Game Preview: Seahawks vs. Indianapolis Colts

The Hawks host the Colts in a Christmas Eve match-up between the two best teams in the NFL. Could this be a Super Bowl preview? We'll find out in about five weeks.

What: Game between top two teams in both conferences
When: Saturday, December 24th, 1:15 p.m. (PST)
Where: Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
Weather: Rain, 50 degrees




Colts Key Players:

QB Peyton Manning: Probably the most cerebral quarterback in the game today, Manning is a throw-back to another era when quarterbacks called all the plays and were true field generals. Manning is deadly accurate, able to fit a pass into the tiniest of areas while still having the arm-strength to challenge defenses downfield. Teams have found that if you can get pressure on him, he lacks enough mobility to make them pay, but his protection is among the best in the league only allowing 16 sacks in 14 games. If you blitz and don't get to him, it usually results in seven points for the Colts. Manning has completed 67.2% of his passes for 3,626 yards, 28 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. He also leads the league with a 104.3 quarterback rating. He isn't expected to play much versus the Hawks, but fans should pay attention when he's in this week because he's the best in the league.

RB Edgerrin James: James is the leading rusher in the AFC with 1,465 yards and he's fourth in the league with 13 rushing touchdowns. James isn't quite as explosive as he was when he entered the league seven years ago because of two knee surgeries, but he's much more consistent and a he's an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He's posted 41 catches, 323 yards and one touchdown as an outlet for Manning. One area that can't be quantified is his ability to pick up the blitz, allowing the downfield passing game of the Colts to be that much more effective. He's the complete back and he's only 27 years old.

WR Marvin Harrison: In the age of the "big receiver" Harrison, despite his slight build, continues to be one of the most dangerous route-runners in the league. Harrison's 80 receptions rank him 8th in the league (one behind teammate Reggie Wayne who has 81) and his 12 touchdowns lead the league. Harrison's has the strength to get off the jam and he's also a good blocker downfield. Harrison's attitude and work ethic are also excellent. He still has enough speed to get deep but he does his best work on short and intermediate routes against zone coverage.

DE Dwight Freeney: Even though teammate Robert Mathis has more sacks (11.5 to Freeney's 10), Freeney is the engine that gets the Colts' pass-rush going. Freeney is slight in stature (6-0, 265), but he has a non-stop motor, excellent quickness and surprising strength. He can take himself out of position at times as teams like to run quick hitting draws inside the tackle blocking him, but he has the speed to track down plays all the way across the field and he's surprisingly strong at the point of attack.

LB Cato June: The third-year player had a solid second season in 2004, but he has been just short of amazing this season. So far in 2005 he's posted 102 tackles, seven passes defensed and an incredible five interceptions with two of those going for touchdowns. He is part of the new breed of linebackers who are smaller but much quicker than their counterparts from five years ago. He can run well, but he struggles when asked to shed blockers. He has incredible instincts and diagnoses plays well. For his efforts, June received his first nod to the Pro Bowl earlier this week. There is a very good chance June will not play this week against the Seahawks.



Key Matchups:

Mathis and Freeney vs. Seahawks tackles Walter Jones and Sean Locklear: Freeney lines up at right defensive end on first and second downs, but then usually slides to the left side when Mathis comes in as a pass-rush specialist. That means a lot of one-on-one's with Seattle's perennial Pro Bowler Jones. Jones, save the game against the New York Giants, has been dominant this season and it will be interesting to watch how well he is able to protect QB Matt Hasselbeck's blind-side from the energetic Freeney. Locklear continues to draw some tough match-ups and faces the super-quick and strong Mathis. Locklear has held his own in his first year starting at right tackle and he will continue his education under-fire with against one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league.

Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson vs. Colts CB Jason David: David, who attended Washington State University, has been very consistent during his second season in the league. He has good hips, a fluid hip-turn and good instincts. He doesn't possess great speed and can be beaten on double-moves, something Jackson excels at. Jackson, in his first action since week four, caught 6 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown last week vs. Tennessee and looks to have not missed a beat in his connection with Hasselbeck. The Colts like to run a lot of cover-two schemes in their secondary and Jackson is at his best against zone coverage.

Seahawks LB Lofa Tatupu vs. James: James will probably only play the first half of the game, but this should be a fun match-up to watch. Tatupu is garnering rookie of the year attention and has played well while learning on the fly. He has great instincts, but still makes rookie mistakes. James is the consummate "four yards and a cloud of dust" running back. He doesn't break the long runs anymore, but he runs hard every play and wears defenses down.

Seahawks vs. Complacency: Was last week's near-miss versus the Titans a bump in the road or an ominous sign? Over and over Titans QB Steve McNair hit tight ends and wide receivers in the middle of the Seahawks zone defense. The pass-rush got little if any pressure on McNair and he picked the defense apart. The offense was just good enough to eek out the win and many think this was a wake-up call for the Hawks. They must continue to play hard and not let up even when the Colts decide to pull most of their starters late in the first half. The Colts have little to play for, but the Hawks must win this weekend to secure home-field advantage and get back to the kind of play they have shown over the past two months.



News and Notes: Seahawks have a league leading 19 touchdown drives of 80 yards or more; Hasselbeck leads the NFC with a 96.3 passer-rating; RB Shaun Alexander needs only four touchdowns to set a league-record for rushing touchdowns (27 set by Priest Holmes); WR Joe Jurevicius is tied for fourth in the NFL with nine touchdowns receiving; DT Rocky Bernard's 8.5 sacks ranks second among defensive tackles; Manning has 244 touchdown passes in 126 career games; Harrison (1,127) and Wayne (1,034) are one of two wideout duos to both reach 1,000 yards; Freeney has posted at least 10 sacks in all four of his seasons in the league; Colts need one more victory to post their first 14-win season; Colts lead series 5-3, but the Seahawks have won two of the last three.



Injuries:

Seattle:
OUT: CB Andre Dyson (ankle); CB Kelly Herndon (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: DT Chartric Darby (knee); S John Howell (hamstring); WR Darrell Jackson (knee)
PROBABLE: LB Kevin Bentley (neck)


Indianapolis:
OUT: T Ryan Diem (jaw)
DOUBTFUL: LB Cato June (ankle/groin/knee); DE Robert Mathis (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Marvin Harrison (hand); DT Montae Reagor (knee); S Bob Sanders (back); S Gerome Sapp (back); DT Corey Simon (foot)
PROBABLE: DE Dwight Freeney (ankle/foot); CB Nick Harper (ankle); CB Marlin Jackson (stomach virus); QB Peyton Manning (knee); G Jake Scott (neck); DE Josh Thomas (shoulder); K Mike Vanderjagt (right groin/right calf)




Prediction: Seahawks 30 – Colts 20

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