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In a rush to stop run

With or without Seymour, it's imperative Patriots halt Colts on ground

FOXBOROUGH -- We have not seen the tall man with the booming voice for days now.

Richard Seymour has been missing from the Patriots' locker room during media time. His teammates tell us he's working hard to get to the point where he might be able to play Sunday.

On yesterday's injury report, the 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound Seymour was listed as questionable, an upgrade from the doubtful next to his name since he injured his left knee on a hit by Jets center Kevin Mawae Dec. 26.

The signs point to progress, but enough for Seymour to play in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium? "I see him work," said teammate Ty Warren. "I know he's doing everything he can to get back out there on Sunday."

Every team in football focuses on Seymour when formulating its game plan against the Patriots. The three-time Pro Bowl selection is considered one of the top two or three defensive linemen in football.

"If the Colts play in a game without Seymour, it's a huge break for them," said an AFC offensive coordinator yesterday. "That guy is so strong, so disruptive. Such a beast. Believe me, I wish our team could have played the Patriots without him. They have a lot of depth over there and I'm sure Jarvis Green will do a great job, but he's no Seymour. Very few in this league are."

Despite registering just five sacks this season, his fewest since his rookie year of 2001, Seymour often attracts double teams. His absence would be a loss as large as the man himself, and his presence in the lineup, even if limited, would be a plus for the Patriots.

Seymour, who missed the Patriots' final game against San Francisco, will have had 20 days to recover before Sunday's game. Team sources told the Globe at the time of the injury that Seymour would need 2-3 weeks to recover.

"It will be a little different not having the big guy over there if he's not able to play," Warren said. "We have to have some guys fill in the void for him and just play like we would if he was there."

Seymour's presence at right defensive end enables the Patriots to free up linebackers to make plays. The last thing the Patriots need is for Edgerrin James to blister them on the ground, as he did Sept. 9 in a 27-24 New England win when he ran for 142 yards on 30 carries. Seymour played in that game, but openers are often not a good indicator for a season. Seymour is a big part of the Patriots' run defense. James is a 1,500-yard rusher and a 50-catch receiver. After his success in Week 1, James will likely be a major focus of the Patriots' defense.

"Like a lot of other running backs, he is elusive and he can make guys miss," said Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "But when you get Edgerrin it looks like it takes two guys to bring him down because he has such good body lean and he protects the ball. He really doesn't give you a lot to wrap up on because he puts those shoulder pads forward. So, you really have to be a good tackler against him. But the way he is able to lean forward to get those extra 2-3 yards in short-yardage situations, that is what I really respect about him."

Warren said, "I think that one of the primary things we have to take care of, first and foremost, is Edgerrin James. He can get around the outside if he needs to. He is definitely a big weapon on that offense."

"Edgerrin is everything to the Colts, just like [Brandon] Stokley and just like [Marvin] Harrison," said Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, an Indianapolis native. "They have so many guys it is hard to remember. I think he has rushed for 1,000 yards every season he has been in the NFL, other than the one when he got hurt. I think our defense's goal every time we go into a game is to stop the run and make the team one-dimensional. But in this situation, the Colts love to pass, so it is like pick your poison"

In addition to stopping James, a solid pass rush is vital to the Patriots' ability to disrupt quarterback Peyton Manning's rhythm.

"They have an excellent pass rush and they have great players," Manning said. "[Richard] Seymour gets a lot of the attention obviously, and it's well deserved, but [Mike] Vrabel and [Willie] McGinest are outstanding pass rushers that also play linebacker. On most defenses, they would tell you it starts with your defensive line, and the Patriots have an excellent defensive line. That will be a real challenge for our offensive line, our tight ends, and our backs."

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