With a winless preseason in the books (first since 2005) we finally have the opener in sight. The Colts open their season in just 7 days, 1pm eastern time next Sunday, at Houston. While I expect the Texans to have no answer for Dallas Clark, the thought of a different matchup keeps my outlook on next Sunday from being totally sunshine and puppies.
Mario Williams vs Charlie Johnson and/or Tony Ugoh
Williams joined Freeney and Mathis as the non-Colts representative of the AFC DEs in the last two Pro Bowls, earning the nods with 21 sacks and 6 fumbles forced the last two years, and 35 sacks with 8FFs the last 3. Taking SuperMario at the top of a class headlined by Reggie Bush and the QB trio of Young, Leinart and Cutler was widely questioned, but Williams has justified the pick while the headliners have disappointed.
Williams is an elite DE and, troublingly, it's shown through against the Colts. As a rookie Williams was ineffective against Tarik Glenn, but since then Williams has 5 sacks in 6 meetings, including 4 in the last 4 and a sack in both meetings last year.
While I'm hoping that Charlie Johnson is back for week 1, there is some reason to take heart even if he sits. Both Ugoh and CJ have faced Williams 3 times. Williams has 4 sacks against CJ, with just 1 against Ugoh. A sign of the wide gulf in physical abilities between the two Colts LTs or just a fluke of small sample, I don't know. Even taken as totally representative of their respective abilities we're all too familiar with the lapses and inconsistencies in Ugoh's game to have too much confidence.
Williams has recorded a sack in all 3 of his matchups against Charlie Johnson with 4 total. I would call that troubling. This leaves us with the question, does likely blindside pressure make up for a likely inability to contain Dallas Clark, or will a deep receiving corps lacking a convincing answer from the Texans side make any pressure too little, too late?
The old baseball aphorism is that "Good pitching will beat good hitting any time, and vice versa." and it's true for football to the extent that any coverage will break down after enough time without pressure and any amount of pressure is futile if a target goes totally uncovered, but I think a final answer can be teased out in pressure vs coverage in football. Pressure always takes time to develop. Watch a half-decently executed screen pass for the proof, even unblocked (by design) the rushers take long enough to arrive at the QB for target and his blocking to set up. We see this all the time. Tim Jennings was reviled on the site because he was oftentimes the weak link keeping the coverage from holding up long enough for Freeney and/or Mathis to reach the QB. Pressure takes the long ball away, but is no answer for the short pass. That has to come from the coverage.
At least that's how I'm rationalizing away the player matchup I can't see the Colts winning.