WHERE: FORD FIELD, DOWNTOWN DETROIT 12:30 NOON
BROADCAST: CBS TV NATIONALLY, WKRK 97.1, WXTY 1270AM
ALL TIME: SERIES IS TIED 18-18-2
AT STAKE: 65th ANNUAL THANKSGIVING DAY MATCHUP
LAST MEETING: COLTS 30 - LIONS 18 (10/29/2000)
NOTABLE: the Colts built a 23-0 halftime lead that shrunk to 23-18 with 2:32 to go when Charlie Batch hit Herman Moore from 5-yards out. However, a David Macklin interception of Batch resulted in the and clinching touchdown run from 24-yards by Edgerrin James.
INJURY REPORT: INDIANAPOLIS - G Tupe Peko (ankle) and S Bob Sanders (knee) are out. G Rick DeMulling (chest) and LB Gilbert Gardner (hamstring) are doubtful. WR Troy Walters (upper arm) is questionable. DB Nick Harper (shoulder), DB Joseph Jefferson (knee), DE Robert Mathis (groin) and K Mike Vanderjagt (groin) are probable. DETROIT - LB Boss Bailey (knee) is out. WR Az-Zahir Hakim (hip) is questionable. WR/KR Eddie Drummond (knee), DE Cory Redding (hamstring), DT Shaun Rogers (neck), DT Dan Wilkinson (elbow) and G Damien Woody (quad) are probable.
(ALLEN PARK) - Is there a better setting for an upset and a comeback? The Lions, losers of their last four straight contests, are facing one of the NFL's highest powered offense, one that some are saying could be the best of all time.
Only 16 offenses in NFL history have ever had a 4,000 passer, a 1,000 rusher and receiver; the Indianapolis Colts are one of those teams, but they've accomplished the feat twice, the only team ever to do so. They nearly pulled it off again in 2002 when star running back Edgerrin James rushed for 989 yards, just 11 short of the mark.
"I was watching more of the film on their offense before we came out here, and boy he's good," said Lions coach Steve Mariucci of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
"He's so much in command, its fun to watch him. They have such a great run threat in Edgerrin James, and they have tight ends and receivers to compliment Peyton Manning so well."
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning has already thrown an amazing 35 touchdown passes in just ten games, threatening the all-time single season mark of 48 set by former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino.
Mariucci likened Manning's run at the record to what Barry Bonds has done to Major League Baseball's home run record.
"If he stays on track, he's going to challenge that record which is really an accomplishment. I don't know if it equates to hitting 75 home runs or what. It's a large amount of touchdown passes for a season, that's for sure."
Manning doesn't need to hit on the long ball to score. With Wayne and Harrison running precision routes between the linebackers, down the seams and on the corners, Manning has the ability to hit them either on the fly or allow them to run after the catch.
Detroit must attempt to contain the Colts offense and coach Dick Jauron's "bend-but-don't-break" philosophy is a sound one. Jauron, though, needs to add a few wrinkles to the mix, using dime, nickel, and zone blitzing to throw off the rhythm of the Colts and perhaps force some negative plays.
Despite playing in less than 50% of the Colts offensive plays, Stokley has caught 42 passes for 672 yards and five touchdowns, outpacing any of Detroit's receivers. Rookie corner Keith Smith will likely draw the assignment on Stokley and it is crucial that he hold his own.
Meanwhile, Detroit tough front seven led by Pro Bowl candidate Shaun Rogers needs to pressure Manning up front. Colts head coach Tony Dungy says Rogers poses problems for the Indy offensive line.
"He is a different style than the guys that I have played with. He's a lot like Cortez Kennedy, some of the bigger, more powerful guys that have really wreaked some havoc in the NFL. I remember a guy back a long time ago, Jumpy Gathers, who used to just run through people and run over people and that's what this guy reminds me of."
Manning agreed that unless contained, Rogers could cause the Colts problems. "He really jumps out on film. Obviously he has great size and push up the field. He's a real difference maker on that defense," said Manning. "He's a guy that the offensive line is going to have to account for on Thursday."
Rogers and his defensive mates will need to slow the progress of six-year veteran Edgerrin James. The AFC's leading rusher (rank #2 in NFL, 1081 yards, six touchdowns), James brings the combination of size, speed and shiftiness that is hard to stop. In four of his six years in the league, he's rushed for over 1,000 yards. (In 2001 he played in only six contest due to injury and in 2002 he rushed for 989).
James strong ground production sets up the highly effective play-action passing attack of Manning. For Detroit, it's a case of pick your poison. Likely Detroit will use dime and maybe even seven defensive backs and take their chances with James on the ground.
