Guest Ed Thompson, NFL writer for Scout.com and editor ColtPower.com, the Indianapolis Colts affiliate on the Scout.com network.
The Dwight Freeney vs. Matt Light matchup has been one the media has latched onto, even though the Patriots change protections to give Light help to slow Freeney down. After totaling just two tackles in last year's AFC Championship game, it seems the Patriots have found the answer for Freeney. What's your take on that matchup?
Ed Thompson: I think Light's a very talented performer, but do expect the Patriots to be forced to give him some help. If the Patriots can stalemate Freeney, the Colts could use a tactic that worked well for them against Jacksonville. They used some effective stunts that allowed Freeney to loop all the way inside to where he attacked from the center of the line while the opposing center was engaged blocking interior attackers. They even lined Freeney up at LDT and RDT for a few plays to mix things up. He finished the game with four tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Bob Sanders is credited with fixing the Colts defensive struggles against the run, and some have said he's the real reason Indianapolis' defense is much improved. Do you think that's the case, and if so, how do you defeat him?
Thompson: Sanders is a major reason for the improvement because Dungy's Tampa 2 scheme funnels runners to the middle, right at Sanders. It's the same thing Dungy did in Tampa Bay when he had another talented safety, John Lynch, on board. But other big improvements have been seen with their young, physical corners - Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden, the addition to the starting lineup of undrafted rookie DT Ed Johnson out of Penn State, and improved play by the other starting defensive tackler Raheem Brock. Indy also has a pair of very aggressive outside linebackers - Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler - to team up with veteran Gary Brackett in the middle. This Indy defense is a much different unit than the Patriots have seen before.
Peyton Manning has so many strengths to his game that you can't help but wonder what he's going to do each time he lines up on offense. Has Manning showed inconsistency or has he struggled with any part of his game in particular?
Thompson: He's gotten off to some slow starts, particularly last week against Carolina, but then got into his groove. He's actually reminded me of Brady from his Super Bowl years because he's not putting up the gaudy numbers very often, but he's moving his team methodically and intelligently down the field. He still takes shots deep when he sees the right matchup in the right situation, but he's very patient and has only thrown three interceptions this year. Brady seems like the more aggressive quarterback at this point, so it's a real tribute to him that he's been able to execute at such a high level and only throw a pair of interceptions in that mode.
Joseph Addai is a talented versatile back. We talked a little about his contributions last year before the AFC Championship. How has his game evolved since then, and what does he bring to the Colts' offense that other running backs on the roster can't bring?
Thompson: The game has really slowed down for Addai. You can especially see it on his inside runs. He's seeing the gaps and hitting them quicker, and he's also showing better anticipation of what his would-be tacklers are thinking, allowing him to escape and break tackles more frequently. While the Colts relied on Dominic Rhodes to be the insider runner last year, Addai has become a complete running who is also still dangerous as a receiver and is a very effective pass blocker.
Do you think this game has become one of the best rivalry matchups for the Colts and does it deserve the hype it's getting?
Thompson: Absolutely. There are so many great subplots: Manning vs. Brady, Dungy vs. Belichick, Good vs. Evil. The talent level of both clubs and the distinct personalities make it a matchup that has drawn interest far beyond the fans of the Colts and the Patriots. A Steelers fan recently commented that he's looking forward to this game almost as much as watching his team's matchup this weekend. As for the players, they know it's a huge game against a team they love to beat. But they're also smart enough to know that this Sunday - while it could impact where the two teams meet in the future - isn't the AFC Championship game. So they're trying to approach it with the same respect they've given every opponent this season.
Don't miss Part 1 of the Behind Enemy Lines with Ed Thompson
Running Up The Score?