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So who will win the super bowl? Everyone wants to know. You have a lot of analysts “going out on a limb” and making supposedly “bold” predictions. You have some analysts claiming that all of a sudden these teams will play a new game that they haven't all year. That we will see a “new defense” from the Colts or some new offensive game plan from the Bears.
I remember before the Carolina/Patriots super bowl, I predicted it would be one of the greatest super bowls ever and that it'd be very close. It ended up being zero-zero at the end of the first quarter and ended up being won in the last few seconds of the fourth quarter.
These teams have been practicing since March of 2006 for this culmination. They have habits, schemes, plays. They know what they are doing and have been darn good at it. Both play a brand of 4-3 defense called the Cover 2. Dungy learned the cover 2 in the late 70s when he played with the Steelers, and eventually in 1996-1999 developed the Tampa 2, a slight variation on the theme, http://www.footballtimes.org/Article.asp?ID=167 . Dungy, along with Monty Kiffen, used this scheme and through osmosis, taught this scheme to Lovie, Herman Edwards, Marinelli, and a number of others. It worked well with Warren Sapp, Hardy Nickerson, and John Lynch.
The greatest compliment to the 4-3 Tampa 2 defense, is that both these teams use it, and both teams have made it to the greatest game in sports.
So how does this game break down?
Both defenses play a variation of the Tampa 2 defense. Each blitzes differently and they do go into cover 3 and cover 0. Knowing the down and distance will make a huge difference in what defensive set you will see.
Offensively, both teams averaged 27 points per game. Both have Wrs that can stretch the field and capable Rbs. Both have Qbs that can launch the ball and get it down field when they need to. The only difference is that the Colts offensive has more seasoned veterans on offense. Peyton, Harrison, and Wayne have far more experience than Grossman, Bradley, Berrian, Jones, and Benson. This will not hurt the Bears offense, however, it will just provide a different flavor. Both are very capable offenses, and when they need to score, they can.
No doubt, the Colts offense can score easily. However, when facing important opponents, like division rivals, they struggle. This is the Super bowl, and they should be ready to play. Manning prepares like no one else and gets deeply involved in the game plan and preparations. While this is usually an advantage, it can also hinder him. The Colts have a lot of offensive weapons. Harrison, Wayne, Addai, Clark, Rhodes, and they all play their roles well. Harrison hasn't had great playoff performances, but that's because opposing defenses key in on him. These are worthless stats and trends that are not worth discussing, anyone can breakout and have a great day.
The difference will be Dallas Clark. Against a Tampa 2 defense, you need to open up the middle of the field. Urlacher will be dropping back into coverage, and Clark can open up the vacancy left by Urlacher. The Colts need to line up in the same formation on every play, and run different plays from that set. They need a single back formation, where they can either leave the running back in to block, run straight at Chicago's defense, or run play action to freeze Urlacher close to the line, and hit Harrison and Wayne on skinny posts and slants. Virtually, undefendable.
In order to expose Chicago's defense yo have to run straight at them. Going side to side feeds right into Chicago's strengths. They have speedy linebackers. If you try to bounce outside or stretch it out, they will get to you and you will not go very far. Indy should run a couple stretch plays to the 8 and 9 gaps just to keep Urlacher and the defense thinking, but the yards they gain on the ground will mostly be through the 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, right up the middle.
To beat the Chicago defense, they will have to keep changing it up on Chicago. Make the LBs think and hesitate. By running their entire offense from a single look, they will make it very difficult for Chicago to defend them.
Virtually, the same goes for Chicago's offense, with one caveat, Chicago needs to run more often at Indy. Chicago's offensive line is very big and very physical, this is a huge match up problem for Indy's defensive line. All the same rules apply; single look sets, stretch plays, tight ends in the middle, running straight at Indy, and running mutiple types of offense from one look. Chicago has a big powerful full back and will need to utilize him in blocking and running schemes. Chicago's offensive line and run game will need to physically dominate early on, and I am sure they will.
Football games always come down to the battle between the offensive line and the defensive line. Chicago's offensive line is big, brutal, and has man handled teams all year. Indy's defensive line is smaller and is not going to fair well.
