Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Super Bowl XLI Matchup Mania

Count On Losing The Superbowl

How's that?

Count On Losing The Superbowl

That was the exchange I had with my barber Tony on Saturday.

Tony's a fireplug of a man whose business card reads "Keep coming back until I get it right."

"Count on losing the Super Bowl. That's what COLTS stands for." To get a haircut and that kind of information for $10, that's a square deal.

But it's time to get heart attack serious now and take a stab at some of the matchups I'd expect to see come into play on Sunday -- some to exploit, some to fear.

I feel that Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy are pretty predictable in what they do and there shouldn't be many surprises, which isn't to say they aren't doing the job, they simply believe in staying with what works and trying to do it better than the other guy, without major departures.

Marvin Harrison vs. Charles Tillman

Sports Guy Bill Simmons joked that he's waiting for the shortest DVD ever, the 53-second NFL Films production of Marvin Harrison's playoff highlights. Agreed that Marvin tends to play soft, but so does Peanut Tillman, who is a fine cornerback but has been known to lose too many of those jump-ball handfights in big games (though we'll never forget the day Peanut took one away from Randy Moss, whose career more or less ended that day).

Cheap shots aside on Harrison, part of the reason his numbers haven't been great in the playoffs is that teams like Baltimore routinely dedicate extra safety help. I'd fully expect the Bears to follow this pattern and give Peanut some needed help.

Reggie Wayne vs. Nathan Vasher

The extra help rotated to Harrison will put Vasher on the spot, but he's the Bears' top CB. If any jump-balls go up, I always like Vasher's chances against anyone. With mostly one-on-one coverage, I would expect Wayne to be the Colts' top receiver on Sunday and the target of some deep balls.

Though the Colts' fine receivers are worrisome in these matchups, I like the Bears' chances to make up some ground when it comes to 3rd and 4th receivers such as Aaron Moorehead. Ricky Manning is a fine nickel CB. In the Bears' version of the Cover 2, Lance Briggs often covers 3rd and 4th WRs and the Colts don't have the depth to create a matchup problem for Briggs that, say, Brandon Stokley might have in years past.

Dallas Clark vs. Brian Urlacher

Dallas Clark has come on in the playoffs, nearly outproducing his season totals. Personally, if the Bears have to "let a guy try and beat them," I'm fine with it being Clark, despite his 3 good playoff games. He drops more than his share and it would be no surprise if he limps off early. The Colts' previous opponents didn't have the speed of Urlacher, so the Colts don't have a mismatch to exploit here.

Urlacher is perfectly cast keeping an eye on Clark, where he can also provide run support. He's at his best flyin' around and, conversely, at his worst when taking on blocks. Bears fans don't like to hear that, but it's no coincidence Urlacher doesn't have any sacks. The staff is aware of what he does best, which is, as they say, "playing in space."

Jeff Saturday vs. Tank Johnson

The Colts' center has the edge here, big-time. I'm a little nervous about Tank holding his own, especially when the Colts go heavy on the no-huddle, up-tempo offense. By the end of the Patriots game, Saturday was dominating Vince Wilfork. This doesn't bode well for Tank, who lost a bunch of weight and conditioning during his late-season freak-out. On the bright side, Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone at the other tackle position are stout. The Bears didn't lose a lot in run defense when Tommie Harris went down for the season, it's more the loss of pass rush.

Tarik Glenn vs. Alex Brown

It hasn't been Alex Brown's finest year, but he's a play-maker who may just step up on Sunday, though he tends to have his big games against inferior tackles who can't handle his speed rush. The Colts have the edge in this matchup and I expect them to try and take advantage of Brown's (and Mark Anderson's) aggressiveness and looping pass rush by setting up screen passes. I'll be holding my breath when I see Addai flaring out for one.

Ryan Diem vs. Adewale Ogunleye

Wale talked this week about how, one by one, the coaches took him aside at the beginning of the playoffs and told him he hasn't had a very good year, but now it's money time (as in, time to earn yours). Wale agreed it was deserved, and he responded with a very good game against Seattle and a great one against New Orleans.

