Don't be surprised or frustrated if both offenses get off to a slow start in this Super
Bowl. The Bears haven't allowed a single point in the first quarter of their two
playoffs games and the Colts have allowed just 7 points in the opening period -- total -- in their three postseason contests.
And you know what could make this Super Bowl really interesting? It's how both defenses have played in the fourth quarter since the end of the regular season. Indy has allowed an average of 3 points per game in the final period while the Bears haven't been scored on yet in the final fifteen minutes of play.
I know the popular chatter has focused on what appears to be a lopsided
comparison between Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and the Bears' Rex Grossman,
but I think more troublesome is the possibility that the Chicago's defense could run out of gas as this game wears on just like the Patriots
did. Why? Well, it has more to do with the number of opportunities the Chicago
offense is likely to provide to the Colts more than anything else.
During the postseason, the Bears offense is converting just 31 percent of their third-down chances while the Colts offense is converting 48 percent of theirs. And that's actually a big dropoff for the Colts who were converting at an incredible 65 percent during the regular season.
Of course, the opposing defenses have something to say about that success rate. But guess what? In the playoffs, the Colts defense has held their opponents to a 22 percent success rate while the Bears defense has posted a 36 percent success rate. If the trends hold up, that translates into more opportunities for Peyton Manning & Company to hold onto the ball and use that no-huddle offense to wear down the Bears.
Don't fool yourself into believing that luck doesn't play a role in deciding
the outcome of these big games. In the Colts' three playoff games, they've
fumbled the ball six times and recovered every one of them. The Bears have coughed it up five times
in two games and recovered four of them.
That's just weird. A combined 11 fumbles and just one results in a turnover?
If the ball starts bouncing the wrong way for one of these teams in this game, it could be significant because they haven't been put in that position in these playoffs.
|Bears WR Bernard Berrian (Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel)|
The Colts' top postseason receiver is tight end Dallas Clark, who has 17 catches and is averaging 16.5 yards per catch. Clark versus Bears MLB Brian Urlacher, who has the responsibility for the deep middle zone, could be big on two fronts. Beyond the obvious battle for the ball on passing plays, the Colts could use Clark to repeatedly draw Urlacher deep in an effort to reduce his impact on Indy's rushing attack.
If the zebras are really active with their yellow hankies in this game,
they're either being overzealous or the teams are playing out of character.
The Bears and the Colts are highly disciplined clubs that are both averaging only 3 penalties per game in the postseason. Quite simply, these guys don't like to beat themselves. And after all the controversy following last year's Super Bowl in regards to the officiating, there simply shouldn't be too many flags flying.
The Colts won their first nine regular season games this year before
stumbling in Dallas against Tony Romo and the 'Boys by a count of 21-14.
Afterwards, Colts president Bill Polian deflected the critics who continued to
point to the Colts' porous defense against the run as a major problem.
"Rushing yards don't count. Sorry to tell all the stat mavens out there, but the team that rushes the most doesn't always win. And if it does, it's by accident. It's not a meaningful statistic," he said in his weekly Q&A at Colts.com.
"What counts are yards per pass attempt – and you take sacks into consideration on that – and turnover margin. We lost both of those battles on Sunday. Ergo, we lost the game."
There's no debating that Polian has a brilliant football mind, so I wanted to
see if that perspective was holding true in the playoffs. What I learned was that out of the ten
playoff games this year, that scenario of a team winning both of those battles
has played out only once. Ironically, it panned out poorly for the Eagles, who
accomplished the feat in the divisional playoff round, but lost narrowly to the
Now that said, it doesn't provide us with enough data to support or debunk Polian's point. And when I looked at all ten games, even winning just one of those battles didn't make a significant difference. Coming out ahead in either one of those categories didn't result in better than a 50 percent chance of winning the game.
But you want to know what stuck out? At least in these
playoffs, the trend does go against Polian's point about rushing yards. In seven
of ten playoff wins, the team with the most rushing yards won the game. And
there was only one game where the losing team had a lopsided advantage in
rushing yards (Chargers vs. Patriots).
In the Super Bowl, teams tend to be a bit more conservative with their passing game, not wanting to take as many risks. So keep your eye on the total rushing yards and the odds are in that team's favor.
Oh, and by the way, in four of the five playoff games involving Sunday's Super Bowl teams, the Colts and Bears had the most rushing yards at the end of the game.
|Colts QB Peyton Manning hands off to RB Dominic Rhodes (Getty Images/Doug Pensinger)|
The Bears' Thomas Jones and the Colts' Joseph Addai are the more patient, cutback style of runners while Chicago's Cedric Benson and Indy's Dominic Rhodes are more of the north-south type of guys. Both Jones and Rhodes are free agents this March. So it'll be interesting to see what their respective clubs will do after riding this tandem approach all the way to Miami.
The last time the Colts appeared in -- and won -- a Super Bowl was back in
January, 1971 when kicker Jim O'Brien booted a 32-yard game-winner in the final
O'Brien just celebrated his 60th birthday on Friday, and while I have no idea what that means to the outcome of Sunday's game, I thought it was something you can toss out at your Super Bowl party as an interesting piece of trivia. If you want to see some video highlights from that game, you can click here to visit superbowl.com.
Ironically, it's the only Super Bowl to date where the MVP was a player from the losing team. Will history repeat itself on Sunday? Probably not. It's an aberration that I don't think the NFL would like to repeat as it takes away from the glory of the winning team.
Hey, I'm a believer in equal time, so let's take a quick look back at the
last time the Bears were in the big game in January, 1986. They set a Super Bowl
record by scoring 46 points and held the Patriots to a record-low 7 rushing
Some may find it odd that the Patriots actually scored first in that game before getting blown out by 36 points, but get this -- thirty of teams who scored first in the forty Super Bowls to date ended up losing the game. So if your team jumps out to an early lead, try to maintain some cautious optimism that they'll beat the odds. And if the other team scores first, whoop it up. Your friends will think you're nuts, but then you can explain the facts to them.
Bears fans can reminisce a bit and check out the video highlights of their team's last Super Bowl win through this link at super bowl.com.
For all the talk about Indy's special teams needing to find a way to contain returns specialist Devin Hester, he's only averaging 5.8 yards per punt return and a very lackluster 15.3 on his kickoff returns in the playoffs. That said, he's still a serious threat to break one every time he touches the ball.
Okay, let's wrap up this edition of "Huddle Up" with this thought. If this game comes down to a late field goal to determine the winner, you better hope it's your team's kicker that's trotting out onto the field to win it. The two kickers in this game are a perfect 16-16 combined in this year's playoffs. Chicago's Robbie Gould is 5-5 while Indy's Adam Vinatieri is 11-11.
Enjoy the game, folks. And remember, the 2007 football season starts on Monday at Scout.com and we'll have plenty of free agency and NFL draft coverage for all 32 teams with lots of in-depth analysis and player interviews for our Scout.com subscribers. Don't miss it!