Indianapolis would likely prefer to set up Harrison against Charles Tillman as often as possible. Tillman is one of the NFL's more physical cornerbacks, but Harrison excels at avoiding the jam and he has the burst and route-running skills to separate from Tillman.

The Bears other corner, Nathan Vasher, is more athletic and has the speed to hound Harrison.

If Tillman is matched up against Marvin, the thing to watch is here is the line of scrimmage. Does Tillman try to jam Marv or does he play back? Is he having success getting his hands on Harrison and re-routing the shift receiver?

If it's Vasher, watch for the short stuff to Marv — quick outs and curls where Marvin can use his route-running skills to his advantage and not get into a foot race with Nathan.

4. Courtney Roby: The Bears have Devin Hester while the Colts have Courtney Roby. Not really an equal pairing. Roby made the team thanks in large part to his decent returns during the preseason. Now we'll see how he performs in the regular season against first-string special teamers. Against the talented Bears defense, field position is key, and how Roby performs is integral to that.

5. Ed Johnson: Johnson is coming off a mediocre preseason, but with Indianapolis one can hopefully chalk that up to the fact that the Colts play their cards very close to the vest in preseason.

Starying LG Terrence Metcalf is nursing a knee injury. So don't expect him to be at full speed. Johnson will be Metcalf's assignment for most of the game.

As Brad Keller points out in his scouting report of the Bears offense, Ed should actually play "more aggressive against the Bears interior since the Bears have a number of very patient backs with good vision that will eventually find a seam if given enough time. By collapsing the interior of the line and penetrating into the backfield, the defensive tackles will force the Chicago running backs to make a decision, pick a lane, and plunge forward."

Being aggressive was not a problem for Ed Johnson in 2007. Now I'm eager to see him play and hope my predictions of a sophomore slump for Johnson are wrong.

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