Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Thumbtacks Down, Bring On The Lucky Charms

I intended to write a Game Log for Titans v. Patriots, I really did. But if you start the game by mixing leftover New Year's party liquor with warm Crystal Light lemonade, you're really not in prime "quippy analysis" form. By halftime, most of the commentary in the The Ninth Home Apartment consisted of "Wow, mini Oreos really taste better than normal Oreos", so that was pretty much that. Onward and upward then, let us look forward instead of back. What are some things to keep in mind this weekend?

  • Peyton Manning vs. Eugene Wilson: Patriots safety Eugene Wilson has had, by all accounts, an excellent rookie season. To be a rookie starter at a position you've played your whole life is good enough, but to do it at one you learned during Week 1, that's a whole other animal. And Wilson didn't just hold down the fort, he impressed. Until the Pats rolled into Indy, that is. Against the Colts in Week 13, Gino officially looked like a rookie. At least three times he bit hard on a Manning pump fake, allowing the receiver to get behind him for big yards. Players getting behind safeties is strongly discouraged. You certainly can't blame Eugene, but he had a tough time against the Titans last week as well. Limps McNair went after him early and often, and had success. In a secondary that boasts two Pro Bowlers and the league leader in passes defensed, it's hardly a surprise that QB's look for Wilson's man. But after last week and week 13, we'll probably a lot of #26's jersey this weekend, let's just hope it isn't always the back.

  • Bill Belichick vs. The Colts Offense: It's well-covered territory that Belichick has had great success against Peyton, so we won't dwell on it here. One handy stat though: Manning's teams average about 8 points less against Belichick than they do any other opponent. Worth noting. In the second half of their game this season however, the Colts didn't seem to have much trouble putting up points. So now Patriot Nation is concerned. Well how about this: Who thinks this Colts offense is better than the Rams group that the Patriots shut down in the Super Bowl? (None of you should be raising your hands.) Who thinks this Patriot defense is even tougher to score on that it was back then? (All of you should be raising your hands.) Who thinks Bill Belichick waits all year to face an offense that thinks it can't be stopped? (Keep em up.) Who's being looked at strangely by their officemates? (Loser.)

  • Colts Defense vs. Patriots Offense: Say it with me, "The Colts have not punted this postseason." Whoopee. So why haven't they scored more points? Against the Chiefs, Indianapolis took a knee once (end of half) and went out on downs once (end of game) -- all other times they scored. So they must have had about 60 points, right? No, "only" 38. Obviously that's plenty, but if they were never stopped, shouldn't they have scored like fifty hundred? What could have possibly held them back? Simple - their defense. You can't score if you're sitting on the bench. The Colts are 20th in the league in rushing yards allowed, 24th in yards per carry, and 28th in rushing touchdowns. Holmes went for 176 on Sunday with 2 touchdowns. If Antoine Smith is healthy and focused, he could have his best game of the season. Combine that with some effective dinking and dunking by T. Brady and a steel lock on the turnover box, and you could shut Indy down.

  • Bethel Johnson vs. Colts Special Teams: The Patriots put themselves into the Super Bowl in 2001 largely because of their Special Teams play. Brown was a terror on returns and Vinatieri was auditioning for the Bernie and Phil's pitch man. In the AFC Championship, New England put up 14 ST points (a punt return and off a blocked figgie), and started the clock on the Kordell Stewart interception countdown. Let's all take a moment to remember how much fun that was. Aaaah. Ok, so the Pats have a chance to do something similar this week. Bethel picked up 192 (!) yards on kickoffs against Indy earlier, including a TD and a big 62 yarder in the 4th quarter. Dante Hall of Fame ran one back last week, even though Indy ought to have prepared heavily to face him. This is a major weakness, and as we all saw in 2001, it can win and lose games. Bethel was big against Tennessee, can he do it again?

    Look, this game isn't going to be easy. The Herald's Michael Felger and Kevin Mannix think New England will march easily to the Super Bowl. That's being over-confident. If the Pats are at the top of their game they should probably dispatch the Colts, but you can't guarantee that will happen. It's hard to imagine this team not being sharp, because frankly, they have been since about September. But there were moments against Tennessee when they weren't all there. The first half on Saturday night was a little loose, and the defense did not look organized at all moments. McNair was able to drive down field without a lot of difficulty, and a tighter offense could have had at least 7 more points. That won't cut it against the Colts. If New England has no lapses, they will win -- they are the better team. If they give Manning a few brakes however, this could get away from them. Tackles must be made, coverage has to be tight, and turnovers can not be a factor. New England can keep Indy out of this game, but the margin for error is anorexic. I tell you one thing, I can't wait to see what happens. Now where's the rest of that Crystal Light.....
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