SCOUTING REPORT

More than one observer has forecast a Super Bowl appearance for the Indianapolis Colts this season, a prediction based in part on the arrival of new head coach Tony Dungy, the presence of the Big Three and the good fortune of playing in the weak AFC South. One thing is certain: The Colts won't be any easier a challenge than they've been in recent years.

When you talk about the Colts, it always starts with the Big Three of Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison, probably the most potent offensive trio in the NFL now that Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin no longer are together in Dallas.

Dungy compared having to defend those three to trying to stop the Minnesota trifecta of its quarterback, running back Robert Smith and wideout Randy Moss.

It's always a tremendous challenge for a defense.

What makes Manning so difficult to defend, beyond the obvious physical skills, is his tremendous play-faking ability. Manning is difficult to sack not because of a tremendous offensive line — although it is fairly solid — but mostly because he freezes the pass rush on a consistent basis because of his play-faking ability.

In Harrison, Manning also has the top wide receiver in the AFC and one of the top three in the league.

The Dolphins have matched up Sam Madison one-on-one against Harrison in the past, but it's not clear whether they will do that again this year.

One thing is for sure: Either Madison or Patrick Surtain need to be on Harrison at all times, because if Harrison winds up matched up against Jamar Fletcher, that's a matchup that will hurt the Dolphins.

The Dolphins catch a break in this game because tight end Marcus Pollard isn't expected to play and he's somebody who has hurt the Dolphins in the past.

Pollard's absence will allow the defense to concentrate a little more on the wideouts, a very good group with the addition of Qadry Ismail and the maturing of former first-round pick Reggie Wayne.

James gained 99 yards in the opener against Jacksonville after sitting out the preseason, and while he may not have looked quite as explosive as before his knee injury last October, he's still a threat the Dolphins have to deal with.

On defense, the Colts have problems along the defensive line with tackles James Cannida and Josh Williams both out with injuries.

The Colts plan on moving Brad Scioli inside to tackle and starting rookie Raheem Brock in Scioli's spot at defensive end. Regardless, this makeshift line shouldn't give the Dolphins too many problems.

The Colts' strength on defense is at linebacker, where Mike Peterson led the team with 12 tackles last week and Marcus Washington returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown in the victory over Jacksonville last Sunday.

The secondary got a boost in the offseason when the Colts signed former Bears starter Walt Harris, who immediately became the best player in the group.

On special teams, the Colts have a very accurate kicker in Mike Vanderjagt and a very good punter in Hunter Smith.

Former Viking Troy Walters has taken over as the Colts' kick returner, and while he has some ability he's not a game-breaker.


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