Pats DBs see 'best chance' versus Manning

As much as the hype enveloping Sunday night's game in Lucas Oil Stadium will be about heavyweight quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning squaring off, let's remember two facts.

They will not be on the field at the same time.

They will not be competing against thin air.

On a conference call Wednesday to preview the blockbuster between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, I asked NBC Sports analyst and former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison how each quarterback matches up against the other team's secondary.

Harrison said the Patriots' defensive backs match up appreciably better than their counterparts, and it's hard to argue with him.

The Patriots "now feel that they have the depth in the secondary that they can match up with all these receivers and all these weapons," Harrison said. "These guys are not afraid. I've talked to a couple of the players. They're not afraid of Peyton Manning.

"They feel like this is their best chance ever to match to match up with these guys and have a big day in the secondary."

Harrison lauded the play of strong safety Brandon Meriweather, declaring his replacement All-Pro caliber through eight games. Free safety Brandon McGowan has been strong against tight ends, including Anthony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow and Dustin Keller. McGowan might have the toughest assignment Sunday night in trying to contain Dallas Clark.

The Colts' defensive backfield is raggedy.

"I look at this Colts secondary and see a secondary that's in trouble," Harrison said.

Strong safety Bob Sanders and right cornerback Marlin Jackson have suffered season-ending injuries. Left cornerback Kelvin Hayden might miss the rest of the month with a knee injury.

Harrison said Colts free safety Antoine Bethea "doesn't get the national attention that he deserves" and is a "consummate leader." But Harrison didn't seem to think Beathea's presence will be enough to compensate for rookie cornerbacks Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers against Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

"If you're Tom Brady and the Patriots, you have to look to really exploit that secondary and take shots down the field," Harrison said. "If you focus on Welker and going across the middle and dinking and dunking, that's fine. But I think you have to really open up and force those guys back there to make plays.

"Tom realizes that he has to take some shots to soften up the defense."