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In the third 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 linebackers for each team.
Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, Adalius Thomas, Junior Seau, Roosevelt Colvin: The Patriots possess the most dangerous set of linebackers in the NFL. They have speed, strength and a half century worth of years in experience. With the return of Junior Seau this season, the Patriots also gained depth at middle linebacker. Bruschi has been very consistent this season, leading the team with 48 tackles. Adalius Thomas has come as advertised, mainly playing in the middle but has been very versatile. He has 38 tackles and half sack this year and had perhaps the defensive play of the year when he intercepted a Phillip Rivers pass and returned it to the house in Week 2, outrunning a few receivers in the process. His raw size and speed are incredible and he’ll have the job of bumping Dallas Clark off the line and stuffing the run of Joseph Addai. The real key to Sunday’s game from a linebacker point of view is off the edge. Mike Vrabel is the most underrated player in the NFL, as he showed his might last week with a TD catch and two forced fumbles. He leads the team with a 7.5 sacks and looks very comfortable back in his natural position. Roosevelt Colvin also must be able to put pressure on Peyton Manning or he will torch the vulnerable Patriots secondary.
Rocky Boiman, Tyjuan Hagler, Greg Brackett, Freddie Keiaho: The Colts linebackers have come as advertised this year. None of them will blow you away with athleticism, and outside of Brackett none have any notoriety. Throughout the season the linebackers have been able to stuff the run with some success and have more of a smash mouth attitude after their Super Bowl victory last season. As I pointed out in my preview of the secondaries, both cornberbacks on the Colts have more tackles than any linebacker. Brackett, Boiman and Keiaho’s job Sunday will be to stuff the run of Maroney, sniff out screens to Faulk and at times try to cover Ben Watson – if he plays. Watson is one of the fastest TEs in the NFL and it remains to be seen if he can be covered by any of the Colts linebackers. A lot of their success Sunday will depend on how the front four are able to push the Patriots offensive line to open up holes in order to put pressure on Tom Brady. The Colts linebackers have a tough job to complete on Sunday against an outstanding offensive line and a speedy TE.
The Verdict: In probably the most lopsided comparison, the Patriots linebackers are superior at each position. Vrabel and Colvin come off the edge with reckless abandon and the trio of Bruschi, Seau and Thomas in the middle will make life hard for Addai. The Pats have a better linebacker corps than any other team in the NFL and they need to play like it this Sunday to stop the Colts offensive juggernaught. Edge: Patriots
Check back tomorrow as I’ll preview the offensive and defense lines.