Five to Watch: Seahawks at Colts

Indianapolis returns home to host the 1-2 Seattle Seahawks Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks will be without starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who fractured a rib in week two against the 49ers. Seneca Wallace will make his second straight start and Seattle will likely focus on the ground and short passing games.

The Seahawks will also be starting third-string left tackle Brandon Frye who will hope to shut down a Colts pass rush which found its stride against Arizona a week ago.

For the Seahawks, this game could go a long way in determining whether they can hold onto hope in the NFC West, where the 49ers have gotten off to a blazing 3-0 start. For the Colts, a win could offer even more breathing room in the AFC South and serve as a bridge to a matchup with divisional rival Tennessee next week, before a bye which will hopefully allow injured players to recover and prepare for a healthy return.

The following players have the most to play for and may have the greatest impact in the outcome of the game.

1a. DE Raheem Brock and b. Philip Wheeler: When Dwight Freeney is healthy, Raheem Brock spends much of his time flexing between defensive end and defensive tackle, depending on down and distance. This week, he will have to fill the role of a pure pass rusher for the first time since the 2007 season, when Freeney last missed significant time.

Whether Brock lines up on the right or left side of the defensive line, he will pull a favorable matchup with offensive tackles who have struggled against speedy pass rushers. How effective he can be will have a significant impact on how much time Seneca Wallace has to make decisions, and may result in sacks or forced passes into the Colts' zone coverage.

Philip Wheeler could be spending significant time in relief of Brock and Robert Mathis, as Keyunta Dawson could also be limited by injury. While he was drafted to play linebacker, Wheeler also has the speed and pass rushing background to potentially be effective from the defensive line.

It has become clear that Wheeler is unlikely to spend significant time at linebacker for the Colts in 2009. This game could present him with an opportunity to prove valuable in another role.


Keiaho was solid in extended playing time last week
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2a. LB Freddy Keiaho and b. Jordan Senn: Freddy Keiaho played well against the Cardinals last Sunday night. Other than an ill-advised pass interference violation while covering Larry Fitzgerald, Freddy played his lanes nicely, made sure-handed tackles, and remained disciplined as the Colts held the Cardinals to 24 rushing yards.

If Keiaho can put together another solid performance he would solidify himself as an important part of the Colts linebacker rotation, and could potentially drive up his stock on the open market should he be allowed to enter free agency at the end of the year.

Two weeks ago, Jordan Senn was not even a member of the Colts roster. He was re-signed a week ago to secure depth after starting middle linebacker Gary Brackett was lost to injury. He spent significant time on the field against Arizona, turning in six tackles (four solos).

If he plays a similar role against the Seahawks, he could make it difficult for the team to release him once Brackett returns. This would put a lot of pressure on Ramon Humber to make an impact on special teams and could increase the likelihood that he is released and added to the practice squad.

3. WR Austin Collie: When Anthony Gonzalez went down with a knee injury in week one, it seemed like Austin Collie would be featured more in the Colts' offensive gameplan. Pierre Garcon's inclusion in the offense was also foreseeable but his breakout over the last two games was not.

Now Collie finds himself in the crosshairs, not due to a lack of production or disappointing on-field performances but because when Anthony Gonzalez returns to the starting lineup he may be returning to the slot. If Gonzalez takes over in the slot, Collie may find himself in a backup role behind Gonzalez and Garcon and will have fewer opportunities to make an impact for the Colts offense.

What could be even more frustrating for the rookie wide receiver is that he may have very little to do with his chances to stand out against the Seahawks. If Seattle struggles to cover Dallas Clark, or puts too much emphasis on shutting down Reggie Wayne on one side of the field, it could mean that Manning will look to his deep threat or mismatch with Garcon or Clark respectively.

The best thing Collie can do is be ready for any look he gets and make the most of it. He does not need to take a catch for a long touchdown but does need to reel-in every catchable ball and be aware of field position to get first downs when he is Manning's outlet. This game may go a long way in determining Collie's role for the rest of the season.

4. CB T.J. Rushing: T.J. Rushing has only returned five punts for a total of 21 yards, averaging less than 4.2 yards a return. Last Sunday night, he threatened to break a long return, managing 20 yards on a punt midway through the second quarter, only to have it called back 10 yards due to a Philip Wheeler penalty.

With Chad Simpson likely to miss the Seahawks contest, Rushing may have the opportunity to return kicks for the first time since the 2007 season. Simpson has looked uncomfortable returning kicks so this could be an opportunity for Rushing to pick up an additional role for the Colts' special teams unit for the remainder of the year.

Now that Jacob Lacey is an active part of the secondary rotation, with Marlin Jackson returning to full health, and with the emergence of third-round draft pick Jerraud Powers, it is unlikely that Rushing will be called upon to play a major role on defense. As a result, Indianapolis may be more comfortable giving Rushing both return roles if he proves to offer more than Simpson returning kicks.

5. G Kyle DeVan and b. Mike Pollak: For the first time this year, the Colts actively rotated first-year player Kyle DeVan with former second-round pick Mike Pollak at right guard. Pollak started the game but was replaced after the Colts' offense was unable to convert a one-yard run on third down with just over six minutes to play in the first quarter. To that point, the Colts were unable to score and failed to make a first down.

Some would argue that DeVan's entry into the game coincided with the Colts offensive production come to life. Whether that was more due to Peyton Manning and Tom Moore figuring out the Cardinals' defense or a strengthened performance by the offensive line is unclear.

Head coach Jim Caldwell has indicated the rotation will continue moving forward, however, which will allow DeVan another opportunity to distinguish himself from Pollak against the Seahawks.

Should DeVan outperform Pollak, it could lead to a change in the starting roster; and mean that none of the three offensive linemen drafted in 2008 have been able to develop into a permanent starting spot for the Colts.

Regardless of draft position or status, if the Colts are able to nail down the starting offensive line and establish continuity, it should the Colts down the stretch, during the push for playoffs.


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