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In the fourth 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 offensive and defensive lines for each team.
Patriots: Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green: The defensive front three for the Patriots are the anchor of the 3-4 scheme which Bill Belichick has resurrected in the past seven seasons. The three presumed starters are all former first round picks and all play their position well. Warren came into his own in 2006 and Vince Wilfork – despite dropping 25 pounds in the off-season – is still a bohemith in the middle and usually takes up two offensive linemen. Richard Seymour missed the first seven weeks with a knee injury and played in limited snaps against the Redskins last week. If he can only play a small number of snaps, Jarvis Green proved his worth in Seymour’s absence and is a very able backup – leading the defensive line with three sacks on the year. The goal for the Pats D line is simple, clog the run to stop Joseph Addai from busting through the gut and get some sort of pressure on Manning. Whether it’s Seymour on the edge or simply taking up offensive line bodies to open up Vrabel and Colvin, the D line has to win the battle in the trenches to make life uncomfortable for Peyton “Cut That Meat” Manning.
Colts: Robert Mathis, Raheem Brock, Ed Johnson, Dwight Freeney: The defensive line is the most improved part of the 2007 undefeated Colts. Mathis and Freeney can be terrors on the end, accounting for 5.5 sacks this season. The key player to watch of course in Freeney, who will be matched up against Matt Light. The interior defensive line will have trouble against a good set of Patriots guards and center Dan Koppen, but if Freeney and Mathis start getting pressure on Tom Brady we might see a lot more two TE sets from the Patriots, who like to use the three wide receiver, one TE set.
Verdict: Both defensive lines must get push against solid offensive lines on the other side. Unlike the Colts however, the Patriots three (and sometimes just two) down lineman don’t need sacks and tackles to have a huge impact. With a far superior set of linebackers behind them, Warren, Wilfork and Seymour/Green just need to clog the gaps and take up bodies to let Bruschi, Vrabel and Co. do their work. Rookie LT Tony Ugoh has been impressive this year, but the Colts haven’t faced a defense nearly this quick. I see Warren coming up with a big play and Wilfork having a massive (no pun intended) impact in the middle. I see both LT Matt Light and RT Nick Kazur being able to limit the damage from Freeney and Mathis. Edge: Patriots
Patriots: Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Nick Kazur: Is there a more unappreciated group in the NFL? The Patriots offensive line looked abysmal in the second pre-season game against the Titans as Brady was hit around all night. Since then, they have been masterful, allowing just eight sacks this season, good for third best in the NFL. None of the guys has national notoriety, but game in, game out they get the job done. On Sunday, it’s all about stopping Mathis and Freeney. Light hasn’t faced a DE as quick as Freeney, but did a pretty good job against Jason Taylor a few weeks ago. If Light does need help, Kyle Brady or Marcellus Rivers could step in as tight end protection. Keeping Brady upright and protected is their job, and without any significant threats in the Colts linebacker corps, winning the trenches is, as always, key. One thing to watch is the occasional safety blitz by a certain Bob Sanders, featured on ESPN.com today.
Colts: Ryan Diem, Jake Scott, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Lilja, Tony Ugoh: The Colts offensive line is a model of consistency. Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem are both studs, and even the sudden pre-season retirement of LT Tarik Glenn hasn’t slowed them down. Having allowed just five sacks on the season, they are as tough an offensive line as they come. The key for them will be limiting the pressure off the edge. Wilfork will demand a double team, but keeping Vrabel and Colvin from wreaking havoc, while mostly up to the tight ends and blocking backs, will sink or swim the Colts offensive line. If Seymour and Warren don’t create pressure and warrant double teams, the Colts will be able to spread out their line and set up a iron curtain for Manning to perch behind and pick apart the Patriots secondary. The most vulnerable spot is Ugoh at LT. This is his first big time game and he’s up against one of the best DEs in the NFL in Seymour and a red hot Mike Vrabel. If he can hold the line, Manning will have no trouble picking his poison from open receivers.
Verdict: This is where both teams begin to have very similar attributes. None of these guys are top 10 picks but somehow, someway they protect their all-pro quarterback better than anyone. The key for Sunday is the defense they will be playing. The Colts must not only deal with a very strong front three, but four linebackers and a safety to keep an eye on for blitzing. On the other side, if the Pats can neutralize Mathis and Freeney, it might be lights out. I see both lines struggling at times, but the Patriots defense seems a little too tough, and Seymour/Vrabel should eat Ugoh for lunch. Edge: Patriots, but it’s close
Check back tomorrow as I preview the tight ends and wide receivers for both teams.