November 3, 2006


Manning, Brady Collide in AFC Grudge Match (AARON SCHATZ, November 3, 2006, NY Sun)

(Sunday, 8:15 p.m.)

The Patriots had beaten Indianapolis six straight times, but last year the undefeated Colts marched into Foxboro on the first Monday night of November and finally got the Belichick/Brady monkey off their back.

One year later, the undefeated Colts march into Foxboro once again, this time on the first Sunday night of November. Perhaps last year's win gave the Colts renewed confidence, but that monkey is still in Foxboro, waiting to reattach itself.

Football is a game that is decided by the specific matchups of player against player and strategy against strategy. One cannot simply rank the teams 1–32 and say that a higher-ranked team should beat the one ranked lower. No matter how strong these two teams are at any given time, the matchups strongly favor the Patriots, because of how each quarterback contends with the opposing defensive scheme.

The Indianapolis offense excels in part because of Peyton Manning's ability to read the defense before the snap and adjust the offense accordingly. But Manning historically has trouble adjusting against 3–4 defensive schemes, where the identity of the pass-rushers is far less clear. The problem goes far beyond the Patriots: San Diego handed Indianapolis its first loss of the 2005 regular season, and Pittsburgh knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. In both games, the linebackers in a 3–4 scheme completely overwhelmed the Indianapolis offensive line. The Colts even have a habit of playing close games against inferior teams that play a 3–4 defense (Browns, Jets).

Tom Brady, meanwhile, has an excellent record against Indianapolis and other teams which play "Tampa-2" zone coverage. On Monday night, he moved the Patriots down the field over and over, consistently finding his receivers in holes between Minnesota defenders. Buffalo now plays this scheme, and Brady has beaten them twice this year. Last year, the Patriots dispatched the team that gave this defense its name, the Buccaneers, by the score of 28–0. Even last year, the Colts stopped the Patriot running game but couldn't stop Brady: He was 22-for-33 with 265 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in the loss.

This year, of course, the Colts won't be stopping the New England running game.

You might be inclined to say that playing outdooers in New England -- we had snow here yesterday -- favors Brady over Manning, except that Brady is 10-0 in domes plus two Super Bowl rings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 3, 2006 7:59 AM

I'm actually going to go with Manning and the Colts in this one, because it's still the regular season and the rest of the AFC East is such a train wreck that, even with an unbaten record, the Colts need this game right now more than the Pats do. But if they meet again in the playoffs, Indy's leaky run defense and Brady's efficency will be the difference (New Englad will make their regular season statement a few weeks from now, when they hand the Bears their first loss of the season).

Posted by: John at November 4, 2006 8:59 AM