A look at Sunday's key matchups between the Cowboys and Colts:
Colts QB Peyton Manning vs. Cowboys defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni: If you were going to do a Grudge Match each week against the Colts, you could probably mention Peyton Manning against the opponent’s defensive coordinator and just go from there. There is an understanding going into a game each week that your defense will be looked at and studied by the opponent’s quarterback, but not to the level of when you play Manning.
In his preparation, there is no stone that is left unturned. Going into the game as the defensive coordinator, you are most likely not going to be able to fool him with a look or show him something that he hasn’t seen in his 13 seasons in the league.
Where Pasqualoni has to be careful is the way he matches his front with his coverages. He has to have a feel for when to attack the pocket or play coverage.
Of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, Manning has the most freedom to adjust the offense as he sees fit. Pasqualoni’s defense cannot survive with giving Manning the same look down after down and at presnap. They must be able to disguise what they are playing coverage-wise.
This week will be a huge mental challenge for the Cowboys’ defense because it will have to line up in one front or one coverage and in the presnap shift to another.
Where Manning has struggled in the past against the 3-4 defense is picking out the fifth rusher. The last two weeks, Pasqualoni has been able to study the success of the Patriots and Chargers and tailor his game plan to mirror situations that gave the Colts troubles the last two weeks.
*Colts DE Robert Mathis vs. RT Marc Colombo: It would be really easy for me to focus on the matchup of Doug Free against Dwight Freeney, but I really see those two cancelling each other out. The matchup that I am going to watch is Mathis against Colombo.
Where Colombo has really struggled is with those players that have explosive quickness to the edge. Colombo just doesn’t move as well as he once did, and when he doesn’t get his hands quickly on the rusher, he struggles with control.
One of Mathis’ best moves is when he takes the tackle up the field, getting his weight on the outside foot, then spins inside to the quarterback.
The Cowboys can help Colombo by pounding Mathis in the running game, making him deal with tackles and tight ends. Continuing to fight blocks is the way to soften him up. Every chance that they can hit both Mathis and Freeney would be a step in the right direction to slow their pass rush down.
The Colts ends are really effective when they can rush the passer with a lead. When they don’t have to worry about the run, they pin their ears back and really attack you. There is no doubt in my mind that Colombo will need more help in this game than Free from a protection stand point.
*Colts WRs Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon vs. Cowboys CBs: The Colts are in a similar situation when it comes to running the ball as the Cowboys. Neither team really gets any type of push or movement at the point of attack on a consistent basis, so it makes it difficult to sustain a running game. The Colts have also had to deal with the neck injury to Joseph Addai, which has also hurt.
But the Colts can really hurt you in the passing game with Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.
Wayne will catch the football all over the field. He is a smooth route runner that has an outstanding ability to create opportunities. In the two games I viewed, Wayne had some drops that you would normally not see coming from him, but still Manning has the utmost confidence in him.
Garcon, according to the scouts I have spoken with, has been in the doghouse some, but you can’t tell by the way he plays. Like Wayne, he is smooth and can turn on a dime when running his routes. He will adjust to the ball and is a threat in the red zone and when converting third downs.
The Cowboys will be in nickel the majority of the game to handle these receivers and how they match up down after down will be the difference whether they win or lose this game.