**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Night Showdown Against the Patriots
Indianapolis Colts (8-0) vs. New England Patriots (6-2)
Sunday, November 15, 2009 (8:20 p.m. EDT)
Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Ind.
Television/Radio: NBC Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
The Indianapolis Colts host their longtime conference rival, the New England Patriots, this Sunday night in a nationally-televised battle between the NFL's two winningest teams over the last decade.
Both teams have downplayed the hype surrounding Sunday's match-up, but Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said that when the two teams are playing well – as they are this season – the series is naturally going to attract some attention.
And with both teams perched atop the AFC once again this year, Manning said he is well aware of the importance and difficulty – and not the hype – surrounding Sunday's game.
"It will be, I think, our toughest test of the season," he said.
As Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said throughout the week, Manning added the Colts are solely focused on the task of winning their next game.
"We're thinking about what is going to happen on Sunday," Manning said. "It's an AFC game. It's a home game. It's the first game of the third quarter, as we kind of break the season down. All those reasons, alone, are enough to make you want to win the game."
Since 2004, the Colts and the Patriots have split eight contests. While New England owns a 42-27 regular-season advantage in the all-time series, the Colts have won three of their last four regular-season meetings, including an 18-15 victory over the Patriots last season.
"Probably every one of them has been a real battle," Jim Caldwell said. "A bunch of them have gone right down to the wire…I think they've all been quite memorable."
Entering Sunday's game, the Colts are riding a 17-game regular-season winning streak, tied for the third-longest in NFL history. In order to extend that record, they will need to beat the Patriots, who hold the all-time mark with 21 consecutive games won from 2006-08.
"They don't beat themselves. They don't make mistakes," Caldwell said. "We have to be at the top of our game. It's a big one because it's the next one. This is Week 9 and not the end of the year. It's not the playoffs. It's not the Super Bowl."
Statistically, there is not a whole lot that separates the Colts and the Patriots.
On offense, the Colts boast the No. 1 passing offense in the league. The Patriots, however, own the second-best.
On defense, the Colts' stingy defense is surrendering just 13.5 points per game, the fewest in the league. But the Patriots are right behind them once again, giving up just 14.4.
And so on. And so on.
Both the Colts and the Patriots are built similarly and both know each other very well having played annually since 2003.
But despite the familiarity, Caldwell said the Colts have learned to expect the unexpected when playing their frequent foe.
"Every year there has always been some little tweak," Caldwell said. "The biggest difference was the year in which they took their safeties and moved them to corners (and) they took their corners and they played safety for them."
On offense, the Patriots are equally as likely to mix it up.
"They always have something," defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "One year, I got chipped by a receiver, and a back and a tight end. Another year, they acted like they were going to do it, but they didn't do it at all.
"They have all these mind games they like to play, and I look forward to seeing what they are going to do. Its kind of fun to go out there and try and find ways to have an impact on the game," he said.
Caldwell said the team talks constantly about anticipating changes in Sunday night's game and said he is trying to prepare his team as much as he possibly can.
"The fact of the matter is they will always do some things that you did not anticipate or expect," he said. "That's why we have to depend so much on our fundamentals and techniques. That's where we focus, because if you use the proper techniques and fundamentals from an offensive standpoint, typically, you will be able to handle most things. From a defensive standpoint, if you get the call, recognize the formation, take the proper alignment and read your pass run keys, you will be in a pretty good situation. We try to focus in on just those basics. Therefore our team has been able to adjust."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE PATRIOTS
While the Patriots have possessed some of the most prolific offenses in history, their defense has always stepped up against the Colts, too.
Some of the old staples – such as Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison – have moved on, but Manning said he still sees the same staunch opponent.
"From what I've seen on film, they seem to be playing some excellent defense right now," he said. "They've not given up very many points, very stingy against the pass, and always have been capable of creating turnovers.
"So they look like your typical Patriots defense – just very solid, and we know it's going to be a tough battle against them," he said.
Some big defensive contributors for the Patriots appeared on their injury report earlier this week, but Caldwell said the Colts prepare as if everyone on the opposing team will play.
"No question about it. You prepare for their best, and they typically show up on game day," he said.
New England Coach Bill Belichick echoed Caldwell's sentiments and said the Patriots always need to play up to their potential when playing the Colts.
"It'll be a huge challenge for us," Belichick said. "I think whatever we've done to this point is not really at the same level of what we're going to face Sunday night. We'll find out."
What the Colts must prepare for, in addition to a younger, faster, defense, is an offense firing on all cylinders.
Quarterback Tom Brady has thrown for 1,020 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in his last three games, while Pro Bowl wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker already have combined for 104 receptions, 1,280 receiving yards and nine touchdowns this year.
Caldwell said Brady and the Patriots' offense looked "fantastic" on film.
