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Colts Playoff Report: Showdown at the Meadowlands

Indianapolis Colts Playoff Report

(Sports Network) - The Indianapolis Colts fired Jim Mora and hired Tony Dungy in an effort to turn around the teamís defense. The defensive-minded Dungy has indeed made a big difference this season for the Coltsí defense, which ranked seventh in the NFL in points against (19.6 per game) and eighth in total defense (306.8 yards per game).

While the Colts lost out on a chance to capture the AFC South crown by losing the season series to Tennessee, Dungy managed to get the team into the playoffs in his first season with the club. Dungy is just the third head coach in franchise history to reach double-digit wins in his first year with the team, joining Ted Marchibroda (1975) and Don McCafferty (1970). Now, Dungy must face a close friend and former colleague in the first round of the playoffs.

"I know [Jets head coach] Herm [Edwards] and he knows me," said Dungy, who employed Edwards as his right-hand man in Tampa Bay from 1996-2000. "We arenít people who are going to change. We arenít going to come up with something totally different just because weíre in the playoffs and because weíre playing the Jets.

"They win because they do what they do very well. We do what we do. There arenít going to be a lot of secrets. I think itís going to be a game of execution and who goes out there and makes the plays. At this point, you donít have to guess about any gimmicks or what theyíve been saving all year. Thatís not the case with them."

Dungy might be floating a decoy when he says everything will be status quo come Saturday's first-round playoff showdown at the Meadowlands. The Jets are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs, as the club is riding the success of QB Chad Pennington. Expect Dungy to throw all kinds of looks at the Jetsí young quarterback in an effort to confuse and rattle him. But thatís easier said than done. Pennington has played like a 10-year veteran this season in his first full-time action as a starter.

While the Colts had the No. 2 pass defense in the league this season (182.3 passing yards per game), the Jets have favorable matchups against Indyís defensive backs. CB Walt Harris is Indyís best player in the secondary, but Nick Harper and David Macklin are both vulnerable. Dungy also has a pair of unreliable safeties in Idrees Bashir and David Gibson.

MANNING THE CONTROLS

The leader of the Coltsí offense is Pro Bowl QB Peyton Manning, who owns a 5-3 career mark against the Jets. Manning finished third in the NFL this season with 4,200 passing yards, which also made him the first QB in NFL history to pass for 4,000 or more yards in four straight seasons. Not even Dan Marino or Dan Fouts accomplished that feat.

"I take great pride in what I do," said Manning, who took every offensive snap in 2002 and has missed only 43 of a possible 5,060 snaps in his five-year career. "But this is a team game. The good of the team always comes first and we need to rally together and play our best game of the year here coming up against the Jets."

Manning is a master of the play-action pass. However, the Colts have had a hard time making opponents respect their running game. For the second time in as many years, Edgerrin James failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark after galloping for 3,262 yards in his first two NFL seasons. The former All-Pro hasnít been the same since blowing out his knee last year, leaving much of the rushing load to undrafted rookie James Mungro, who led the Colts with eight rushing touchdowns.

The Coltsí offense ranked ninth overall this season in total yards per game (351). However, that number is quite misleading. Indy had the No. 4 passing offense in the league (253.4 yards per game) but ranked 26th overall running the ball.

The Manning-to-Marvin Harrison connection was better than ever in 2002. Harrison set a new NFL single-season mark for receptions with 143 to go along with his 1,722 receiving yards (fourth-most in league history) and 11 touchdowns. In the last meeting with the Jets, Harrison caught 12 passes for 127 yards and a score.

With veteran receiver Qadry Ismail on injured reserve, WR Reggie Wayne and TE Marcus Pollard must pick up the slack in complementary roles to the All-Pro Harrison. Wayne, who was second on the team with 49 catches for 716 yards, has the speed and hands to make the Jets pay for overplaying Harrison. But the big key could be Pollard, who could find some big holes in New Yorkís Cover-2 defense.

While the Colts will need to run the ball consistently with James and Mungro to keep New Yorkís defense honest, Indyís success will come down to the play of Manning. The Tennessee product, who was sacked just 23 times this season, threw four less interceptions this year than last (19 in 2002, 23 in 2001). But Manning still struggles at times by throwing picks in bunches. He must avoid turning the ball over since heís already battling the harsh January weather of the East Coast and a rowdy pro-Jets crowd.

"New York is a tough place to play and being on the road makes it a bigger challenge," said Manning, whose 27 TD passes were second only to New Englandís Tom Brady. "[The Jets] will have the crowd behind them and they have great fans there. There are a lot of things stacked up against us.

"When you go into the playoffs, you can draw back on all 16 games -- a play here, a situation there. Weíve faced a lot of situations this year, especially on the road. Whatever the situation is, we feel like weíve faced it."

01/03 13:55:54 ET


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