- Merril Hoge, NFL
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I spend all week watching game film: hours and hours of footage. And I have a passion for fantasy football. So it was only natural that I took the next step and put pen to paper, so to speak, and jotted down my fantasy thoughts as I went along. I'll continue to do so each week during the NFL season. Enjoy!
• I have spent some 30 hours this week watching tape just on the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. I expect the Colts to be different on offense than they were in last year's AFC championship game. In the past, the Colts have been an "execution" offense. By that, I mean they line up Marvin Harrison to the right and Reggie Wayne to the left and just play ball. Well, in this one, I think they will move people around more. As good as the Patriots are on defense, they do have weaknesses, and one of 'em is their inside linebackers and safeties in pass coverage. That means nobody can cover Dallas Clark. Some people believe the Pats signed Adalius Thomas this offseason primarily because of his ability to cover Clark. I would bet all the money I have that that wasn't the case, and I don't think the Pats are dumb enough to put Thomas on Clark one on one with regularity. Clark will wear him out if they do that, because it takes two players to cover him.
• On offense, the Patriots are much better now than they were then, and the biggest matchup problem they will give the Colts might be Wes Welker. He is a slot receiver, and usually teams cover slot receivers with safeties or their third-best cornerback. However, based on what I've seen on tape, I expect the Colts to use one of their best cornerbacks, Kelvin Hayden or Marlin Jackson, to cover Welker in the slot at times and use the backup corners and safeties to cover guys like Randy Moss. Sounds far-fetched, but I believe that. Advantage: Moss. The key to this matchup, though, will be the Pats' offensive line versus the Colts' four down linemen. I feel the Pats' O-line is the best in football, while the Colts might have the best defensive line in football when it comes to getting after the passer. The winner of this matchup also will win the game.
• Reggie Bush just gets better every week. He is working hard at becoming an NFL runner. Bush has had to learn how to take a seam and gain a yard or two instead of trying to make a bunch of moves and potentially losing 3 yards. Every week I put the tape in, I see him running more downhill, and because of that, the New Orleans Saints have regained their offensive rhythm.
• I expected to see improvement in Vince Young as a passer in his second year. Instead, I see no growth at all. In fact, I'm not sure he even knows what a blitz look is, and he plays with very little confidence.
• On the second play of the Monday night game between the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos, Brett Favre threw an incomplete pass to Dre' Bly's side, and the receiver dropped it. Bly turned to the Packers' sideline and shook his head at them, as if to tell them not to come his way. Well, guess who the Packers toasted the last play of the game? He sure wasn't shaking his head at the Packers' sideline after that play. I'm sick of NFL players making routine plays (in the first quarter!) and getting up and acting like they just won the Super Bowl. Just play the game!
• The last time Tony Romo played the Philadelphia Eagles, their defense showed Romo he had a long way to go to be an elite quarterback by forcing him into a lot of bad throws. Romo has gotten better, but he is not elite yet, so this matchup could be a good yardstick to measure where Romo is at in his development.
• The Kansas City Chiefs' defense has slowly but surely gotten better, and the thing that stands out to me when I examine game tapes is the improved play of their linebackers. They play both the run and pass as well as any group in football. If the Packers want to keep their newfound running game going, they had better get a body on those guys.
• The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense didn't look like itself two weeks ago against Denver. There was very little blitzing, and Denver quarterback Jay Cutler threw the ball at will in the final drive to win the game. Last week, I could tell their plan was to not give up the big play to the Bengals, and they didn't. This week, look out! I expect them to blitz the Baltimore Ravens like crazy, which will be tough for Steve McNair to handle.
• Since they were smoked by the Eagles, the Detroit Lions' defense has worked harder at being more aggressive, and it's showing up on tape. Their linebackers are working well together, their corners are playing great technique, their safeties are making plays in the box and the defensive line has been great. This will be no cakewalk for the Broncos' offense.
• That San Diego Chargers defense is back! I'm finally seeing them attack, not react. This unit will keep this up, so don't overlook it.
Merril Hoge is an analyst for a wide variety of NFL programs on television and ESPN Radio. Check him out Sunday on "NFL Matchup" at 8:30 a.m. ET on ESPN and on "ESPNEWS Fantasy Insider" with Matthew Berry from 11 a.m. to noon on ESPNEWS. He also will be on "NFL Live" on ESPN at various times throughout the weekend.
Merril Hoge offers scouting tips, including a preview of the Patriots-Colts showdown.