Both the Saints defensive line and the Colts offensive line come into this game with serious questions.
For the Saints, the issue at hand is the health of their defensive tackles. A foot injury to Brian Young and Hollis Thomas' weight issues pushed the recently acquired Kendrick Clancy and back-up Antwan Lake into first-team roles this preseason. Young, who fractured his foot while doing some offseason training, has recovered and will play Thursday night. But you can still expect Lake to get plenty of snaps while Young works himself back into game condition.
It's going to be important that Colts center Jeff Saturday, left guard Ryan Lilja and right guard Jake Scott explode off the snap, use their hands well and steer the Saints defensive tackles off the line. Saturday has become a top-echelon NFL center. He is quick with his punch and uses his hips to get into defenders and drive them backwards.
On Thursday, Saturday will likely spend a good portion of his night helping Lilja with right defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy. With Saturday and Lilja working together to open that gap, the pressure then falls on Jake Scott to seal off his inside shoulder from Young or Lake without help. If successful, this should create a nice hole for Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai in the middle of the line. If Scott is having trouble sealing off, watch Saturday. The Colts may decide to reverse course and have Saturday help Scott, thus leaving Lilja in one-on-one situations. Wherever that one-on-one battle takes place as the night progresses, it will be an important factor in determining if the Colts can maintain a balanced attack.
For Indianapolis, the big question is the development of rookie left tackle Tony Ugoh. Despite a problem here and there with speed, on a whole Ugoh protected Peyton Manning's blindside nicely in preseason action against vanilla defenses. The regular season, though, will be a totally different animal. Saints right defensive end Will Smith is coming off his first career Pro-Bowl selection and a 10-1/2 sack season. He should present one whale of a test for the rookie.
Smith gets great leverage off the snap, thanks to his explosiveness and good upper body strength. He'll want to use that quickness and strength to get into Ugoh's chest quickly. By getting Ugoh's top half off balance, it will cause the rookie to drop his hips to anchor down and hold the point of attack. Smith can then use his hands to grab Ugoh's outside shoulder and pull himself past the rookie with an outside pass-rush move.
To combat that, it's important the Ugoh uses his hands inside to neutralize Smith's strength. If he can get inside hand position, he can then lock out Smith. It will also be important that Ugoh play a smart, disciplined game. Smith likes to bait opposing linemen with nice change-of-pace moves. He'll try and get the rookie leaning one-way only to then bust him the opposite direction.
The Saints will also put pressure on Ugoh and Lilja by blitzing linebacker Scott Fujita and/or safety Roman Harper through the left side. When that happens, it'll be important that Ugoh and Lilja read and react properly, with Lilja kicking out wide to block Will Smith while Ugoh focuses on picking up the blitzer. If they don't get the timing and execution down well, Petyon Manning will have to make some quick decisions to avoid being sacked.