Game of the Week: Patriots at Colts
Last year SI dubbed the Nov. 4 Patriots-Colts match-up "Super Bowl XLI1/2," and for good reason. The then-defending world champion Colts were 7-0 and the Patriots were halfway to undefeated. The winner of this developing grudge match had gone on to Super Bowls in two of the previous four years. Heck, even injured receiver
In '08 it's a different story. To give you an idea of how little Sunday's game will resemble last year's contest consider the four matchups SI highlighted in last year's preview issue.
What does that all mean? Well, it could be good for the scoreboard. Without Samuel on his tail, a healthy Wayne could go wild, especially without
Worse than the sheer volume has been the timing, and this is where Manning starts to remind me of Favre circa '05, back when he tossed 29 picks and the Packers went 4-12. Remarkably, three of Manning's interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. The first one gave Jacksonville its first lead and eventually proved the difference in a crucial Week 3 division loss. The second two provided, in turn, the key turning point and the nail-in-the-coffin in a Week 7 smoking at Green Bay.
Opponents have scored touchdowns on the immediate series following two Manning picks, including last Monday when
Here's one reason to consider laying money on Indianapolis, however: The Pats allow a so-so 207 passing yards per game, but they've given up an awful 11 passing touchdowns -- and that was with Harrison on patrol. Something to consider when setting your fantasy lineup.
When Cassel moves I see more Carr in him than anyone else, which is scary. He gives up on his routes early, pulls the ball down, loses all sense of direction or composure and then he's dead meat. Against St. Louis last week on 2nd-and-8 I watched him drop back, panic at the slightest sense of pressure and then scramble right before sliding feet-first two yards short of the first down marker. There wasn't a pursuing defender anywhere near him.
What's worse, Cassel has gotten worse at this as the year has progressed. In his first three career starts he was sacked 10 times. In his last three, against the likes of St. Louis, San Diego and Denver, he's been sacked 13 times.
When asked to point out a weakness in New England's offense, one AFC defensive coach told us, pointedly, the "Broncos had six sacks." He added, "To say Matt Cassel has arrived, I don't think you can say that."
In fairness, maybe Cassel has been instructed by
On the flip side, Cassel's sacks haven't seemed to correspond negatively to the Patriots' success. The most times he's gone down in one game was six, and that was in a resounding 41-7 stomping of Denver. Plus none of that may matter this week. Only the Bengals, Jaguars and Chiefs have fewer sacks than the Colts' 10 in '08.
Also, Sanders, Addai and cornerback
It'll take more than just Addai to pump up the run attack, however, and this is where Dungy has to shake things up. More damning than the Colts' run average is their mere 17.7 attempts per game (second-worst). So far in '08, the Colts have more often than not worked from three-wide, shotgun, no-huddle. Any Detroit Lions fan from this decade can attest to the fact that you can't win with a pas-pass-pass offense that throws interceptions at the rate Manning is doing it. In '08, that failed attack has lead to an average time of possession of just 26:41. That's both too little time for the Indy offense and too much time for opponents to whittle away at the Colts' banged-up defense.
Against Tennessee, the Colts' defense held firm for three quarters before falling apart. Indy's run-pass split in that game was 22 to 41. And the final time of possession was 34:14 to 25:46 in favor of Tennessee. We all know the final score.
"I think the best way to defend him is probably to reroute him, get your hands on him a little bit early in the route. You're taking a chance in doing that because if you don't get your hands on him and he gets going, he's a hard guy to catch up with. I don't think you can just let him go vertical on you. His athletic skills -- the guy jumps out of the building. So, you can't really let him get started."
"I [haven't seen] the offense change, really. When we played them they were still doing a lot of the same things [as they did with Brady]. They might have run it just a little bit more than usual, but they were still doing a lot of the same things. I saw Cassel make a couple of big throws [against Kansas City] and I thought he played pretty well against the Jets.
"I think the guy is pretty well coached. He looks to me like he's got pretty good poise in there. So I think you have to be careful what you do [differently] with a guy like this.
"He's been very well schooled, you can see that. The guy doesn't take a lot of chances with the football. He doesn't force the ball and he's got some pretty good weapons. He can throw the ball four yards to Wes Welker and all of a sudden that guy can turn it into a 13-, 14-yard gain. Those are the things I think I'm sure that they're banging into [Cassel] a little bit. With the weapons that they have and the defense that they play, why not?"
"I would be shocked if on the offensive game plan sheet, up in the right-hand corner where it says 'Shots,' (as in 'shots down the field') it doesn't have a minimum of three to five every week that are plays going downfield. Most teams have a minimum of three every week. I would say the Patriots probably have as many as five. And they're probably saving two for this week."
Cassel's burnt me every time I've doubted him, plus I imagine Belichick certainly sees an opportunity to absolutely bury a serious AFC rival. (Imagine this: If the Colts lose, they could be as much as five-and-a-half games out of first in the South and two games out of a Wild Card spot.) I'll take Cassel's boys to work over a Colts secondary that's still in turmoil, even with Sanders back. If Addai plays and gets 25 carries, I think it's even closer, but not enough for Indy.