Monday Morning QB (cont.)
Posted: Monday October 29, 2007 12:49AM; Updated: Monday October 29, 2007 3:11PM
Greg Cosell, a longtime NFL Films gametape maven, is the executive producer for the State Farm NFL Matchup show on ESPN. He watches the coaches' sideline and end zone video from every NFL game, and has seen every Colts and Patriots game from the angles that the coaches study. His take:
"When I watched the AFC Championship Game tape [from last season], I was surprised how willing New England was to single [corners] Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel on Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, without help over the top or underneath. Samuel did a great job in single coverage on Harrison. Clearly, Bill Belichick feels he can do that without being burned. Bill won't do that for 60 snaps, but Bill never does anything for 60 snaps, and you know he goes into this game knowing he can do that if he wants ...
"I like what Indianapolis has done at cornerback this year. Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden are not just more physical players than [departed free-agents] Nick Harper and Jason David. They're better players, which will help against an improved New England passing game. The key with both of these quarterbacks is you've got to create a situation where, on the second or third step of their pass-drop, they're feeling some pressure or you're doing something on defense they don't expect. I think you'll see Bob Sanders move around a lot, sort of like Troy Polamalu does, trying to confuse Brady.''
Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher has been matched up against Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy more times combined (23) than any other head coach in the AFC. His take:
"It's going to come down to the quarterback play. Now, we know how Indianapolis will play Brady. They've got one zone dog [blitz] in their game plan and they'll play a little three-deep, but you know you'll see the Tampa Two defense from them all day. We don't know how New England will play Manning. The Patriots are liable to do anything. But going back to last year, I don't know that the Patriots have really slowed down that offense yet.''
Kansas City linebacker Donnie Edwards was part of a San Diego defense that ended the Patriots' record home winning streak at 20 in October 2005, halted the 13-0 Colts' hopes for an undefeated season in December 2005, and harassed Brady into a three-interception game last January in New England's narrow playoff win over the Chargers. His take:
"I think the most important thing in playing both quarterbacks is to make them uncomfortable. Playing Brady and Manning is a cat-and-mouse game, and you're not going to win all the time, no matter what you do. They're too good. But the worst thing with a great quarterback is to give him time to sit back there and think. You let them get into a groove, and it's all over. Blitz them from different spots than you've shown. Disguise your coverages differently than you've done. Be different. That's all I can say. And you've got to be physical with the receivers and press them. Some how, some way, each defense has to throw a wrench into what Brady and Manning would normally do.''
Cris Collinsworth of NBC Sports and HBO Sports, like Cosell, is a gametape fan. He is also opinionated. His take:
"I haven't seen Indianapolis' secondary against a great quarterback yet. I think they'll do well, but Tom Brady's so far off the charts, can any secondary play well against him? The great mystery of this game is what a great defensive mind like Tony Dungy can do to combat how the Patriots have improved themselves on offense.''
Said Collinsworth: "This isn't a preview of the AFC Championship Game. This is the AFC Championship Game. The winner, in effect, will have a two-game lead for home-field through the playoffs. I can't imagine the winner of this game losing a two-game lead the rest of the way.''
True. But if the Colts win, I could see the Patriots come to Indianapolis on Jan. 20 and win the AFC title game. I can't see the Colts winning at New England on Jan. 20.
The Patriots are facing a different defense than Belichick and Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel had to prepare for last year, or ever. It's a more physical defense, with corners Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson 1-2 on the team in solo tackles. "They've been such big factors in the run defense because they're so physical,'' Dungy said. "They're made to order, as cover guys and tacklers, for the Cover 2 defense.'' Add a healthy Bob Sanders, who hits like Ronnie Lott, and you've got something that Tom Brady will go to school on hard, starting this morning.
"I'm glad we've got a full week to study them,'' he said. "We'll need it.''
That's something Brady would always say, out of respect to the other team. This week, he'll really mean it. He'll also break his three-game losing streak against the Colts, because no one's stopping this offense. I buy what Jeff Fisher says -- the Patriots haven't proven they can stop the Colts yet. But for the first time since he started playing Manning, Brady finally has similar toys. And he's using them to perfection. New England, 40-31. And yes, it will be that good.
This matchup was a national prime time game on NBC in November 2006, but because the league likes to not play favorites with it broadcast partners, it awarded the 2007 game to CBS for national telecast on a CBS doubleheader weekend. In order to give Colts-Patriots the widest possible national exposure, the league scheduled only one other late CBS game on Sunday --Houston at Oakland. If the game does not sell out, the only major market in the country that will not show the Patriots and Colts will be Houston.