Manning's modesty aside, the Colts will challenge Patriots


Manning's modesty aside, the Colts will challenge Patriots

By Mary Paoletti

Peyton Manning is good at being humble.

Considering the avalanche of accolades and attention the Colts quarterback is up against, it's nice to hear.

All those MVP awards? No big deal. It's about the greater good. "I've always accepted those on behalf of my teammates and coaches throughout my career,'' he said on Wednesday.

And how about the Oreo, DirecTV, and SportsCenter commercials? "The one thing -- let me make it very clear -- I am a football player,'' Manning stated. "I am not, nor have I ever considered myself to be, an actor. I'm a football player, that's what I want to be. So let's make that real clear so there's no confusion about that."

Nobody is actually confused.

Indianapolis is one of the winningest organizations since 1999 -- its 10 playoff appearances being the NFL's best-- and Peyton Manning has a lot to do with that. In that success is a turnaround against the Patriots. The last seven meetings between the two teams has yielded just two losses for the Colts. But when Peyton was baited into admitting to a solid grasp of Bill Belichick's schemes, the QB wouldn't bite.

"I don't think I have a handle on any defenses. Every game just kind of takes on its own identity and certainly, if you ask about a certain year, there have been certain times when our offense has executed better than in years past, but it's really hard to summarize or all put them into one. I've never admitted to having a handle on anything.''

It was a safe statement to make even if the statistics show otherwise. His "past is the past" attitude might be more appropriate this year than in others, though. Indianapolis has taken serious hits to the 2010 roster because of injuries. In particular, Manning's offensive arsenal has been limited with missed time from running backs Joseph Addai and Mike Hart, wideouts Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez (relegated to IR) and of course, tight end Dallas Clark (also on IR).

No part of the regrouping has been easy. But missing that last guy on the list has been particularly hard for Manning.

"We're still dealing with it, it's a week-to-week transition,'' he said. "Out of respect for Dallas, I'm not sure if you replace Dallas Clark, you just adjust. I think Dallas is that good of a player and deserves that big of respect.''

This in mind, Manning sees going into New England as a major challenge. But quarterbacks say that about every team they're about to face, right? Sure. It's different for Indianapolis, though. Manning said that compensating for a mix-and-match roster every week makes regular game-planning trickier.

"It definitely has been a different type of season because of the abnormal amount of injuries and different guys playing,'' he said. "Every week presents a new challenge and we're sort of trying to form the identity of our team that week depending on who's playing. That's why it's a great challenge in a week like this because you have to do certain things just to take care of the Colts, then you also have to get ready for the Patriots."

It's sort of a double whammy there and it is a tremendous challenge to get ready for such a good opponent at the same time you're working on trying to get on the same page with some of the new guys. It's a challenge from a preparation standpoint but you have to get it done.''

That's why having a quarterback like Manning at the helm has been crucial for the Colts. With the way he talks about their struggles you wouldn't think that Indy's 6-3. But check out the stats. Manning has 2,663 passing yards for third-highest total in the NFL. Not bad when your targets look different from week to week.

Of course, things look different for the Patriots, too.

Manning knows it. He talked about how the landscape changes, particularly for him, when the field is scanned and no Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel or Rodney Harrison show up. If you think he's not worried though, you're crazy. In Manning's mind, Bill Belichick is more than enough to compensate for any struggles the Patriots youth movement might have. However ambiguous his title might be.

"You can tell he's got the young guys caught up to speed real quickly,'' the QB said. "They really have some young, outstanding players that have developed in a short period of time. It's always a challenge playing against . . . I've always just kind of called them 'his defenses' even though he wasn't always the coordinator. I guess maybe he does have the title of coordinator now, I'm not even sure. He seems to be calling most of the defenses.''

In particular, the return of Patrick Chung hasn't escaped anyone in Indianapolis. Manning has studied up on all the Patriots safeties and he lists Chung as someone who could give the Colts trouble.

"He's a guy that can move around a lot. He can cover a slot receiver in nickel defenses, he can cover a slot receiver one-on-one, he can cover tight ends, he can play the deep half as a safety. He's very versatile. He's got excellent speed, big play capabilities, and it just seems like he has a real knack for the football.''

But New England, be wary.

Even when those sub-200 games happen to the best passers, as they did to Manning on Sunday against the Bengals (a season low 185-yards, zero touchdowns), the best teams will pick it up on the other side. And that's exactly what happened last weekend. When the Colts offense got stagnant in the second half, the 'D' forced five turnovers to help secure the 23-17 victory.

"It's a team game, it takes a team effort. That's just been happening a lot this year; defense has been picking up the offense, offense has been picking up the defense,'' Manning said. "We're still hoping each week that both sides of the ball play their best game of the year at the same time. That's what you always want.

"But there's no question that our defense did a great job Sunday against the Bengals, causing turnovers, forcing Cincinnati into mistakes and giving our offense great field position. They were outstanding on Sunday. And they're certainly in for a tougher challenge this Sunday.''

His humility might be refreshing but don't let it fool you: You can't sleep on the Colts.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”