Preparing for this game reminds me a bit like preparing for a siege. We know Dallas and its linebackers are coming. Can the Colts protections hold up? Luckily reinforcements are arriving in the form of Mike Hart and Brody Eldridge.
I know, I know...A third string running back and back-up tight end/ fullback are two keys to victory?!? Yep. Yes they are.
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At Oklahoma Eldridge played practically every position on the line from Center to Tight End. The Sooners even spilt him out wide. What makes Eldridge such a special commodity is this type of versatility. He is both strong enough and quick enough to play several positions and block several types of defenders. His main focus today will be slowing down Demarcus Ware. Will Eldridge keep Peyton's jersey crisp and clean? No, probably not - at least not by himself. He is a rookie after all, while Demarcus Ware is one of the best at his position. Even an off year for Ware means 10-15 sacks. That is scary and means Eldridge has a tall order. Luckily, Eldridge is not trying to stop Ware, just slow him down. Of course he will have help as well so as long as Eldridge can chip and help out on Ware on half-a-dozen plays or so, that could be the difference between a big day for Manning or a large chunk of turf in his helmet.
When the Colts rush for more than 75 yards they are 5-0 on the season. Mike Hart is key to that balance. Not only can he spell Downfield Donald Brown and keep him fresh, he also can wear down defenses with his tough running style. If the Colts can keep the Cowboys honest and draw them in with the run, watch out deep.
The Colt's most dangerous deep threat has had a disappointing year. Drops and confidence remain huge obstacles but at least Garcon finally seems over the hamstring issue (a physical hinderance and a possible mental one as well). If he is 100 percent, wish the 32 year old Terrance Newman good luck. He will certainly need it chasing the speedy Garcon. As long as Hart and Brown give him some help, this could be the breakout game we've all been longing for.
(Extra) Jeff Saturday.
One of the best, if not the best, centers in the game, Saturday will have his hands full. Literally. Not only will he have to block Jay Ratliff, a 303 pound beast of a nose tackle, he will also have to help pickup roving linebackers coming on the blitz. We already know about Demarcus Ware. Dont forget who he is teamed with: Indiana's own Anthony Spencer. The two have combined for 10 sacks and a lot of QB headaches. On top of all that, Saturday will also have to account for Bradie James, the team's leading tackler, and Keith Brooking a wilily veteran. For the offensive line to have a chance, Jeff Saturday's pre-snap reads and line audibles must be spot-on.
Who else? Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. This was almost too easy. For one, its Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Enough said. Couple that with the opponent and you almost feel sorry for poor Jon Kitna.
Those who say the Cowboys aren't the same with Romo, are probably right. You can't discount the phycological effect of losing a team leader. It's hard. As Colts fans we understand. Our defense isn't the same without Sanders. You also can't overlook his leadership capabilities. There is a reason Romo is considered an elite QB. Such players have to ability to lead their team, even if they aren't playing well. Compare the two QB's by the numbers though and its hard to tell them apart. I mean they are really really close.
One stat does stand out however - the number of sacks. Romo was always criticized for trying to do too much and for holding onto the ball too long. If the offense line was ever frustrated with Romo, they must be going nuts (and wearing down) trying to block for Kitna. Each passing play for the Cowboys takes longer than its taken the economy to rebound (If you ask yourself, has the economy rebounded yet - that's the point). On almost the same number of passing plays (actually 13 fewer) Kitna has been sacked 5 times more while facing a less ferocious pass rushers than Romo did.
Essentially Kitna is the opposite of Peyton Manning when it comes to getting rid of the ball. Bad for the Cowboys, great for the Colts. Jon Kitna meet Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
As I mentioned in yesterday's article, Alex Barron and Marc Colombo are big athletic tackles. Problem is, especially with Baron, they don't move their feet. This is what happened last time Freeney matched up against Baron. He didn't get the sack, but Hayden certainly appreciated the rushed throw. Barron never had a chance. If they start Doug Free in his place it won't be much better. You can read this article which has an ominous title "Why Cowboys Doug Free is Allowing Sacks." Yikes.
Another worry for the Cowboys is the running game. One of the great mysteries - along with how is it possible the Cowboys can be this bad - is what happened to the Cowboys' running game. The offensive line is texas-sized and built to plow through smaller defenders like the Colts. The Cowboys have 3 quality running backs - including the terrifying Marion the Barbarian. So how they are a Colts-like 27th in the league in rushing averaging only 89 yards a game is astounding.
Without balance, Kitna has been under pressure and on the run. Let's hope that is the case again today.