Right end Igor Olshansky will be a familiar but unwelcome sight for the Colts
offensive line, particularly if Charlie Johnson is unable to go after being held
out of practice all week. Olshansky is a tremendous end in the 3-4 scheme
and was a big free agent signing for the Cowboys last offseason.
not had a stellar 2010 campaign, though, with zero sacks and only 29 tackles
thus far this season. He has been able to seal off the left tackle and
push the play inside in the running game, as opponents are averaging 2.86 yards
to left tackle, which is best in the league. But, opponents have been able
to run around left end quite easily, averaging 8.26 yards per carry to that
area. When Olshanksy eats up the left tackle and outside linebacker
DeMarcus Ware takes that opening as the quickest route to the quarterback, it
creates a natural running lane to the outside.
Donald Brown is the only
healthy back on the roster with the speed to get to the outside, so the Colts
may want to use a combination of him and Mike Hart and mix in some inside-out
action in order to keep the Dallas defense off balance.
The Cowboys have also allowed 6.35 yards per attempt around right end to left
defensive end Stephen Bowen's side of the field. Outside linebacker
Anthony Spencer is more of a pass rushing specialist than a run defender, so he
also takes the inside lane to the quarterback and creates a natural outside
rushing lane. Indianapolis has not shown any interest in running the ball
this season, but this might be their best opportunity yet, with two key
mismatches and two healthy backs in the rotation.
Nose tackle Jay Ratliff creates a great deal of disruption up the middle and
can wreak the kind of havoc on the interior of the Colts offensive line that
Antonio Garay did last week. Ratliff will not make it easy for Hart to run
up the middle, but he is their best runner between the tackles and his efforts
will help set up play action by Peyton Manning.
Jeff Saturday will need to
get his hands on Ratliff and attempt to contain him. At best, he should
try to keep Ratliff occupied so that the talented nose tackle — who has 2.5
sacks on the season, most by a Dallas defensive lineman — is not able to feast
on Mike Pollak or Kyle DeVan.
Ware presents the biggest challenge for the Colts in the passing game.
Manning was under pressure a great deal in the San Diego game and the pressure
seemed to wear on him. Ware has been inconsistent thus far this season,
but he has compiled 9.5 sacks by cashing in on favorable match-ups. He
would have a favorable enough matchup if Johnson were healthy, but a banged up
Charlie Johnson or, worse yet, Jeff Linkenbach, will prove to be no match for
Ware one-on-one. Whoever draws Ware on Sunday will need help from a tight
end or a tailback. If Manning gets enough time, he can carve up this pass
defense underneath and over the top.
Though Ratliff is one of the primary reasons for Dallas' success on run
defense up the middle, inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking are
both very active, athletic players that make a huge contribution in the running
game and the passing game. James was held out of practice all week and the
Cowboys will miss him if he is unable to play. The absence of James will
make things easier on Hart running up the middle, but it won't be easy.
The biggest beneficiaries will be Brown on check downs and Jacob Tamme
catching passes in the short and intermediate middle of the field. James
is also an excellent pass defender, so Tamme should be able to get a clean
release off the line against either Ware or Spencer and be able to get behind
rookie Sean Lee, who will be making his first career start.
Both Spencer and Ware are more comfortable playing with their hands on the
ground and are not very adept in pass coverage. If Manning can isolate
Tamme or Blair White on Ware or Spencer, then he will have an easy completion.
It would also not be surprising for Manning to try to get Brown matched up
against one of those outside linebackers on a wheel route.
Though Reggie Wayne recently caught fire from ColtPower for no longer being
an elite receiver, he still has enough skill and guile to take advantage of a
good matchup when he has one. He has a tremendous matchup on Sunday
against Michael Jenkins, who specializes in man coverage but does not have the
hip flexibility or closing speed to pull it off.
Wayne should be able to
shake and juke Jenkins enough to get open for some easy slants, ins, and outs,
with the possibility of victimizing Jenkins on a go or fly route. Given
the favorable matchup and the history Wayne and Manning have, Manning will need
to lean on Wayne on Sunday with a depleted receiving corps in a must win game.
Pierre Garcon is continuing to work his way out of the doghouse and has the
potential to strike for a big play on a slant-and-go against Terrence Newman on
Sunday. Newman is an aggressive cornerback that likes to play close to the
line of scrimmage and tries to jump any and all patterns. This makes him
very effective in the short passing game, but it also leaves him vulnerable to a
big play on play action or a double move.
Safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Alan Ball are fine players, but neither is
known for his ability to get back against the deep pass and Dallas has yielded
seven passing plays of 40 yards more this season.
Manning should be able to work the ball to his targets short, medium, and
deep provided he has the time and pocket presence to get the ball there.
Ware and Spencer could consume him, especially if the Colts abandon the running
game and don't take advantage of the fact that they have two healthy tailbacks
for the first time in a long time.
This offense does not necessarily need
to be balanced to score on the 30th-ranked scoring defense and move the ball
through the air on the 23rd-ranked pass defense, but a little balance could go a
long way towards fixing what ails this team.
Ultimately, winning will be the best salve, though, so Indianapolis should
not sacrifice easy yards in the passing game if running the ball does not prove
to be productive.
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