As is customary, I do a game preview to run down the matchups and the things my Patriots need to do to win an upcoming game. This time will be no different. I know you're all used to #12 and #18 battling it out, but the wonkiness that is the 2008 season will not let that happen. Instead, backup QB Matt Cassel will march into The Lube, fresh off a couple of good wins, and attempt to silence the Colts faithful. My expectations for this season diminished a tad after Bernard Pollard ended Brady's season, starting RB Laurence Maroney and S Rodney Harrison were IR'd, RB Sammy Morris has been injured, and the O line as been a series of rotating 300 pounders. But that's no excuse. You take the cards you're dealt. On to the heavy lifting.
- Backup QB Matt Cassel - Matt's gotten more comfortable in the pocket. Early in the season, he would get nervous when defenders were in his face and go sideways, sometimes causing a major league loss in yardage. There was a big change between Denver and St. Louis where Matt started going vertical and staying in the pocket longer. His pocket sense got better, giving his O line more of a chance.
- Offensive Line - Billy Yates and Mark LeVoir have been doing a serviceable job on the right side, but not what we're used to. Luckily, that's not Cassel's blind side and he can see if any freight trains are coming at him.
- Receivers - TE Ben Watson will be VERY busy trying to keep Colts' DE's out of the backfield, so I suspect he'll be out of the picture for most of the passing plays. In order to counteract the Colts' strong DE attack, I think NE will go with faster, higher percentage slants and options to WR Wes Welker, RB Kevin Faulk, and WR Randy Moss. Yes, you read that right. NE has been turning Moss inside quite a bit as of late. It scares the daylights out of me, especially since MLB Gary Brackett is such a strong mike, but what can you do. If Bobzilla is still out, they might just try a few long balls to Moss.
- Running Backs - RB Sammy Morris is in the starting lineup, but shows up as doubtful on the injury report. I'm very suspect he'll play. A plus for the Patriots? RB LaMont Jordan is off the injury list. LaMont has been very productive for us and is usually brought in for the second half. At 5-10 230lbs, he's a bowling ball with legs and one of our strongest power runners. RB Kevin Faulk will see lots of duty as the primary back and is an obvious choice for options. Rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be used to take some lumps when the older guys need a bit of rest.
- Defensive Line - Anchored by NT Vince Wilfork (fined, but not suspended), DEs Ty Warren and Richard Seymour have been having good games. Seymour has been especially productive getting into the backfield. I think the matchup to watch here is C Jeff Saturday and Wilfork; always a good show.
- Linebackers - OLBs Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas have had success getting into the backfield and rushing the QB, especially Thomas. MLBs Tedy Bruschi and solid rookie Jerod Mayo have been doing very well guarding the middle, but I believe they're slightly soft there. I suspect Colts' TE Dallas Clark could have some success here; he's coming off of a very hot game against the Titans when WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were all but shut down.
- Cornerbacks - I've always felt Ellis Hobbs was serviceable, but simply doesn't have the swagger necessary to be in the upper echelon of this group. I can honestly say I miss Asante Samuel. Deltha O'Neal is starting on the other side and is capable, but is slowing down. Rookie Jonathan Wilhite will get rotated in which scares me; he was torched a few times against the Rams. When he's in, I would expect Dungy to target Wilhite with Wayne or Harrison.
- Safeties - I know you guys are not fans of Rodney Harrison, but he was our on-the-field DB coach and a heck of a safety. Sure, he may have lost a step or 2, but this Pats homer believes he made up for it with his football IQ. Brandon Meriweather is taking over as SS with James Sanders as FS. Both have done ok, but we clearly miss the presence of Rodney.
- Interestingly enough, CB Ellis Hobbs is our most dangerous return guy and 6th in the NFL with 636 yards and a return average of 30.3
- K Stephen Gostkowski is ranked 7th and routinely spanks the ball into the endzone for touchbacks.
- K Stephen Gostkowski is ranked 4th in field goals.
Winning at The Lube would be a real feather in the cap of Matt Cassel - the perennial backup, marching into enemy territory and getting it done. I suspect a loss is less devastating for NE than for Indy. For NE, it would mean a 5-3 record; not impossible to recover from given the softness of our schedule. Looking to turn the season around and begin a bid for a playoff spot, a 3-5 hole would be difficult for the Colts to climb out of and would mean the first sub .500 season since Peyton's rookie year, 1998.
This is a very tough game for NE. Indy is ALWAYS a huge challenge and this year, they have more of a reason to play as hard as possible. NE would love to add another W and cement Cassel as a legit starter. See ya in the game threads.