WHEN DETROIT HAS THE BALL
Lately, returner Eddie Drummond has been the Lions best offensive weapon. Drummond has scored three touchdowns in the last two games in the return game and the Colts have considered using drastic measures to limit Drummond's opportunities.
"We wanted to go to the jump ball theory and just have a jump ball at midfield every time you start," said Dungy half jokingly. "He's been exceptional in kickoffs and punts. We had a big challenge last week with (R.W.) McQuarters and (Jerry) Azumah and they had done real well. He is just as much of a threat and we're going to have our work cut out for us."
Drummond has consistently given the Lions a short field, but Detroit has gotten very little out of it.
"We do have to capitalize on good field position, you bet," said Mariucci. "We haven't had as many takeaways on short fields as we had earlier in the year. But some of the good field position that we've had has come from Eddie. So it's very important that A, we continue to get some of that, and B, that we capitalize short drives into points."
A bright spot in Detroit's play during the four-game losing streak is rookie running back Kevin Jones. Jones finally broke the 100-yard mark last Sunday (19 carries for 100 yards) and it is puzzling why with Detroit's offensive struggles, they haven't seen fit to give him 20-25 carries in a game.
Indianapolis' defense is no longer the laughing stock it once was as they have stiffened of late against the run (rank 9th in AFC). Dungy feels their defense can meet any test.
"There is going to be a time, or there might be three times, when you have to shut people down," said Dungy, "but I think our defense is playing better than it did the first half of the year. I think we're going to be a good enough defense to win a Super Bowl by the end of the year."
Meanwhile, Detroit's Joey Harrington, in his third season at the helm of the Lions offense continues to struggle mightily. At one time Harrington rated 3rd in the NFC in passer rating at 90.9. After four sub-par games Harrington has fallen to 9th in the conference at just 80.5
Mariucci says that Detroit has even contemplated rotating quarterbacks in a bid to jump start the offense. "It's not our plan today, but we'll see what happens. It's been done. Obviously in college it's quite common. There is some merit in doing some of that."
Dungy says Detroit would be well-served to stick with Harrington and allow him to develop.
"He was off to a good start. They had gotten [rookie wide receiver] Roy Williams involved and he was making some big catches. Just watching the tape recently, it just doesn't seem like he's as comfortable," he commented.
"I went through that in Tampa with Trent Dilfer. We kind of hung in there with Trent. He went through a couple periods of ups and downs, but then he came on and took us to the playoffs and became a leader for us. I think the same thing will happen with Joey."
Harrington needs to get back the chemistry he had early on in the season with Williams. In addition, he needs to rally the team by making some good throws early, leading his receivers instead of throwing the ball, high, low and behind them. While Az-Zahir Hakim is unlikely to go in this game, Harrington needs to look to tight end Stephen Alexander more effectively.
While Reggie Swinton hasn't made many plays, he's shown some flashes. Scottie Vines has moved ahead of David Kircus in this week of practice and will likely get a chance to be a Thanksgiving Day hero.
INTANGIBLES Detroit has historically played some of their best football in front of the national television audiences that shows up on Thanksgiving Day.
Adding to the drama is the retirement ceremony for three players who wore #20 for Detroit, all time great running back Billy Sims and Hall of Fame corner Lem Barney and running back Barry Sanders.
Manning is aware of what Detroit has done in the past on Turkey Day. "I am very aware of (the Lions' Thanksgiving Day tradition). This is my first time playing, but obviously I've watched many, many of the games growing up.
"In New Orleans, just watching the Thanksgiving games was kind of a tradition and brings back a lot of memories. Playing in it is a special opportunity and I realize to come to Detroit and play on Thanksgiving wearing throwback uniforms. All records are out the window as far as this game because it's a huge game."
"Everybody's watching and both teams will be ready to play. When the schedule came out and we saw the opportunity, our players were excited. It's a good opportunity for Indianapolis. We're a team that has come a long way in the past six years," said Manning.
Adding to the aura of the game is both teams wearing "throwback" uniforms. Detroit will be in the plain blue and silver with no logo, while the Colts will wear uniforms from the 1950's era that feature the horseshoe in the rear of the helmet.
Detroit may play their best football on Thanksgiving Day, but there appears to be no stopping the Colts. Detroit's best hope is that their $50 million corner tandem of Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant take some chances and get some takeaways.
They have to further hope that Harrington and Williams can rekindle the magic while getting Alexander and Jones involved.
A few fumbles by the Colts James wouldn't hurt either. Can Detroit circle the wagons and pull off the upset. Not these Lions. An entertaining game, but still Detroit gets their fifth-straight loss.
Colts 37 - Lions 27