Updated Feb. 1, 2010 @ 4:02 p.m. ET
First of a series
Saints OLT Jermon Bushrod vs. Colts DRE Dwight Freeney
Teams that are concerned about the pass-rush prowess of Colts DE Dwight Freeney typically like to counteract that threat by screening to his side of the field or running right at him. Freeney has become better at diagnosing those types of plays, but he still can be overaggressive in getting upfield and vulnerable to power blocking in the ground game. The Saints do both: They have a strong screen game and can use any of four backs to run the ball effectively.
It will be a challenge for OLT Jermon Bushrod in this game to handle Freeney, but he will have some help. Although the Saints are likely to open the game with Bushrod blocking Freeney one-on-one, they can slant the protection in his direction, use their backs to help out and even have a tight end or a crackback receiver to help out.
Bushrod is massive and physical, but he isn’t always the most technically sound player. He improved steadily this season after replacing two-time Pro Bowl OLT Jammal Brown, but Bushrod still can be vulnerable to the speed rush and countermoves with his lack of lateral quickness. Watch the Dallas game and you’ll see that Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware was able to set Bushrod up by rushing hard outside and cutting back in to apply great pressure.
Freeney presents similar problems with his devastating spin move and has a lower center of gravity than Ware, meaning Bushrod must keep a low base and not overlunge. Bushrod did a workmanlike job against Vikings DE Jared Allen, though Allen was a step away from making big losses on plays several times. The Colts know they have to disrupt Saints QB Drew Brees’ timing and get him out of rhythm, like the Vikings were able to. The pass rush from Freeney and DLE Robert Mathis will be crucial toward achieving that end.
The X-factor is Freeney’s health. The ankle he sprained against the Jets kept him out of practice all last week, and it could affect his ability to be on the field for 60 plays, especially if the Saints try to muscle him. Freeney said he would have to feel awful on Saturday or Sunday to prevent him from playing, but he could be limited. A report late Sunday suggested Freeney may have ligament damage rather than a sprain — the Colts insist it's only a sprain — and any ligament damage would seriously jeopardize his ability to play Sunday.
Colts head coach Jim Caldwell confirmed Monday he believes Freeney will play. But if Freeney can't go, Raheem Brock likely would take most of the snaps at right end. Brock, who had 3½ sacks this season in eight starts, can line up in just about any technique along the line because of his size (6-4, 274). When Freeney missed Week 12 because of injury, Brock had three tackles and a sack, and in Week 17 with Freeney resting, Brock had five tackles. He often will spell Freeney on running downs because he is stronger at the point of attack.
Bushrod is dealing with a sore thumb, but it’s not considered a major injury.
Tuesday: Colts WR Reggie Wayne vs. Saints CB Jabari Greer
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