Chicago can use their outside receivers; Muhammad, Rashied, and Bernard to spread Indy's defense early on, while maintaining an I-formation set and run Thomas Jones right at the Indy D-line. This will be difficult for Indy to defend and Chicago needs to go to it early and often, so that they can eventually rn play action out of these formations.
All hype aside, Indy's run defense is terrible. The belief that somehow Bob Sanders makes that much of a difference or that the “playoff edition” of Indy's defense is that much different, is just unfounded optimism. Indy's run defense is what it is. All year they have been awful, and they are still awful. In the playoffs, they have stepped up their execution and have actually tried harder. And they have managed to find ways to force teams to not run at them as often. Yes, they held Larry Johnson to 36 yards, and New England to under 80 yards, but it was for different reasons. Kansas City came out thrwin, their Wrs dropped a ton of passes, and they stopped trying to run, because they had to catch up. New England, tried to outsmart the Colts and come out in 5 WR sets and run sparringly.
Indy's defense has been tackling better and this is attributable to their team actually caring and trying to tackle. In pressure situations, a lot of teams revert to bad habits, Indy needs to avoid this trap and play at a high level.
In order for Chicago's offense to succeed, they need to run straight at Indy. Right at them. They are who they are. Bob Sanders, one man, does not a team make.
Indy will be expecting this, and in order for this to work, Chicago may have to start out with a slightly different look. On their first few plays, Chicago needs to go to the middle of the field at their Clark, Desmond Clark. A few passes to the middle, and a shot to the outside at Muhsin Muhammad should cause Indy's defense to back off. Especially, if they go to the outside. This will also help get Grossman's confidence up, which is needed. Then they will just pound away with Jones.
Both defense are 4-3 defenses that utilize the Tampa 2 philosophy of speedy defensive players that swarm to the ball, have a ferocious front line, speedy linebackers that can cover, and bone crushing safeties that can come up and play as linebackers and stop the run. Same philosophies, same schemes, same style, the difference will be in the individual athletes.
Indy's defense, although they have stepped it up recently, is not Chicago's defense. Chicago's defense is full of stellar athletes that play hard every day. They have showed up to play every week. Chicago's defense has the advantage here, although Brown and Harris are injured. Better corners, better safeties, better linebackers, better front four. The only bright spot on Indy's defense, where they have a slight advantage is Dwight Freeny, their defensive end, but Chicago's DEs are just as capable.
Defense will come down to execution, motivation, and pure athleticism. Chicago has a clear advantage in this department.
Here is where we see a huge divergence. This game will come down to field position and special teams. Adam Vinitieri is a great clutch field goal kicker, but he can't put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs, and this will lead to great field position for the Bears. We saw what Ellis Hobbs did last weekend against the Colts cover team. Now consider what a guy like Devin Hester will do to the Colts cover teams. Hestor is a freak and has broken many special teams records. Indy's cover teams have been pathetic. This adds up to either a lot of TDs given up by the Colts cover teams to Hestor off punts and kickoffs, or great field position for the Bears wherein they can score plenty of points.
In addition, the Bears special teams are usually good for a forced fumble or two. That can be huge if they recover one of those in Indy territory.
The AFC is the strong conference and you can argue that Indy is more "battle tested" since they made it through the AFC. At the same time, Chicago has gone 2-2 against AFC teams and clearly struggles. The argument that is being made is that the AFC is stronger and should dominate the super bowl. This adds even more confusion to the picture.
Add to this the leaving coach theory. When a coach leaves a team and has to face them again, the advantage usually goes to the coach that left. He knows their schemes, their verbiage, their plans, style, etc. Whereas as the coach that left, usually has a newer staff, and is not as predictable. We have seen this with Mangini beating the Patriots twice in the regular season. We saw Gruden beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl, and there are countless examples.
So who wins?
It's very murky and difficult to call this game. It's going to come down to special teams and field position. The advantage clearly goes to the Bears. However, the Colts offense usually has a great ability to score and make comebacks when they have to, and coming from the AFC, they are battle tested. But, the Bears defense is a superior defense and may be able to make the stops when they need to. It's going to be a close game, a very, very close game! But at the end of the day, the Bears will pull it off.