Thursday, January 18, 2007

COUNTDOWN TO IMMORTALITY

The clock continues to slowly tick towards Sunday night and the Patriots-Colts tilt. With every prognosticator under the sun giving their opinions this week, the key points being espoused are 1) the Colts defense in suddenly the 1985 Bears and Dwight Freeney is going to get to Tom Brady like Richard Dent mauled Tony Eason and Steve Grogan in Super Bowl XXl and 2) THIS is the year of destiny for the Colts.

Hmm, a guy with 5.5 sacks this year is going to single-handedly defeat the Patriots offense and writers are sick of writing about boring Belichick and Brady. Two great reasons to pick against the Pats. Looking for better reasons, I decided to check out what two of my favorite writers, Len Pasquarelli at ESPN.com and Dr. Z over at SI.com have to say about the big AFC Championship game.

Leading off, Len gives five reasons why Indianapolis will win the AFC Championship Game on Sunday and advance to Super Bowl XLI:

Reason 1: The Safeties:

Pasquarelli writes:

With Wilson on injured reserve and Harrison trying to battle back from a
sprained medial collateral ligament, New England could be forced to start
Artrell Hawkins and James Sanders at safety. With versatile tight end Dallas
Clark an increasing focus of the Indianapolis passing game in the playoffs, and
quarterback Peyton Manning willing to be patient and connect with tailback
Joseph Addai on check-down passes, the Patriots' safeties will be tested.
Sure thing. Peyton Manning, in the biggest game of his life, is not going to heave-ho the ball downfield repeatedly in an attempt to win the game all by his lonesome? Somehow I doubt that Manning will stay away from whoever Ellis Hobbs is covering. If Indy wins, it will be because Hobbs, Chad Scott, and Asante Samuel get torched by Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, not check-down passes to Joseph Addai.

The return of Pro Bowl free safety Bob Sanders for the playoffs, after a knee
injury limited him to only four appearances in the regular season, has been a
key to the Colts' dramatic defensive turnaround in two postseason wins.
No, the Colts defense looked good because they knew that neither Trent Green nor Steve McNair could launch the ball more than 12 yards and stacked the line with 8 and 9 men in the box. Try that on Tom Brady, Sunday. Please, I beg the Colts to do that!

Reason 2: the Kickers:

Pasquarelli writes:

C'mon, you just know kickers Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski -- the icon
the Patriots allowed to escape in free agency and the rookie they drafted to
replace him -- are going to play major roles in what figures to be a very close
game. Admit it, you can feel this rife-with-irony moment coming, right?
Ahh yes, the old Gostkowski has to choke defense. Right, just like the Yankees landing A-Rod would put them over the top in the 2004 ALCS against the Sox and show all us losers in Boston why they are the greatest. Yeah, Gostkowski has been horrible. He can barely kick the ball 20 yards, and even then he looks like Mark Mosely knuckling low, line drives. Come on, this is not even a relevant factor in 90% of the games! That is like saying the Patriots have an advantage because their special-teams gunners are so much better at recovering fumbled punts or something inane. It is a freaking dome. No kicker has any advantage over the other on Sunday.

Reason 3: Peyton and his Legacy

Pasquarelli writes:


No one will have to remind Manning of the historical and legacy-related
ramifications of this game. He'll be ready to play. Manning has done a nice
job of managing Indianapolis' first two playoff victories, throwing just one
touchdown pass.
Len forgets to add that in addition to managing the victories (i.e. the running game bailed him out), Peyton tossed five interceptions. Nice job indeed, Peyton. Keep that steady play going.

Reason 4:

Pasquarelli writes:


The pundits don't always recognize it, but few offenses throw the ball
vertically like the Colts do. Even in a playoff stretch when Manning hasn't
forced the issue deep, the Indianapolis design is still to strike up the field
with wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne on the boundaries or Clark
up the seam.
Wait, I thought Reason 1 was that the Colts were going to test the safeties short with check-down passes. Now the plan is to lob it deep? But I thought Peyton was going to manage the game. I AM SO CONFUSED!

Reason 5:

Pasquarelli writes:

Yep, we know, it has nothing to do with X's and O's. There is no long scouting
session or science involved. But there are teams, and the Colts might have been
among them the past few years, that haven't won because it simply wasn't their
time to win. In 1972, in the wake of Franco Harris' "Immaculate Reception,"
everyone figured the Pittsburgh Steelers were a team of destiny. What few
remember is that the Steelers lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the AFC
Championship Game the week after the "Immaculate Reception." They didn't claim
their first Super Bowl victory until two years later. Maybe this is the year the
planets are aligned for Indianapolis, a team that probably isn't as talented as
it has been the last couple seasons but that definitely has momentum.
Yes, I like to use astrology, hunches, karma, destiny, aura, and other ridiculous terms to make a point why a team will win. It was never that it was or was not the Colts time to win, or any team for that matter. The team that won in the playoffs was the team that peaked at the right time, that played their best ball on offense, defense, and special teams in January. THAT IS ALL. The Colts lost because they were out-coached and out-played by the Patriots and Steelers. No other silly reason. Of course, the Patriots have no momentum in comparison to the Colts. Knocking off the well-rested number one seed on the road is such a buzz-kill for a team. Come on, Len, I am sure you were assigned to write why the Colts would win by the ESPN honchos, but at least come up with a few real reasons.

Moving on, the esteemed Dr. Z at SI.com broke down the four playoff games last week and gave his views on what he thought would transpire on Sunday night. The Z-Man at least tried to give an idea of how the teams would go at it.

Z wrote:


When in doubt, fall back on the running. These days Indy seems to use it as a
base for the rest of the offense. I think they'll open with it against the
Patriots and stay with it as far as it takes them. Manning has seen everything
imaginable in the way of defenses from this team, but based on his erratic
afternoon against the Ravens, I think he'll see a lot of blitzes.
OK, this I can sink my teeth into. Indy has tried to run on KC and Baltimore and likely will try to attack New England much like San Diego should have continued to do in the second half last Sunday. Also, he thinks that since Baltimore disrupted Manning with blitzes that, despite the Patriots not having the great cornerbacks that Baltimore has, New England will throw some blitzes at Manning.


You've got to at least test Indy with a bit of a run game, but I don't think New
England will do it the way K.C. and Baltimore did, with big guys. I think
they'll do it from multiple wideouts, with traps and counters inside, setting up
play-action passing.
FINALLY! I have been listening to the WEEIdiots blabbing all week about the Patriots needing to make sure their offense is all about running at the Colts. Z is the man who understands! The only reason to run at the Colts is to get the safeties up at the line of scrimmage. Remember, the Colts are in the Cover-2. Safeties at the line on passing plays equals wide receivers running free in the secondary for 30+ yard plays. Getting Bob Sanders jumping towards the line of scrimmage in a three or four wide set would spell disaster to the Colts.

Despite the orgies of strategy we'll see on both sides, I think it will wind up a high
turnover game. Fewest wins. That'll be New England. Patriots 27, Colts 24
The team that hangs onto the ball will win? Hmm. That makes too much sense. Someone revoke the press pass of Dr. Z before he makes all the other talking heads look bad by using common sense instead of hyperbole. Jeez, what a disgrace!

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