For this team to win Sunday, it must limit all possible mistakes and score points slowly, methodically, and consistently. It keeps Peyton Manning off the field, it keeps ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney guessing instead of tearing Vinny Testaverde in half.
That's all going to start up front. Carolina's #7 in the league in power situations, but has also struggled in getting backs stuffed (#24). Part of that may be testing the edge - the Panthers rank 4th in running off left end, but have breakdowns off left tackle. It's also been inconsistency, and the Panthers can't afford that much breakdown and stay in this game. The Panthers must run consistently, even if down by a touchdown or more, to stay in this game.
Coincidentally, the Colts are 30th defending off left tackle, and average elsewhere. They're 14th in per play average, 19th per game. Up front, Freeney and Mathis are light, and can be run on; rookie Ed Johnson (6'2, 295) is the beef, and can be suckered into physical confrontation. Raheem Brock (6'4, 273) is a one gap penetrator, and you can't let him slip a block, but shouldn't be a concern otherwise and should be easily moved with or without combo blocks. MLB Gary Brackett (5'11, 240) is a good tackler, with enough depth and range on his drops to not be abused, but not special in coverage. Rob Morris, now at SLB, is still a bit stiff but solid in a lesser role.
Marlin Jackson (6', 200) is a solid downfield cover man who struggles to play it safe enough to stay within the scheme at times, but has shown to be the less picked on corner as the Colts build leads. This should be a safe place to get Steve Smith touches, nonetheless. Opposite him, Kelvin Hayden (6', 195) leads the DBs in tackles, but is a contain style corner. As for the last few weeks, it's hard to see what Carolina will throw in at 2nd WR. The Colts are solid covering WRs downfield, however.
As well, the Colts are very good at pushing defenders out toward the edges in pass coverage - and even do a solid job on slot WRs- but don't cover the TE well. Playing 2 TE, including two on one side of formation, makes the safety be clear about its intentions. Isolating a 2nd TE in motion out of formation onto a small defender in space is often a good way to get a short first down. Setting two TE on one side of formation creates intentional imbalance, good for the counter game and playaction game, but also very good for drawing underneath defenders toward one player to leave the other open. In this respect, you'll see more Christian Fauria, but I'm also hopeful to see some Dante Rosario in the offense.
specifically, playing with the TE means playing against, and possibly away from, Bob Sanders, the midget sized, oft-injured superstar SS. Sanders makes plays, and is the difference in the Colts' back 7 being solid. Testaverde needs to pay most attention to Sanders floating around if he's looking downfield (and has enough time to do so).