Following a one-year absence, NFL action will return to Tokyo this summer.
This year’s American Bowl in Japan, NFL Tokyo 2005, pits two of the hottest teams in football — the Indianapolis Colts and the Atlanta Falcons, both the Super Bowl contenders for the 2005 season — on Saturday night Aug. 6 at Tokyo Dome.
The Colts posted a 12-4 record to win the AFC South last season before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the divisional playoffs.
Their 2004 season, however, was highlighted by the record-setting performances of starting quarterback Peyton Manning, who joined an elite-class of passers in the NFL history.
Manning threw 49 touchdown passes last season to break the old NFL record set by Hall of Fame Dan Marino in 1984. The eighth-year signal caller set another NFL record with a 121.1 passer rating.
No one will doubt Manning’s passing ability, but one luxury he’s fortunate to have is his supporting cast. Wide receivers Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley all topped the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards last year to help Manning achieve his record feat.
Indianapolis’ best move during this offseason was re-signing two-time NFL leading rusher Edgerrin James, who ran in for nine touchdowns on the ground in 2004 and was the league’s fourth-best rusher with 1,548 yards (this was even better than the team rushing yardages of Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Miami and Oakland). This enables the Colts to maintain their high-scoring offense and focus on improving their defense during the offseason.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Dwight Freeney has established himself as one of the elite pass rushers in the league.
Last year, Freeney recorded an NFL-high 16 sacks while his fellow-end Robert Mathis added 10 1/2 from the other side.
Unlike the offense, which is one of the best in football, the defense has a lot to improve on. Though head coach Tony Dungy is known as a defensive genius, he has yet succeed in upgrading the defense to the level of the offense in his three-year tenure.
The Colts are expected to go defense-heavy in this weekend’s NFL draft in New York.
The Falcons, making their second trip to Japan, after playing here prior to the 2000 season, feature extremely athletic quarterback Michael Vick, who has won fame for his rushing ability.
Amazingly, Vick rushed for 902 yards last year, which was second only to running back Warrick Dunn (1,106 yards) for the Falcons and 23rd among all NFL rushers. The tandem of Vick and Dunn helped the Falcons have the league’s top run offense last year.
Vick completed 181 of 321 attempts passes for 2,313 yards and 14 touchdowns and ranked 21st with a 78.1 passer rating. Now he is in the process of adjusting to the scheme head coach Jim Mora Jr. introduced last offseason.
The southpaw quarterback is being asked to throw more short passes than earlier in his career and Mora expects Vick to feel more comfortable in his second season under the new system. However, Vick is still more of a threat to opponents when he runs out of the pocket and picks up extra yards on the ground.
The Falcons defense made a great improvement last season from the 2003 season when it was ranked last in the league.
The 43-year-old Mora, son of former Saints and Colts head coach Jim Mora, did a great job re-establishing the defense and led it to 14th in the league in his first year at the helm.
The strength of the defense is in its pass rush. Led by defensive end Patrick Kerney (13) and defensive tackle Rod Coleman (11 1/2), the Falcons recorded a league-high 48 sacks.
The Falcons had a 11-4 record to wrap up the NFC South and advance to the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
NFL Tokyo 2005 kicks off 6 p.m., and the tickets go on sale on April 23 at major ticket outlets.
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