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Super Bowl XLI: Indianapolis Colts versus Chicago Bears
Colts Rush Offense versus Bears Rush Defense: During the regular season, the Colts were a middle of the pack rush offense. In the postseason, Indianapolis has been able to turn to its running game to finish off wins against the stout rush defenses of Baltimore and New England. The Colts havenâ€™t put up gaudy statistics, but they have been able to run the ball efficiently, and in crucial conversion situations. While Joseph Addai is more explosive and elusive in the open field, Dominic Rhodes has better vision and is a more physical runner. The Bears have been solid against the run all season, but they have had some breakdowns, giving up long gains in the open field to speedier backs. Chicago stymied the two-headed monster of Deuce McAlister and Reggie Bush in the NFC Championship by shooting gaps and getting penetration into the backfield. Against the suddenly physical Coltsâ€™ offense, the defensive line will need to hold their ground at the point-of-attack.
Colts Pass Offense versus Bears Pass Defense: Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark make up the best trio of pass-catchers in the NFL. While Harrison and Wayne have garnered defensesâ€™ attention on the outside, Clark has been able to take advantage of soft coverage in the middle of the field. He has made big plays in all three of Indianapolisâ€™ postseason games. The Bears use a Tampa Two coverage scheme to eliminate big plays in the passing game. In this defense, the linebackers (especially inside linebacker Brian Urlacher, who essentially plays like a deep safety in the middle of the field) have to take away the intermediate passing game, while the defensive backs play low-to-high zone coverage on the outside. With Peyton Manning under center, the Colts have been better at exploiting softer coverage this season, using dump offs and inside passes to the tight-ends. Expect more of the same attack against a tough Bearsâ€™ secondary.
Bears Rush Offense versus Colts Rush Defense: While Indianapolis has come a long way since finishing dead last in the league in run defense during the season, it will face its stiffest ground test on Sunday. Chicago relies on its running game to wear down defensive fronts, especially in the second half. Against New Orleans, the Bears were able to batter an undersized front seven all day long, piling up 196 yards. While second year tailback Cedric Benson is more of a pile-driving, power rusher, Thomas Jones is a slasher with the speed to get outside. The Colts have been tackling better, which is part of the reason for their success against the run in the postseason. That said, the unit has yet to face an explosive back like Jones. And itâ€™s usually these types of backs, who can get to the second level of a defense, that give the Colts more problems than the pounders.
Bears Pass Offense versus Colts Pass Defense: The Bears thrive on hitting on big plays. Conversely, the Colts play Cover Two zone coverage to take away deep passes. Something will have to give on Sunday. Chicagoâ€™s best chance to strike downfield against the Indianapolis secondary will be off of play-action, when safety Bob Sanders creeps into the box to stuff the run. Quarterback Rex Grossman will have to be accurate throwing vertical passes against the cornerback tandem of Nick Harper and Jason David. The duo has been very good in man-to-man coverage situations this season. They will have to make sure that speedster Bernard Berrian (Grossmanâ€™s favorite target) is not able to get clear separation against them. Grossman will need to play patiently against a sound zone scheme that yields few openings.
Special Teams: The kicking game for both teams is sound, but if the game were on the line, one would have to give the advantage to the Colts. Place-kicker Adam Vinatieri is Indianapolisâ€™ ace in the hole. He has made every clutch kick imaginable during his Hall of Fame career. On the flip side, Robbie Gould has been excellent all year, and made a game-winning field goal against Seattle in the Divisional round. Both punters are veterans who do a nice job pinning offenses inside of their territory. Where the Bears have a distinct advantage is in the return game. Devin Hester is a phenom, who is a threat to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball. The Colts have struggled to cover punts and kicks this season, so there is a chance that Hester could spring loose.
Prediction: While the Colts deserve to be the prohibitive favorite after running through a dominant AFC conference, the Bears have the ability to exploit some of the chinks in Indianapolisâ€™ armor. The key will be for Chicago to keep the game close enough so it can still run the ball on a consistent basis. That will be a tough task though, as the Colts are very good at grabbing an early lead, and sitting on that lead throughout a game. Ultimately, if it comes down to the quarterbacks, Manning will make enough plays to help his team win. Great quarterbacks usually come up big in the Super Bowl. Grossman has been a ticking bomb waiting to go off. While he has yet to hurt his team during the postseason by throwing costly interceptions, his luck will run out against a disciplined zone coverage.