THE CHESS MATCH

Given the problems the Dolphins have given Peyton Manning during his NFL career, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Colts quarterback speaks with the utmost respect about the Dolphins defense.

The Dolphins are 7-2 against Manning since he joined the Colts as the first overall pick in the 1998 draft. The mark includes a 23-17 overtime victory in the 2000 playoffs.

In those nine games, Manning has thrown 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

He expects another difficult assignment Sunday at the RCA Dome.

"Good players is the biggest thing the Dolphins defense has going for them," Manning said. "They have a great pass rush, they have really fast linebackers, Pat (Surtain) and Sam (Madison) are two of the top cornerbacks in the league. Put it all together and you have a good defense."

Of all the Dolphins players, Manning seems to have the most respect for middle linebacker Zach Thomas and Surtain.

Manning discussed the fact that he changes plays at the line of scrimmage perhaps more frequently than any other quarterback in the league, and he says part of the reason he does that a lot against Miami is because he has to find a way to keep the defense from picking up his signal.

He says that's a challenge because Thomas is the smartest middle linebacker in the league.

"I always feel when we're playing the Dolphins, I feel like I'm having a battle with Zach," Manning said. "I'm always trying to figure out what he's doing and he's always trying to figure out what I'm doing. He and I have had some pretty good chess matches."

As for Surtain, the two go back to their days in high school in Louisiana. They faced each other in high school, twice when Surtain was at Southern Mississippi and Manning was at Tennessee, and the last four years in the NFL.

Manning is among the many who think Surtain doesn't get the recognition he deserves because he plays alongside perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Madison.

"Sam deserves a lot of credit for being a top cornerback, but Pat deserves a lot of credit as well," Manning said. "Sometimes it's hard to give two corners recognition. He's certainly qualified to be regarded as one of the top corners in the league."

You certainly can tell you this about Manning: The feeling of respect is mutual. Thomas, in fact, has said many times in the past that he couldn't wait for the Colts to leave the division, and a big reason for that is the fact that Manning is so difficult to defend.

At least now he knows the respect is mutual.


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