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El Clásico Preview: Secondaries

In the second edition of a week long preview of the Colts vs. Pats (deemed El Clásico after a world famous European football rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid), I’ll take a look at the secondaries of each team.

Cornerbacks
Asante Samuel/Ellis Hobbs/Randall Gay: In analyzing all aspects of the Patriots roster, it’s obvious that the most vulnerability comes in the secondary, particularly the cornerbacks. The return of Asante Samuel from his quasi-holdout was extremely important as he is the shutdown corner on the roster. Hobbs has evolved into a pretty good CB, but has yet to show the consistency needed to be considered an elite corner in the league. Randall Gay has fought hard to get back from injury this year and has played pretty well overall. Samuel has finally started to get back in the swing of things, accounting for 17 tackles and a team high four interceptions so far this season. With the Colts running a multitude of three WR sets and the ever dangerous “tight end” Dallas Clark in the slot, Gay will be called upon to keep big plays from happening. Samuel loves to jump routes – as he did for a pick six in the AFC title game in January – but the Colts know this and could burn Samuel deep.

Kelvin Hayden/Marlin Jackson: The Colts seemed to lose a lot on defense in the off-season – notably Cato June and Nick Webster – but their corners have played pretty well. Both Hayden and Jackson only have one pick to their name, but they’ve prevented big plays all season. One warning sign however is their combined 94 tackles, which is quite high for cornerbacks only halfway through the season. Their job will be to do something no team has been able to do in 2007, stop the Patriots passing attack. Hayden and Jackson will cover Moss and Stallworth but it looks like Bob Sanders will be in charge of covering the seemingly unstoppable Wes Welker in the slot.

The Verdict: Each set of cornerbacks will be up against a stiff test. Even if Marvin Harrison doesn’t play, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Anthony Gonzalez are a lethal tandem. Samuel has a knack for coming up with a big play in a big game and he must on Sunday to win. On the Colts side, Hayden and Jackson need to keep Moss and Stallworth in front of them. It’s not easy, as Moss is a master at jump balls and Stallworth can run after the catch like no other in the league. I see both teams struggling to stop the opposing offenses, but the Patriots do have a shutdown corner in Samuel who could make a game changing play. Edge: Patriots


Safeties
Rodney Harrison/James Sanders/Eugene Wilson: First off, Wilson missed last week because of injury so it’s unknown what role he’ll play if any this week. For both teams, the safety position will be key in stopping the opposing offense’s passing attack. In Harrison, the Patriots have one of the greatest safeties in the history of the game. Harrison has caught up to speed since missing the first four games because of suspension and already has two sacks on the season. His emotion and tendency for the big hit could be a crucial emotional lift for the defense which could give up a lot of points against the Colts. Sanders was very successful in Harrison’s absence and can provide deep support for the cornerbacks if Wayne or Harrison are sent deep. The key for both teams will be protecting the seams against Dallas Clark for Indy and Welker for the Pats.

Bob Sanders/Antoine Bethea: There might not be a better safety in the league right now than Bob Sanders. He has 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and a pick all in just six games. He’s small but can lay a lick like the best of them. He will fly up on run blitzes and try to keep up with Welker or Watson in the slot. Like Harrison, he is the spark plug of the defense and he needs to have a good game or the Patriots will eat the Colts alive. Bethea is a good compliment at free safety and will have a tough task doubling on Moss or Stallworth on deep routes.

The Verdict: Both sets of safeties contain the backbone player of the defense. In Harrison and Sanders we will see a matchup of two of the most fiery and wired players in the NFL. Over-the-top coverage and covering the slot are absolutely vital in a game like this with two potent offenses. Whichever safeties can take the passing game out of the equation as a whole, the more likely their team will remain undefeated after El Clásico. Edge: Patriots

Check back tomorrow as I’ll preview the linebacker corps.

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