Eric Hartz of ColtPower.com, the Indianapolis Colts site on the Scout.com network, shared his thoughts on the Colts by answering questions from Patriots Insider's Jon Scott. Enjoy.
Q: Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney get most of the credit for the Colts' defensive success in the front seven. How big of an impact do they typically have in a game, and are there other guys in that unit who deserve credit?
Eric Hartz: Typically, Mathis and Freeney have more to do with the defense playing well than any other two players on that side of the ball. However, the duo does seem to play better in the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, where crowd noise can work to their advantage, although neither recorded a sack last week until the Bengals' final possession last Sunday. Antonio Johnson provided a big boost to the defensive line in his return from injury vs. the Bengals, while young DT Fili Moala and rookie DE Jerry Hughes are beginning to show some promise.
Q: At one point in his career, Bob Sanders was credited by media members for being the difference-maker in Colts wins and losses. Some compared him to Troy Polamalu saying the defense plays with a different attitude when he's on the field. How is Sanders doing and has be really had that big of an impact on the defense?
Hartz: Sanders made his reputation with his hard hits and all-out style of play. His return from injury for the 2006 playoffs transformed a terrible run defense into an outstanding one, and the great performance by him and the defense the next season led to him being named the 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But in terms of wins and losses, the Colts haven't suffered too much from the oft-injured safety's numerous absences. In fact, the win-loss percentage is almost exactly the same whether he plays or not. Perhaps that's more a testament to the Colts' approach than an indictment of Sanders, but the scoreboard doesn't lie.
Hartz: Of course. They are both first-round picks and critical pieces. Addai in particular is a crucial part of the Colts offense, and is the total package as a player — a runner, receiver, blocker, and has even thrown a touchdown pass or two in his career. Brown is improving and finding his confidence, but Addai is the superior blocker and runner. Many may not realize this as he doesn't put up great numbers, but I believe Addai is the second-most important player on the Colts offense.
Q: How have injuries impacted the Colts this season on offense and defense?
Hartz: Significantly. The Colts have lost a starting receiver and a Pro Bowl tight end on offense. Another wide receiver who put up strong numbers in the first part of the season, Austin Collie, has missed time as well. The Colts have turned to third- and fourth-stringers and critical positions in the secondary and at running back. One safety, Aaron Francisco, wasn't on any team's roster at the beginning of the season. He's now starting. They had a center, rookie Jacques McClendon, wear a number in the 80s and dress as a tight end. One running back, Javarris James, was cut by three teams since the preseason and was re-signed five weeks ago. He's now tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns. Two undrafted rookies, Blair White and Brandon James, have caught passes from Manning. One could go on and on, but it's one of the bigger injury epidemics I can remember.
Q: Peyton Manning is one of the best QBs in NFL history. People like to compare him to Tom Brady and debate which one is better. It's a silly discussion as both QBs are obviously two of the best of all time. The NFL tried to rank the top 100 players of all time. Joe Montana was the top QB (4th overall), Manning was 8th while Brady was 21st, behind Brett Favre (20th) and just in front of John Elway (23rd) and Dan Marino (25th). Do you think those rankings accurately reflect the value of the respective QBs? Should anyone be ranked higher or lower?
Hartz: I don't have much use for things like this. All these guys are absolutely awesome. To be perfectly honest, Manning may be a little low on this list, but as an active player he has room to move up. I think he would probably be regarded as a top-five player by the time he retires. I think it's pretty accurate, otherwise. I might move Marino ahead of a couple of guys, but arguments could be made either way.
Q: What is the Colts biggest weakness and how can the Patriots exploit it to take advantage on Sunday?
Hartz: Right now, the Colts' biggest weakness is that they are playing hurt and are missing some key pieces. The best way to exploit that is just to execute well, as coach Belichick alluded to in his Friday press conference.
PREDICTION (And why)
Hartz: I think it will be a close one. With so many young players on the Patriots, Manning is going to get some opportunities and take them. At the same time, the Patriots have gotten back to basics and are finding a real identity on offense. It may just come down to another fourth down in the final corner. I'll give Manning the edge as the Colts defense has been playing well the last few weeks. 27-24, Colts.
BONUS Q: : How is Adam Vinatieri holding up these days?
Hartz: He's having one of his better seasons in recent memory. Finally healthy after some lingering hip and knee issues the last two years, he has made 17 of 19 field goals, including 5-of-6 from 40-plus yards.
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