Manning's modesty aside, the Colts will challenge Patriots

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Manning's modesty aside, the Colts will challenge Patriots

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

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 mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Scott Zolak said on Pregame Live Sunday that the Patriots are better-suited to survive a season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski than they were a season ago. 

Zolak said that given the health of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the signing of Chris Hogan, the offense has more stability at other positions to make up for the loss of Gronkowski, whose season is over due to back surgery. As for the tight end position, Zolak said he feels the Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett to protect themselves against scenarios like the one they currently face. 

“This offseason they [acquired] Martellus Bennett, I think for this very reason: to prepare for what really happens year after year, is some sort of issue comes up with Rob Gronkowski and you have to play without him,” Zolak said.

Bennett was questionable with an ankle injury for this week’s game, but is expected to play. Asked about the health of Bennett, Zolak said that he believes the tight end is good to play, but that his importance to the team with Gronkowski out means the Pats will need to be careful. 

“I think he’s healthy enough to get through about 30-35 snaps,” Zolak said. “They’ve got to balance him now moving forward.” 

Ryan open to changing role: 'It's not track and field where it's all about you'

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Ryan open to changing role: 'It's not track and field where it's all about you'

FOXBORO -- Logan Ryan goes into Sunday's game with the Rams coming off of arguably his two best games of the 2016 season. Coinciding with those performances against the 49ers and Jets has been a more permanent shift for the fourth-year corner into the slot. 

Ryan began the year as an every-down player, playing as one of two starting corners along with Malcolm Butler. But in Week 7, his playing time dipped. He was on the field for just 31 of 73 snaps against the Steelers as Eric Rowe took over as a starter. 

Belichick admitted that mid-season -- with Ryan, Rowe and Justin Coleman all vying for snaps -- the team was in a "transition period" in terms of figuring out how to deploy its corners.

"We were kind of in a little bit of a transition earlier in the year with the secondary, and Logan in particular, outside, inside," Belichick said. "I think the last couple of weeks he’s really given us a good level of communication, of run force. He’s made several tackles in the running game, plays off of the edge. But again the overall communication and consistency in there has been good. We’ll try to build on that. So I think that’s been a positive for us here over the past couple of weeks."

It's been a shift for Ryan, who helped the Patriots lock down receivers like Houston's DeAndre Hopkins and Denver's Demaryius Thomas last season on the outside. But when asked about his changing role during the week, he said he welcomed it.

"It's cool with me, man," he said. "I'll take whatever they give me. And I'm trying to do it at a high-level. The thing about being inside is there is a lot more communication that doesn't go noticed.  I'm closer to [Dont'a] Hightower, closer to Devin [McCourty], getting things out to the corner, getting things out to the front. 

"I just love the freedom in there to blitz, to cover, to drop in zone, read the quarterback, cover guys in the slot. I just think the versatility in there works well for what I try to do in being versatile. It's fun."

It's not a totally foreign gig for Ryan. He's seen practice time at safety, in the slot, and outside since arriving to the Patriots as a third-round pick in 2016. But in order to pick up a few tricks of the trade inside this season, he's studied tape of Arizona's Tyrann Mathieu and Denver's Chris Harris -- two of the best slot corners in the league. 

Whatever he's doing is working. Ryan has seen 11 targets over the last two weeks. Though seven of those have been caught, they've gone for only 46 yards. He also has three pass breakups in that span, including two against San Francisco when he was tasked with matching up with slot man Jeremy Kerley. 

Though he may not be seeing close to 100 percent of the team's defensive snaps as he was earlier this season, he said he's working to be as effective as possible whenever he is called upon. 

"I'm a player, man. I've got to play when they ask me to play," he said. "The coaches have been doing it for a long time at a high level. It's their job to figure out the snaps and how to use the personnel. I'm just trying to be as versatile as possible to get as many snaps as possible. When I'm asked to go out there, I just try to make it a positive and go out there and be disruptive and make plays on the ball and get the ball-carrier down. I'll let the coaches worry about that. I just got to control what I can control."

On his fluctuating workload he added: "It can be challenging but we play a team sport. I've played team sports my whole life, and they are all about sacrifice. It's not track and field where it's all about you. It's about what's best for the team and doing what's best for the team. Some days that might be more, some days that might be less, but at the end of the day it's about getting wins and trying to compete at a championship level, which I've fortunately been able to do in the past and I want to continue to do. There's no better feeling in the end when you know that you sacrificed for the team and the team counts on you as well."

Belichick left open the possibility that Ryan could shift back to the outside, but it sounds like the change could be one that the Patriots roll with for the stretch run. 

"I think he’s really done a good job in there," Belichick said, "of playing not only the slot position but again the communication, the decision making, some of the adjustments that come from that inside spot that have to relate to linebackers, sometimes the end, certainly the safeties. There are a lot of moving parts in there that a good experienced player at that position . . . it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. It doesn’t show up necessarily on film but in terms of the overall operation, the overall communication and smoothness of the defensive play and help everybody else play better. It’s definitely there and he’s done a good job of that."

Ryan and Belichick spoke about Ryan's playing-time situation as it was being altered, and just as the coach appreciates his player's openness to the move -- which Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran noted here -- the player understands what it means to be a professional and focus on that which he can control. 

Facing the prospect of unrestricted free agency, Ryan's future is somewhat uncertain. But he indicated that all he can do in order to help himself is what he's asked. 

"Show up to work every day and figure out how to get better, figure out how to help the team,  figure out how to maintain my job," Ryan said of his approach. "We've got a lot of young talented players in our room, a lot of young talent in the league, and the Patriots are always a team that's trying to improve and not settle at all. So I'm just trying to do what I have to do to play here and thrive here, and to help the team win, and to help my family and at the same."