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Redskins' unfamilarity with Manning could help Colts

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning is ready for a fresh start Sunday.

He already has faced two division foes who know how to beat the Colts and two opponents -- Denver and Kansas City -- who relied on an old Patriots' defensive strategy to keep Manning in check.

On Sunday, the four-time league MVP might finally get a breather from all those familiar looks when the Colts visit Washington.

"I've always said it's an equal thing. We really don't know much about some of these players," Manning said Wednesday.


Since 2003, Indy is 76-25 against the AFC and 25-6 against the NFC, including postseason games.

The numbers don't lie.

Manning's winning percentage is 54 points higher against opponents he normally faces every four years with the obvious implication being opponents less familiar with Manning's style struggle to defend him.

"You can see that he understands defenses as well as anybody that's probably ever been in the game, and I don't think I've ever seen a quarterback with more control over an offense as Peyton," said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who faced Manning as the Broncos coach -- and generally fared poorly. "If you're going to beat him, you're going to almost have to play a perfect game."

But this season has been far from perfect in Indy.

Yes, Manning's numbers have been spectacular. After five weeks, he's on pace for a career high in yards, to produce his highest touchdown total since his record-breaking 2004 season and a career low in interceptions.

Still, the Colts have not been themselves.

At 3-2, this is Indy's second-worst start since 2002. It is 0-2 in the AFC South for the first time, and the Colts are coming off a victory in which they settled for four field goals before ending a 56-minute touchdown drought.

Players and coaches insist nothing's terribly wrong.

It's just that they have been up against a string of opponents who know how to defend the Colts.

"Division games are always going to be a fight because we know each other so well," said receiver Austin Collie, who is tied for second in the NFL with 37 receptions. "When you play a team that you haven't played as much, they're probably not as confident seeing all the different things we throw at them."

Manning has plenty of things to throw at the Redskins.

From the familiar pre-snap gyrations and audibles to the subtle adjustments he makes on the sideline or in the locker room to having the NFL's leading receiver, Reggie Wayne, and a Pro Bowl tight end in Dallas Clark, Manning seems to have everything he needs in the passing game.

One thing that would help is a stronger ground game.

Indy is averaging just 80 yards rushing per game and may be without either Joseph Addai, their leading rusher, or backup Donald Brown. Or both.

Brown has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury and still wasn't healthy enough to practice Wednesday. Addai left last weekend's game in the third quarter with what was originally described as a shoulder injury. Team officials listed Addai as a limited participant in Wednesday's practice with a neck injury.

And Manning wants more balance in the offense.

"The main thing, I think is you have to keep the threat of it," Manning said. "You've watched games where you see a team has just given up running the ball. They are just throwing it every time. What does that do? That really helps the defensive linemen teeing off. So I've always said it's about whether the threat of the run is there."

Washington (3-2) isn't accustomed to this matchup.

Manning is 2-1 all-time against the Redskins, winning twice at home and losing 26-21 on the road in 2002.

The Redskins do have some working knowledge about Manning's tendencies because Shanahan faced Manning eight times during his tenure in Denver.

The bad news: Shanahan won only twice, once when Manning threw six passes before leaving.

Washington isn't likely to get that lucky this weekend, and the Redskins realize it will probably take more than the 17.8 points per game they're producing to beat Manning.

"When you play against different players or different teams you have to focus on what your job entitles you to do," Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "I think, for all of us, it's important that we just focus on the task at hand and do what it takes to win the game."

But that's a bigger challenge for Manning -- and the defense up against him.

"There is always a little bit of an unknown," Manning said. "They have a new defense from the last time we played them, or even from last year in (defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett. They present a lot of problems."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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