NFL Nation: Frankfurt Yellow Jackets

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Jim Caldwell may be a first-year head coach, but he was an assistant in nine Colts-Patriots matchups, so has experience preparing for Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Jim Caldwell’s not some newbie who has been dropped into a matchup against New England and is preparing for Bill Belichick’s game-plan wrinkles for the first time.

As one of Tony Dungy 's former assistants, he was been part of nine Colts-Patriots games, including three in the postseason. Indy was 4-5 in those games.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, Belichick is 28-19 in his career against first-year coaches, 20-11 while with the Patriots. Belichick is 1-2 this year, with losses to Rex Ryan and Josh McDaniels, and a win against Raheem Morris.

“[Caldwell] is not like most first-year coaches. He’s been there for seven years, he’s seen it, he’s dissected the matchups, he’s supervised a lot of the game-planning especially offensively for however many games they’ve played,” Dungy said on a conference call arranged by NBC, for whom he’s now an analyst. “So it’s not like a new guy coming in. He’s very aware of everything that’s taken place those last seven years. I really don’t look at this like a first-year coach in a normal sense.”

Caldwell’s been excellent in his first eight games as Dungy’s successor, maintaining the good thing he inherited.

He’s been a bit more aggressive on offense with some bold fourth-down calls. He’s installed a defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer, and allowed him to increase the frequency is which the team blitzes and plays man defense. His new special-teams coach, Ray Rychleski, hasn’t solved the team’s long-standing return game issues, but he does have the coverage teams playing much better.

Caldwell is tied with Potsy Clark, of the 1931 Portsmouth Spartans, for the second best winning streak to start a career. (You remember those Spartans, of course. They went 11-3 and finished second. Yes, it was the same year the Frankfurt Yellow Jackets went 1-6-1.)

With two more wins, Caldwell will catch Wally Lemm, who won his first 10 in 1961-62 with the Houston Oilers and St. Louis Cardinals.

“They are obviously playing well and he’s got them hitting on all cylinders and playing with a lot of confidence, playing good football,” Belichick said. “I respect the job that he’s done as a head coach, as an assistant coach and the job he’s doing now with the Colts.”

Belichick is notorious for changing things up game to game, so the Colts are unlikely to see much that looks familiar from the Patriots’ performances in recent weeks. The ability of Caldwell, his staff and quarterback Peyton Manning to adjust as they go will be a major storyline in Sunday night’s game.

Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, also an NBC analyst, said Belichick would flip him to corner against the Colts, with Ty Law playing some safety.

“The thing that Bill gave us to do was create a lot of freedom by trying to disguise the coverage,” Harrison said on a conference call this week. “… We wanted to create some level of confusion for Peyton Manning as well as jam and wear down Marvin Harrison.”

Dungy said that was very unusual.

Other wrinkles the Patriots used against Dungy's Colts were more about what Belichick deployed when, not unveiling something brand new.

“Usually what happens is, it’s not something you haven’t seen, it’s just something that you don’t expect or they haven’t done,” Dungy said. “Usually you’ll come into a game, New England’s showing a lot of blitzes, five-man pressures, and in our game they decide to rush three and drop eight, or vice versa. There has been a lot of three-man rush before and now it’s a different look or it’s nickel and dime defense on first down or it’s four-man line.”

“That’s the thing from the Colts’ standpoint that we’ve always admired about the Patriots. They’ve been able to have a different game plan even for halves sometime -- first half there is a four-man line, second half there is a three-man line, first half is base defense, second half is nickel or dime. You have to be ready to adjust when you play New England.”

Tom Brady said Caldwell’s Colts play a more straight-up defense, relying on the pass pressure of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

“They’ll have some new wrinkles,” Brady said. “They always find a way to mix up some of their tendencies. But in the end -- through eight games -- that’s really what they do. All of that’s on film now.

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