Now, it's very likely that almost every article or blog that you've read concerning this Sunday's festivities included something along the lines of "Indy's O vs. Chicago's D". That's blatantly obvious however, strip away the labels of "offense" and "defense" from this match-up and you can see that the similarities between these teams are fairly pronounced. Yes, it is the first time in NFL history that two African-American coaches (who are apparently the best of friends) will square-up against one another in the championship game. That's been stated almost as much as the whole "offense vs. defense" ordeal. Nevertheless, let's take a closer look at this Sunday's match-up to see just how much of a mirror image these two teams are.
|Chicago Bears QB Rex Grossman throws against the New England Patriots Nov 26, 2006. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)|
In the 2006 regular season, both Indianapolis and Chicago averaged 26.7 points per game. However, we all know that the Colts pride themselves on their high-octane offense, where as the Bears stronghold is their stingy defense. For argument's sake, take the words "offense" and "defense" out of this equation. Each team's "better side of the ball" ranked in the NFL's Top 5 respectively during the regular season (the Colts offense ranked 5th overall and the Bears defense ranked 3rd). In sharp contract, for as strong as each team was in one dimension, they were equally as mediocre in its counterpart (the Colts ranked 21st on defense and the Bears ranked 15th on offense). Therefore, each team dominated in one respect, while their other half was being carried throughout the season. And with that, both Indianapolis and Chicago had their central playmakers QB Peyton Manning in the middle of the Colts offense and MLB Brian Urlacher anchoring the Bears defense. Much of the focus was put on these two perennial Pro Bowlers, and their respective teammates played off of their actions.
Even with all the criticism he has gotten this year, QB Rex Grossman has helped the Bears get to Miami. And although he's had some questionable performances in 2006 (think back to Week 13 against Minnesota), Grossman posted a 100.0+ QB Rating in seven games this season the same number as Manning. Both the Indianapolis and Chicago offenses parallel each other in many ways from their go-to receivers to their two-back running games. This dual-back system has produced 12 rushing touchdowns for both Indianapolis and Chicago, as well as 1,000+ yards rushing for their respective premier backs (1,081 for Joseph Addai and 1,210 for Thomas Jones).
Yet, those are all facts from the regular season the past. We have to look at the present state of these two teams, and it seems as though there has been a complete role reversal for Indianapolis and Chicago. The most pronounced of the two has to deal with the reemergence of the Colts defense. For a team that ranked 21st overall on defense (and that ranked dead last against the run), Dwight Freeney & Co. have been playing out of their minds in this year's playoffs. Since their Wild Card game against Kansas City on Jan. 1, the Colts defense has allowed 229.7 total yards per game in their last three contests the best of all playoff teams. They've held opponents to 16.0 points per game in the playoffs, which is almost a touchdown better than the 22.5 points per game they allowed in the regular season. Let's not forget about an incredible five interceptions that Indianapolis has this postseason.
On the other hand, Chicago has allowed an average of 340.5 yards per game in this year's playoffs. That is off the standard they set in the regular season, when the Bears let up 294.1 yards per game (ranking 5th in the NFL). More yardage has resulted in more points for Chicago's opposition 15.9 points per game during the regular season vs. 19.0 in the playoffs.
It also looks like Peyton Manning's bad luck in the playoffs has continued into this season. Though the Colts will be playing for the coveted Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, it really hasn't been due to Manning's playoff performances. 2006 was one of his best year's to date (4,397 passing yards with 31 TD's), however Manning cannot seem to elude his playoff woes. After posting a 101.0 QB Rating in the regular season, he has accumulated a 66.8 in the last three weeks. Manning's touchdown-to-interception ratio has also taken a big hit recently during the regular season, he posted a 31:9 TD/INT ration, where as in the playoffs, it stands at 1:3 (only two TD's and six picks).
As was previously stated, these teams are mirror images of each other. Yes, this game is being regarded as "offense vs. defense", but without those labels, it is apparent that both teams were dependent on one side of the ball throughout the regular season. Presently, in the playoffs, both teams have undergone somewhat of a role reversal. So, can this really be considered a "Colts offense vs. Bears defense" game?
