As kickoff to Super Sunday looms, and the minutes, hours and days continue to tick off the clock, I find myself giddy with excitement. The moment those of us who eat, sleep and drink pigskin have “patiently” waited for is just around the corner. It’s so close.
As kickoff to Super Sunday looms, and the minutes, hours and days continue to tick off the clock, I find myself giddy with excitement.
The moment those of us who eat, sleep and drink pigskin have “patiently” waited for is just around the corner. It’s so close. Much closer than Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger was to the goal line when awarded a touchdown in last year’s Super Bowl, but with every additional minute of delay, Sunday seems further away than the appalling Raiders are from a playoff berth.
All this waiting brings up questions to ponder, and this game has questions galore. Will Peyton Manning finally win the big one? How will Rex Grossman combat the pressure? Which Colts’ defense will suit up? Who will win?
If I knew all the answers, I would immediately contact a bookie, take the next flight to Vegas and gamble away my life’s savings. Though, reality is, I am not certain on a single one. It’s simple–like everyone else, I just don’t know. But, what I do know is, like usual, key match-ups will influence each of these questions, bringing the blurry answers into focus.
The most significant individual match-up resides in the trenches, where Bears’ left tackle John Tait receives the dreadful task of checking speedy Colts’ defensive end Dwight Freeney. Lucky Johnny, you are in for a long day!
Recently, Freeney has been creating more havoc for opposing offenses than Ron Artest did during the Detroit melee. He puts fear in the eyes of quarterbacks as soon as he laces up his cleats and absolutely devours running backs on sweep plays or sharp cuts to the outside. Freeney is a beast that Tait will be in charge of taming. The bottom line is if Tait is unable to lock down Freeney, then Rexy’s fragile little ego will get cracked. And that means fumbles, interceptions and more fumbles.
Sure, the Tait-Freeney battle is huge, but Bears’ rookie kick returner Devin Hester is the real X-factor. The Miami product will face off against an Indianapolis kick-off coverage team that allowed 231 return yards against the likes of David Hobbs in the AFC Championship Game. The truth is, Hobbs isn’t even in Hester’s universe, let alone his block. This season, Hester snatched the “human joystick” title by turning on the quicks and taking it to the house on six occasions. Hey, Tony Dungy, a little advice, drill this into your kickers’ heads-don’t kick it to Hester.
Maybe I was the only person in America to see it, but in the AFC Championship Game, Peyton Manning was holding a blanket. This “security” blanket, a shade of blue with the number 44 and the name Clark stitched across the back, comforted him in the most pressure-packed situations, leading the team with six receptions for 137 yards. How’s this for security? Of the four games Clark was injured this season, Indy lost three, a mere 75 percent of their total losses. That’s how important this guy is to Manning and Co.
Chicago’s greatest concern should be stealing Manning’s blanket by eliminating Clark’s antics across the middle. And the man to nab Manning’s blanket: none other than the Bears’ athletic freak Brian Urlacher. Chicago’s epic linebacker will have to shadow Clark, most likely roaming the middle of the field to prevent the crossing patterns Manning likes to drill into his tight end. The two will be dancing the tango in pads, with Clark leading and Urlacher following.
This is going to make Indy fans cringe, but another key is how effective the Colts’ run defense is against the Chicago’s tailback tandem of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. During the regular season, Indy was nauseating. They were last in the league, surrendering 173 yards per contest, almost 30 yards more than the nearest team. Did they forget to suit up their defensive line, or what? Seriously, that is one of the worst marks of all time. Actually, the most rushing yards relinquished by a Super Bowl winner was 142.2 yards per game by the 1973 Dolphins, so if Indy hoists the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, history will be made.
On the positive side, Indy’s run defense has risen to the occasion in the playoffs, reducing the opposition to only 73.3 yards per game, nearly 100 yards less than the regular season. Couple that with the Bears’ 158 rushing yards per contest in the playoffs, and we have a legitimate statistic that could define this Super Bowl.
With every revolution of the clock, we get a little closer to the palm trees, golden sand and attractive faces of South Beach, and oh yeah, that little football game they’re playing down there too.
Is it game time yet?