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Colts-Dolphins Breakdown

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Posted: Thursday December 28, 2000 1:44 PM

CNNSI.com NFL analyst Pat Kirwan breaks down the wild-card weekend games and explains which team has the edge.

Matchups: Offense | Defense | Special Teams | Coaching

OFFENSE
Colts   Dolphins
The Colts are led by Peyton Manning, one of the premiere quarterbacks in the NFL, He's headed to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year and his 33 touchdown passes tied for the NFL lead. Two weeks ago against the highly regarded Miami defense, he was very impressive completing 21 of 28 passes and ran three times for 20 yards and a TD. QB
 
The role of the quarterback for the defensive-minded Dolphins has been more of a caretaker, and Jay Fiedler fit the job description. The last time these teams played, Fiedler was 2 for 12 on third downs -- and that won't be good enough this time.
The Colts' rushing game is all about Edgerrin James. He's the top ball carrier in the NFL with 1,709 yards. Two weeks ago against the Dolphins, he rushed 32 times for 112 yards and caught five passes for 31 yards. He will touch the ball close to 40 times this week and that spells trouble for even the Miami defense. RB
 
The running back situation in south Florida has been a problem for years until Lamar Smith came along. Now the Dolphins have their every down back and his 1,139 yards and 14 TDs proves it. He may have an easier time against the Colts' front seven than James does against the Dolphins, but the last time they played he didn't crack the 100-yard mark.
The Colts receiver corp starts with Marvin Harrison, tied for the NFL lead in receptions with 102. More importantly his 14 touchdown passes is tops in the league. It doesn't stop with Harrison, Manning gets great mileage from his other wide receivers and his tight ends, especially former basketball player Marcus Pollard. Pollard is a fast tight end who can get behind most linebackers and strong safeties. He had a 50-yard TD against the Dolphins two weeks ago. WR / TE
 
The Dolphins' receivers are an average group at best. Oronde Gadsden is tall, but isn't real fast, and Tony Martin and Leslie Sheppard could be more productive in a different system. The tight end position posses no real threat. Unless things change from the last time, don't expect many deep balls. The longest reception against the Colts by this group was 27 yards.
Peyton Manning has been sacked the third fewest times in the NFL. That could be attributed to his quick decision making. The Colts' line has also open holes for the top rusher in the league, yet some would say that's more about James than the line. Jason Taylor got to Manning for the only sack by the Dolphins in the last meeting, so I will give the line some credit. The inside three linemen -- Steve McKinney, Jeff Saturday and Larry Moore -- had trouble with the big Miami tackles, and Daryl Gardner and Tim Bowens had five tackles for a loss. LINE
 
Left tackle Richmond Webb is more of a pass blocker, and rookie right tackle Todd Wade is a better run blocker. Wade had a tough day against the Colts last time with two sacks coming from his side. The inside three are adequate to block the smallish Colts tackles.

DEFENSE
Colts   Dolphins
The Colts' line delivered last time these two went at it collecting four sacks, but as run stuffers they leave something to be desired. They are 26th in the league against the run. There are no true big men in the group and they tend to get pushed off the ball too much. LINE
 
This is the heart and soul of the Miami team. The top two sack leaders in the AFC -- Trace Armstrong and Jason Taylor -- line up for the Dolphins. They have two massive tackles with Gardener and Bowens keeping people off linebacker Zack Thomas. The only time I expect them to have trouble is with the draw play to James or Manning keeping it himself.
The Colts' group is considered a below average group by NFL standards. They were dealt a tough blow when they lost their top draft pick Rob Morris. Dwight Hollier has filled in admirably but he's a journeyman at best. Young Mike Peterson led the defense in tackles with 10 in the last matchup. Cornelius Bennett was a great NFL linebacker for many years, but he's lost a step and he's beat up. Still, he can play. LB
 
Zack Thomas is a tackling machine, and Derrick Rogers and Robert Jones are from the Jimmy Johnson mold of run-and-hit guys. With the tremendous defensive line in front of them they can flow to the ball and on pass downs there usually is enough pressure that they aren't stuck in coverage very long. The previous game between the Colts and Dolphins saw this threesome in on 20 tackles combined.
The corners have played better of late, but they still can be beat by good receivers. Jeff Burris intercepted Fiedler last time, but in general he and Mustafah Muhammad will need help from the safeties to survive. Safeties Jason Belser and Chad Cota are tough and play the run fairly well. Expect one of them up in the box on every run down situation. If Fiedler can figure out which one is inserted than he will get the man to man coverage he needs to exploit. The question: Will the Dolphins be willing to throw on early downs? DB
 
The Dolphins' corners are arguably the best tandem in the league. Sam Madison is a Pro Bowl player and Patrick Surtain should be, too. Manning went after Surtain last time and I suspect he'll try it again. Patrick was in on 11 tackles in the last contest. The safeties can tackle, and when Manning shifts James out of the backfield, Marion is better suited to cover him.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Colts   Dolphins
Mike Vanderjagt is an excellent kicker and Hunter Smith has a 44-yard punt average. As a tandem they are above average. It should be pointed out that Vanderjagt has only one attempt of more than 50 yards, and in a tight game, he may have to make one. The returners -- Jerome Pathon and Terrence Wilkins -- are average.
 
Olindo Mare is the top-rated kicker in the AFC. He is extremely accurate from the 40- to 49-yard range. Matt Turk has been an All-Pro punter. Brock Marion has returned kicks in the past and in a game of this magnitude he should get back there because the other Dolphins' returners are a below average group.

COACHING
Colts   Dolphins
This is a battle of Jim Mora's offense versus Dave Wannstedt's defense. Mora has let Manning run the ship on offense, and came within a game of the AFC Championship Game in 1999.

Wannstedt brings his personality to the defense. The real coaching challenge comes when the Dolphin offense squares off with the Colt defense.


 
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