KEYS TO VICTORY
Now, that the groundwork has been set, let's turn out attention to some of the key players who will play a large role in this Sunday's Super Bowl:
Bob Sanders, S, IND
One man doesn't make a team, but you can't argue that Sanders hasn't had an amazing impact on the Colts defense since making his return in the playoffs. Much emphasis gets put on Sanders' effectiveness, and rightfully so. In the playoffs this season, he has posted 19 total tackles, one INT and three pass break-ups. It seems as though Sanders may be the catalyst that has helped the Colts defense return to 2005 form.
Adam Vinatieri, K, IND
Three game-winning kicks in the playoffs says it all. Because of the Colts inability to finish on offense, Vinatieri has been seeing a lot of action this postseason. He is a perfect 11 for 11 in this year's playoffs, and will most likely see a bunch of opportunities this Sunday against a stout Chicago defense.
Indy's WR Corps (Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne)
The Colts have not seen a 100-yard receiver in the playoffs yet this year. Obviously, a large part of that is due to some of the struggles that Peyton Manning has gone thru. Yet, there is no way that these two receivers have four sub-par games in a row. This season, there hasn't been a stretch of more than three games in which at least one Indy receiver has not gained 100 receiving yards.
Ricky Manning Jr., CB, CHI
For some reason, Ricky Manning Jr. always seems to show up in the big game. Think back to the 2003 NFC Championship Manning had three picks in that game against Philadelphia. He has a great track-record in the playoffs, and has already posted an interception this year. With the Colts Manning (Peyton, that is) being pretty shaky lately, Ricky may see some good opportunities to make big plays on Sunday.
Devin Hester, CB/KR, CHI
Where is Hester from? "The U". This weekend, he'll be playing in his own backyard in a big time setting. That is a recipe for big plays for this electrifying rookie. The Colts special teams coverage has been fairly lackluster in this year's playoffs last week, New England's Ellis Hobbs tallied 220 yards on six returns. Hobbs is no Devin Hester (who posted five special teams touchdowns in the 2006 regular season). Things could get really ugly for Indianapolis on special teams if Hester gets his hands on the ball.
Now that DT Tank Johnson has had two weeks to rest up for the big game, the Bears defensive line will undoubtedly be on point this coming Sunday. DE Adewale Ogunleye has really started to turn it on in the playoffs (eight tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble), along with counterpart DE Alex Brown. Two weekends ago, this defensive line helped to shutdown an effective New Orleans running game (holding the Saints to only 56 yards on the ground). Look for the same kind of performance in the Super Bowl from a healthy Bears front-four.
PATRIOTS: WHAT HAPPENED?
Going into the AFC Championship game, QB Tom Brady's playoff record stood at 12-1. If you think back to FantasyInsiderOnline.com's column posted prior to New England's game against Indianapolis two weeks ago, a statement was made: "Ultimately, the Patriots reliance on their quarterback could lead to his demise." Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. And even though New England put 34 points on the scoreboard by game's end, much of that was due to Brady alone.
In the end, the Patriots never really got anything going on the ground, finishing the game with only 93 yards rushing. As for the defense, just as potent as they were in the first half (holding Indy to only two field goals), they were equally as bad in the second half. In the third and fourth quarters, New England's pressure on QB Peyton Manning was not as fierce as it was earlier in the game. This allowed for Manning to control the ball and pick the Patriots defense apart. In the second half, the Colts time of possession was nearly five minutes more than that of the Patriots (16:51 vs. 11:56). On the surface, that doesn't seem like much, however, the more time Indianapolis held on to the ball, the less time Brady had to work his magic.
Nevertheless, the ultimate factor that played a crucial part in the Patriots loss in the Conference Championship was the lack of playoff experience. Of course guys like Brady, coach Bill Belichick, LB Tedy Bruschi and WR Troy Brown have been down this road before. However, the loss of players such as Adam Vinatieri, Deion Branch and Willie McGinest took a lot of that experienced playoff leadership away from New England. Throw in the fact that S Rodney Harrison did not play in the postseason this year, and a good portion of that crucial know-how was not on the field against Indianapolis
and it undoubtedly paid its toll.
This week's Patriots Fantasy Football report is brought to you by Matt Hinzpeter. In addition to being a contributor for Patriots Insider and other media outlets, Matt is a staff writer for FantasyInsiderOnline.com. You can reach him at MattyH@FantasyInsiderOnline.com.
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