Today's the day! The War of 1812 lives on another year and, finally, the war's back on home turf. The Colts come to the Razor with an injury ridden team and the Patriots need their youthful players to step up and stop Peyton Manning. Here are some match-ups to watch:
5. Aaron Hernandez + Rob Gronkowski vs Pat Angerer and the Colts safeties - I just like Angerer's name, so I put him on the list. The Colts are featuring a new middle of the field, due to their safeties (Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullit) and linebackers (Clint Session, Gary Brackett) sitting due to injury. The young Patriots tight ends must exploit seams up the middle of the field in order to gain big yards for the Patriots passing attack. Opponents to the Colts have struggled to throw against their defense because of how quickly their defensive fronts generate pressure- plays have no time to develop to exploit their secondary- so look for Hernandez and Gronkowski to be used on quick out routes and slants in order to get them the ball in space. These players are looking to have a big day. If they perform, they will open the field for the running game, as well as other receivers.
4. Patriots Defensive Line vs Colts Offensive Line - The Colts' O-Line is in shambles, but the Patriots feature that doesn't have any real strong pass rusher. The Patriots must get into the backfield in order to prevent plays from developing. If they only rush three all day, Peyton Manning is going to have forever to tear apart the defense. The Patriots must show versatile fronts that keep the Colts on their toes and prevent them from getting into a rhythm. Vince Wilfork must command double teams the entire day. Gerard Warren and Mike Wright must provide constant pressure on the quarterback, but also collapse the pocket in order to give free lanes to Jermaine Cunningham and Tully Banta-Cain. Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick must watch their lanes and prevent the Colts from generating any sort of progress on the ground. If the D-Line steps up and pushes around the Colts, it will set the tone for a solid defensive day.
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3. WR Reggie Wayne vs CB Kyle Arrington - This is the marquee match-up for the Patriots defense. Kyle Arrington plays as the Patriots Right Cornerback. Reggie Wayne plays at the Colts Left Wide Receiver. Whoever wins this fight will give their team a significant advantage. Patriots fans can expect either FS Brandon Meriweather or James Sanders to help Arrington over the top, but with Manning's quick throws, a lot of the defense will rely upon Arrington. Reggie Wayne is featuring a knee injury so we can expect him to get roughed up at the line, much like how the Patriots hit Chargers TE Antonio Gates early in the game, in order to prevent him from getting in rhythm and being on time with Manning. In such a timing based offense, the Patriots need to disrupt them as much as possible. Arrington needs to step up and take away Manning's safety blanket.
2. Jacob Tamme vs Pat Chung + Gary Guyton - Tamme has emerged as Manning's #2 target after Wayne as he does his best Dallas Clark impression. Tamme has been dealing with back injuries as of late, although it hasn't prevented him from missing practice. Look for Tamme to get hit at the line a lot as well as the Patriots feature a physical defense to set the tone. Tamme is a lethal receiver so expect a zone coverage package with Guyton playing underneath and Chung watching over the top. Chung will lay the wood and knock Tamme over every time the ball comes in his area and hopefully generate a turnover. Guyton must not let Tamme out of his sight and must play tight underneath coverage to eliminate any seams for progress. If the Patriots can take away Tamme on top of removing Wayne, the Colts will have no offense.
1. Patriots Offensive Line vs Colts Defensive Line - Dwight Freeney. Robert Mathis. These two players are monsters and will give the Patriots trouble all day. Math abused Nick Kaczur last season in the 4th quarter, resulting in Tom Brady being unable to pass the ball. Freeney has always been a terror. Old Matt Light and young Sebastian Vollmer must be able to push these rushing defensive ends to the outside and allow Brady to step up in the pocket to deliver throws. Expect Alge Crumpler to be a 6th lineman for most of the evening as the Patriots try and double team both defensive ends. Crumpler and Light on Freeney and Vollmer and Connolly on Mathis. That leaves Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen to be on single coverage of the two defensive tackles, but the DTs are not the real problem for the O-Line. It's keeping an eye on the two DEs. If they Patriots can stave off the DEs for the whole evening, this should be a great offensive game for the Patriots.
Rich's Prediction: Patriots 28 - Colts 20