Opposition Research: Indianapolis Colts

The Patriots and Colts are two strong teams that know each other well: they played in the same division until recently. Scott McCandless takes a look at recent history, and what it indicates for this upcoming weekend, and also highlights key matchups between the teams.

Stock market analysts always say that past performance is no predictor of future events.

Acknowledging that caveat, there are still some pretty interesting numbers surrounding the New England – Indianapolis game.

The Patriots and Colts have a long history, having played together in the AFC East division until realignment nearly two years ago.  In that time, some trends have developed.  The Patriots are 39 and 24 against the Colts in their history and have won 10 of the last 12.  New England head coach Bill Belichick is 5-3 in his career against the Colts, including 3-1 at the helm of the Patriots.

Coach Belichick also has shown an ability take advantage of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.  The Patriots allow Manning to get his yards – he averaged 284 yards per game against New England in the last four games – but they also have held Manning to an average completion rate of just 56 percent.  And Manning has as many interceptions against the Belichick-led Patriots as he does touchdowns (six). 

With numbers like these, the Patriots may have been sorry to see the Colts leave the division, where they played each other twice each year.

Then again, the 2003 Colts are good enough to possibly make the Patriots sorry to play them at all.  Boasting a 9-2 record, the Colts are one of the league's most explosive teams.  Manning leads the NFL in passing yards with 3,105 and the Colts overall have the second most productive offense in the league, averaging over 370 yards per game and more than 31 minutes in time of possession.  The defense too has improved, now ranked 13th in the league from the mid-20s last year, allowing fewer than 20 points per game.

But perhaps most relevant statistic for the Patriots is their record following an overtime game, such as New England's win last Sunday over the Houston Texans.  The Patriots are 4-0 in games played in the week following an overtime game, including 3-0 on the road, as this coming game will be.  This number indicates an ability learn from and internalize the scare that coming so close to a loss can give, and if the Patriots self-analyze successfully and improve on their execution over last week, then they too present a dangerous opponent.

Some of the match-ups to watch this week:

#88 Marvin Harrison vs. # 24 Ty Law

Patriots cornerback Ty Law is having a tremendous season.  He already has 4 interceptions this season, tying his second-best single-season mark (his highest total was a ridiculous 9 interceptions in 1998).  He has successfully defended 12 passes this year, including one that would have been a touchdown last week, already doubling his entire number from last year with five games yet to go.  It would be a major shock were Law not voted to the Pro Bowl for his efforts this year.

But as good as he is, Law always seems to have trouble with Indy's Marvin Harrison, one of the league's best receivers.  Harrison has posted 100-yard or better receiving performances in five of his last six games against New England.  His average in those six contests is 124 yards per game for a total of 42 catches for 744 yards and 7 touchdowns. 

Since Law is almost always lined-up on the opposition's best receiver, that means Harrison's production has come against New England's best pass defender. 

Harrison had been nursing an injury this season but only missed one game.  He came back to play last week against Buffalo and picked up where he left off, catching six passes.  He already has 62 receptions this season, 41 of which gave his team a first down, and 7 of which were for touchdowns. 

Law is at the top of his game this year and will have to be at those lofty heights this weekend to slow down Harrison. 


#93 Dwight Freeney vs. #72 Matt Light

Patriots left tackle Matt Light has had his issues with speed rushers.  Miami's Jason Taylor, for instance, has been his nemesis.  In his last six games against New England, Taylor, the league's sack leader last year, has 26 tackles, 3 sacks, a forced fumble and two recoveries, an interception, and 5 defended passes. "I hate saying his name," Light says of Taylor.

Now Light must face Indy's star defensive end Dwight Freeney.  Freeney has emerged as a serious threat to quarterbacks everywhere and the left tackles like Light who protects them.  In his last six games, Freeney has 8 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.  He now has 22 sacks in 26 career games.   And his success sparks that of the overall team: the Colts are 12-4 when Freeney records sack.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked 23 times this season, averaging just over two per game.  That is a pace slightly ahead of last year and the offensive line is going to have to keep Brady clean to have a chance against the Colts' improved pass rush and its ferocious leader, Freeney.


Miscellany

Peyton Manning needs just one more touchdown pass this season to have his 20th for the year, giving him a sixth consecutive season with 20 or more touchdown passes.  It would be the third-longest such streak in NFL history.  If any one team can prevent his reaching that mark in a given week, it is the Patriots with the aggressive, clever schemes devised by Belichick and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.

Both teams are 9-2, tied for the second-best record in the conference, and this game has enormous implications for the playoffs.  The winner will have an enormous edge in the fight for a first round bye and home field advantage.


Injury Report

The Patriots have six players listed on the injury report.  Safety Chris Aikens, receivers Deion Branch, Troy Brown, and David Givens, and nose tackle Ted Washington are all questionable (50% chance to play) with various leg injuries.  Tom Brady is probable (75% chance to play) with a lingering arm/elbow injury.

The Colts have a whopping 17 players on the list, although most are listed as probable.  The list includes: safety Idress Bashir and linebacker Jim Nelson are out.  Left tackle Tarik Glenn is doubtful (25% chance to play).  Safety Cory Bird, tight end Marcus Pollard, fullback Detron Smith, and receivers Brandon Stokly and Troy Walters are questionable.  Finally, tight end Dallas Clark, safety Jason Doering, cornerback Walt Harris, receiver Marvin Harrison, defensive tackle Monte Reagor, running backs Dominic Rhodes and Ricky Williams, and cornerback Don Strickland are all probable.


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