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Clash of star trios in Indianapolis on MNF


On paper, it's a dream game for connoisseurs of offense.

The Indianapolis Colts pit their star offensive trio of quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and running back Edgerrin James, against the Jaguars trio of Mark Brunell, Jimmy Smith and, it would seem, Fred Taylor. It is a featured Monday Night Football attraction.

The two offensive triumvirates make for a striking comparison between the two teams, but there are more similarities. The Colts, like the Jaguars, have had recent concerns on defense. The pass-rush hasn't been up to previous standards; the pass-coverage has, at times, failed.

This one is a tale of two teams.

"When we did have pressure, we had some problems with the coverage. When we had good coverage, we had problems with the pressure," Colts coach Jim Mora said of his 1-1 team, which had a bye week to prepare for the Jaguars, following a loss that was the result of a second-half collapse.

In allowing 31 consecutive second-half points and blowing a 17-point lead against the visiting Oakland Raiders in week two, the Colts failed to record a sack. It was the fourth time in their previous five games, dating back to last season and including the playoff loss to Tennessee, that the Colts defense went sackless.

"Their second half (against Oakland) was like ours up in Baltimore," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said.

"We try," Colts coach Jim Mora said of getting pressure on the quarterback. "We're sending safeties, corners, linebackers. We don't always do it just to rush the passer. We do it to cause problems in the run game, too. A lot of times, had we been in a little bit tighter coverage, we had a guy there to get a sack."

Defensive end Chad Bratzke, who will matchup against Tony Boselli, defensive tackle Ellis Johnson and linebacker Cornelius Bennett combined for 24.5 sacks last season. All three have now gone five consecutive games without a sack. That's especially disturbing news for a team that had produced 41 sacks through the first 14 games of last season.

Meanwhile, the Colts offense, like the Jaguars offense, has produced some impressive numbers to date this season. Manning has completed 68.8 percent of his passes, for 640 yards and four touchdowns. James has rushed for 215 yards, a 4.7 yards-per-carry average and two touchdowns, and has caught 12 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Harrison has 19 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown.

However, the Colts offense had to explain the Raiders' contention that they knew what was coming in the second half of that Sept. 10 game. At halftime, Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert wrote what he believed to be play-call indicators on a locker room marker board. Biekert contended that when Manning called out the numbers 52, 53 or 54, the play would be a draw; 18 or 19 meant an outside run; 50 and 58 were counter plays and other numbers were passes.

Raiders cornerback Tory James said a stolen signal led to his third-quarter interception, because he anticipated where the ball would be thrown.

Obviously, the Colts will have changed their play-call language for this Monday night's game in the RCA Dome.

"It's always frustrating when we lose; one week seems long enough," Manning said, referring to the bye week the Colts had last week. "It's not going to get any easier. Jacksonville is one of the top teams in the league. Monday Night Football; everybody will be excited. We've got a lot of work to do," Manning added.

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