Smith squares off vs. Johnson and Manning

Posted Feb. 03, 2010 @ 8:58 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Third in a series

Saints DE Will Smith vs. Colts OLT Charlie Johnson

The Colts know it, and the Saints know it, too: The best way to beat Peyton Manning is to knock him around and force the Colts to alter their protection schemes. Manning is so adept at getting rid of the ball quickly, which is why he was sacked only 10 times this season on 571 pass attempts. Although a closer look reveals that the Ravens and Jets — two pressure-based teams — were able to have a little more success in that department in the two postseason games, sacking Manning four times on 83 passes, along with more pressures than in the regular season.

DE Will Smith is a good edge rusher, probably the Saints' best individual in terms of beating tackles with moves and countermoves. Smith isn't explosive, and a lot of his pressures and sacks come off blitzes creating one-on-one matchups, but he has the zip to get to a quarterback's backside quickly.

Colts OLT Charlie Johnson often is labeled as the weak link of the offensive line, although the coaches are fond of his toughness, versatility and work ethic. He has played various spots on the line, so he understands leverage and blocking angles well. Johnson isn't the swiftest player as far as getting to the second level, but he is athletic enough and can move well laterally, which is important to handling a player with Smith's abilities.

It's tough to say which player has the edge in terms of run blocking. Smith has had an OK season against the run, but it's not his forte. He reads plays fairly well but often will not contain on misdirection; the good news is that the Colts don't run a lot of backside plays like that. Johnson is not a mauler in the run game, either, and the Colts simply do not run the ball a lot anyway. When they do, you will see a fair share of stretch plays outside as well as inside zone runs.

But when it comes to pass protection, it's a team effort. Manning, C Jeff Saturday and OL coach Howard Mudd work in conjunction to set the protections and make in-game adjustments, usually from the first snap.

"I think usually we identify what the team is doing and we kind of caught up to the curve of whatever blitz or packages they are bringing in. I think Peyton (Manning) is settled and understands what kind of defenses they are running and we try to take advantage of that," Saturday said.