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El Clásico Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

In the fifth 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 wide receivers and tight ends for each team.

Wide Receivers
Patriots: Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker: The receiving corps for the Patriots has been nothing short of incredible. Randy Moss is leading the world in nearly every category (779 yards, 11 TDs) and has revitalized his career in New England. He is a threat that Tom Brady has never had in his arsenal. Moss has made big catch after big catch and is a true deep threat on every play. He’ll demand double coverage on Sunday and it will be important for him to establish the threat of going deep. The Colts do not employ several risky defensive schemes, they mostly use Cover 2 – a defense which has both safeties covering deep. What’s most likely to happen Sunday is that Moss and Stallworth be sent long to take Bob Sanders out of the equation. This will open up the re-born Wes Welker, Ben Watson and the running backs to control the underneath. The linebackers will be forced to cover passing threats which leads to Brady having oodles of time in the pocket. Even with double coverage on the outside and deep, if Brady has time, Moss will get open. The Patriots balanced passing attack fits perfectly against a Cover 2, which should mean another big day for Welker and Ben Watson. Don’t be surprised if Moss ends up with just three catches, but one of them being a 45-yard TD catch.

Colts: Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez: Perhaps I should include Dallas Clark in this group but I’ll hold off. First a disclaimer: Harrison is listed as doubtful for the game but I’ll include him as though he were playing. Harrison and Wayne are the class pair of NFL receivers. They run routes to perfection and are threats both underneath and deep. Wayne is having a career year (on pace for 1,200 yards and 10 TDs) and rookie Anthony Gonzalez is finally getting involved in the offense. Whomever lines up at wideout, Peyton Manning will make them look like a star. If Harrison plays, it might only be in limited action which can only help the Pats. Asante Samuel will most likely line up against Wayne even if Harrison does play, and Samuel must keep Wayne from running rampant. Manning loves to find his receivers on deep seam routes when near the red zone, thus the Patriots safeties will need to stay home and not over commit. The Colts receivers always show up in big games, and it will take a whole team effort to keep Wayne, Gonzalez and Harrison from lighting up the scoreboard.

The Verdict: These teams represent the two best wide receiver corps in the league. Year after year, Harrison and Wayne have made life difficult for opposing secondaries. The Patriots on the other hand have a brand new trio, but a tandem who has bought into the system and run it like well oiled machine. When predicting who will do better, the key is Harrison. He is as listed as doubtful and while many pundits feel he’ll play because he’s a gamer, he will not be 100%. Though a 50% Harrison is better than most other WRs at 100%, the Pats receivers are simply too balanced to be stopped. Wayne could have a huge day, but Wes Welker again will prove his worth and torch the slot. Edge: Patriots

Tight Ends
Patriots: Ben Watson, Kyle Brady, Marcellus Rivers: Watson has missed time recently with an ankle injury but all reports seem to indicate he’s ready to go for Sunday. Watson should be able to control the underneath with Welker as no Colts LB is quick enough to cover him. Brady and Rivers will both be used as blockers, and the more we see them on Sunday, the more that will indicate the Pats offensive line is getting beat. However as Mike Felger of New England Sports Tonight said on Tuesday, the Patriots have yet to come out in a game and pound the ball for a half to wear out the opposing defense. Bill Belichick could simply come out in a two RB, two TE set and pound the ball, making Brady and Rivers even more valuable. When he has played, Watson has been very successful and if the Patriots employ their normal passing formations, he should have a big day.

Colts: Dallas Clark, Ben Utecht: Dallas Clark should be called a WR. He owns the slot and wreaks havoc on linebackers who try to cover him. He’s small but fast and possesses great hands. Clark only has 388 yards this year but has six TDs and averages 12 yards a catch. He needs to be neutralized and the Patriots just might have the schemes to do it. Just a few weeks ago, Belichick and defensive coordinator Dean Peas did what they could to shut down Dallas TE Jason Witten, even allowing Terrell Owens to roam in the secondary with single coverage. Clark is better than Witten at catching the ball and possesses little blocking skills. Utecht is more of the prototypical TE, used both for blocking and receiving. He has no touchdowns this season but should not be an after thought.

The Verdict: Watson is finally coming into his own and has incredible speed for a player his size. But Dallas Clark simply does it better than anyone. I think the Patriots could keep him in check ala Witten, but with Watson coming off injury, Clark could cause major headaches for a secondary already busy covering a few other all-pro receivers. Edge: Colts

Check back tomorrow as I preview the quarterbacks and running backs.

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