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Super Bowl XLI 1/2

It's the biggest game of the season -- again. But this time, after losing three straight to Indianapolis, New England looks too hot to handle

Posted: Tuesday October 30, 2007 10:24AM; Updated: Tuesday October 30, 2007 10:29AM
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Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
Bob Rosato (2)
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Bill Belichick has become a modern version of Francis (Close the Gates of Mercy) Schmidt, the famous Ohio State coach of the 1930s. Like Schmidt, Belichick is running up huge scores. There's a reason why he's doing it, why Tom Brady threw a bomb to Randy Moss with the Patriots leading 38-0 in the fourth quarter on Sunday against Washington. To sow fear. My God, opponents start thinking, we've got to score 40 against them or we're sunk!

So how do the Colts try to fell this modern Goliath when the two unbeatens face each other at the RCA Dome this Sunday? The same way they did in their 38-34 AFC Championship Game victory last January: wear 'em out. Indianapolis ran a no-huddle, hurry-up attack for the entire game. The Colts kept the Patriots' defense on the field for 80 snaps, and when Indy drove 80 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:02 left, New England was exhausted.

But I can't see it happening this year, because I don't think the Pats will let the Colts have the ball that much. New England has a two-speed offense now -- ball control, with running back Laurence Maroney and possession receiver Wes Welker; and the deep strike, with wideouts Randy Moss and Donte' Stallworth. The Patriots will open the game by throwing underneath, then switch gears and pound the ball on the ground. At least once or twice New England will max protect with its two blocking tight ends, Kyle Brady and Marcellus Rivers; the latter got significant playing time in the 52-7 victory over the Redskins last week, presumably because he figures into the plan for Indy. Then Moss will go deep. Single, double, even triple coverage -- it doesn't matter, because if Brady has time, Moss will run away from everyone.

If the Colts sit back in their Cover Two defense and try to keep things in front of them, Brady will pick them apart. They have to bring pressure, but in Welker the Patriots have a blitz-control weapon whose greatness grows from week to week. He has an almost uncanny instinct for the hot reads, the quick catches he has to make against the blitz. Washington tried to control Welker by double-covering him with a 245-pound middle linebacker, London Fletcher, who gave Welker a good whack when he caught the ball. He took the blows and bounced back, and even blocked Fletcher on some running plays. Bob Sanders, Indy's quick-striking strong safety, might be a good candidate for blitz duty, or he might even have a go at Welker. But I'll bet they'll have Sanders doubling Moss on occasion, roughing him up.

How will the New England defense cope with the Colts' attack? Marvin Harrison, Indy's All-Pro wideout, killed the Pats (eight catches for 145 yards and two TDs) last November, but his bad knee might keep him out of this one, or at least slow him significantly. He had two good games at the start of the season, but since then he's been nothing more than a 10-yard threat. H-back Dallas Clark and running back Joseph Addai held the offense together until the last two games, when wideout Reggie Wayne bailed out the Colts in some tough spots. I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots assign their best corner, Asante Samuel, to track Wayne all over the field; take their chances with Harrison, if he plays; and handle Clark by combination coverage.

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