"He can put the ball wherever he wants to. He can literally throw you open," Caldwell said. "You may be covered, but he can place the ball where you spin back and he can put the ball away from the defender. He makes it advantageous for the receiver to catch it. The real great ones do it time and time again, and it's not by accident."
But while the Patriots present many obstacles, New England is aware that their opponent Sunday does the same.
"They present a lot of challenges, they always do," Brady said. "We have to play our best game this week."
The Colts issued the game status/injury report on Friday with WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DB-Kelvin Hayden (knee) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee) listed as out for Sunday's game against New England. DB-Aaron Francisco (shin) and QB-Jim Sorgi (right shoulder), who were both listed as limited participation for Friday's practice, are listed as questionable for the game.
• "It is the same. Same two teams fighting it out just like every other year. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a game on the schedule, a game that has to be played. The media is going to pump it up as the halfway Super Bowl, but it's really nothing more or nothing less." – Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the hype surrounding Sunday's game
• "They were absolutely the best when it came to getting a feel for one another and understanding one another. Timing and accuracy is kind of the name of the passing game. They worked together so much that they had it down. And not only that, I remember when I first arrived in 2002, we were playing a ball game where the two of them looked at one another and Peyton says to Marvin, 'You remember San Diego?' Marvin said, 'Oh yeah.' Then Marvin ran a route that he was anticipating. It ended up being a post pattern that he ran for a long gain or a touchdown. But it was almost as if those two could communicate without speaking a word. They got to know each other so well through the years." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on the duo of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison
• "Hopefully, I didn't tell him too much. I felt like we probably had a long conversation, but both of us probably told a bunch of lies to each guy, trying to keep our guards up a little bit." -- Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on his conversation with Patriots Coach Bill Belichick at the 2007 Pro Bowl
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) A MORE BALANCED ATTACK
With two of the league's premier quarterbacks, there is always a chance Sunday's game could turn into an aerial display. But the Colts might also utilize a running game that has seen improvement over the last few weeks.
While the passing game continues to receive the most attention, the Colts' work on the ground the past two weeks has helped win the game.
Last week, running back Joseph Addai carried the ball 14 times for 63 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry, his second-best average in a game this season.
"I think Joseph has been efficient, and had we'd given him the ball a little bit more, maybe he would have gotten a little bit more yardage," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said his team's offense would likely benefit from running the ball a bit more, but explained different games dictate different game plans.
With running back Donald Brown expected to return to the backfield this week, the Colts hope to turn in another solid performance on the ground.
"I do know we keep getting better," Caldwell said. "That's a sign of a team that is headed in the right direction. The finish is most important. It's going to be really important this week."
2) A MATCH-UP TO WATCH FOR
An important match-up this Sunday could be the battle between New England's receivers and the Colts' secondary.
With injuries depleting the Colts' back four, the team signed veteran cornerback Anthony Madison this week.
But the Colts are likely to start two rookies – Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey – at corner for the second consecutive week. Across the line of scrimmage will be Moss and Welker, two veterans with a wealth of experience and talent.
"We have to get ready for maybe one of the best corps of wide receivers that we'll see, and couple that with an outstanding quarterback who is a cut above," Caldwell said. "They have their work cut out for them. It'll be a challenge."
But the two rookies have performed admirably when called upon this season. Caldwell said one of the reasons the two have succeeded is their "riverboat gambler" mentality.
"The position to which they play will have ups and downs throughout the game. You have to get over it and go to the next play," Caldwell said.
While they might not have the experience of Moss and Welker, Caldwell said Powers and Lacey would not be alone when it comes to containing the Patriots' receivers.
"We believe we have a group of guys who understand how to play in this system," he said. "They understand they just have to take care of their responsibility and nothing else. That's their sole obligation to win this game. They just have to do their job."
3) GOING FOR NO. 10
There might be no person more aware of Dwight Freeney's accomplishments this season than the quarterback he will be attempting to sack this Sunday.
"He's the best pass rusher in the league," Brady said of Freeney. "He's been that since the time he came into the league."
In a conference call Wednesday, Brady reeled off the Colts' pass rushing statistics of Freeney and Robert Mathis like they had been hammered into him all week: 16 sacks, 29 hits on the quarterback, four forced fumbles…
"Every game it seems like they're in the backfield," Brady said of Freeney and Mathis. "Dwight has sacked the quarterback in nine straight games. Anytime you're a quarterback, and you know you don't have the time that you normally have to throw, you just have to make decisions a lot faster than you normally make them.
"As a quarterback, you'd love to have as much time as possible, but with these guys, you hardly have any time."
Should Freeney register a sack against the Patriots, he will tie the all-time NFL record for consecutive games with a sack (10).
"Oftentimes, (other teams will do) whatever they can to slow him down," Caldwell said of his defensive end. "They chip, they double-team him. For him to be able to come up with sacks week after week is quite an accomplishment."