In addition to the pass rush he should generate, Ogunleye is a nice wildcard for the Bears, who take advantage of his speed by dropping him into coverage. This should allow the Bears to send other rushers, such as Ricky Manning, and hopefully create some confusion for Peyton Manning.

Bernard Berrian vs. Nick Harper

This is easily one of the best matchups for the Bears, it's just a matter of how frequently they can exploit it. Even before Nick Harper's injury is considered (I've heard he's 85%), Berrian is the player the Bears' opponents haven't had an answer for.

As has been discussed, during the regular season the Colts had one of the worst run defenses of all time. While they have shored this up in the playoffs, they have done so by committing extra bodies, primarily lining up safety Bob Sanders in the box.

Trent Green and Steve McNair failed to make the Colts pay for this. Bill Belichick the Genius barely tried to run at the Colts' weakness, rushing only 4 times in the 2nd half of their loss, allowing the Colts to return to playing straight-up Cover 2.

Early in the game, Berrian will have one-on-one opportunities that may not be there later in the game. The biggest decision Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner will have to make Sunday is how early and often to take shots throwing deep to Berrian, at the expense of the smashmouth ball the Bears would like to play.

Muhsin Muhammad vs. Jason David

Muhammad has been pretty disappointing since signing a big contract with the Bears. With a 6-inch height advantage over Jason David, the Bears would hope to see the veteran's playoff experience and guile come into play, giving Grossman some open 10-yard throws as well as a red zone target. Muhammad has the most predictable TD celebration in the NFL today.

Desmond Clark vs. Antoine Bethea

Desmond Clark has had a good playoff run, starring in most of the successful running plays by flattening multiple defenders. He failed to get paid when Grossman missed him in the back of the end zone against the Saints.

It's interesting that the teams play the same defense but the Colts will have a safety covering the TE, while the Bears usually have an LB. Dungy is simply being realistic that his linebackers are mediocre at best, while Smith is getting the most of his outstanding linebackers' speed.

Against the rookie safety, we should see Dez more active in the passing game. And with Bob Sanders playing up to prop up the lousy rush defense, we might see Dez dropping the hammer with some of those deep routes that we saw earlier in the season.

Olin Kreutz vs. Anthony McFarland

Booger McFarland was acquired mid-season and has helped plug up the gaping holes in the Colt run D. Nonetheless, the Bears have an advantage here. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Colts need to adjust to give McFarland some help. When the Bears really get the run game going, it's when Kreutz clears out an overmatched nose tackle and gets upfield to take on LBs.

Dwight Freeney vs. John Tait

Uh oh. This becomes a real ugly matchup for the Bears if they are forced to throw. Previous Colts opponents have seen this - even though it hasn't been Freeney's best year, he can speed rush and loop around anyone when it's a clear passing situation.

Tait hasn't had the best year either, especially given the size of his contract. The Bears might be wise to motion Dez Clark's blocking skills over to the left side to help Tait out.

Robert Mathis vs. Fred Miller

Mathis is another speed rusher who becomes dangerous if the Colts know passes are coming. We've seen for years that the Bears' offensive line is far more effective at run-blocking and a little weak at pass-blocking. Unless the Bears are forced to throw, Miller will be able to push Mathis around and lead Benson & Jones downfield.

Robbie Gould vs. Adam Vinatieri

This year's best kicker versus Mr. Clutch, the guy who's been there before. I only mention it because everyone will talk Vinatieri, but Gould has better range and will give his coverage teams a better chance on kickoffs.

Peyton Manning vs. Rex Grossman

Is the monkey off Manning's back? That's what I've heard, but that's almost saying he's happy to be here. The monkey's still on his back until he wins the big one. The Bears obviously hope Grossman doesn't come out in monkey on roller skates mode.

I'm going to belabor this one more time: I'll be thrilled to see Grossman take off and run when the situation dictates. It's got to be an option to keep the defense honest and pick up a big first down sometime. I hope he's making a vow to himself like he did before the Rams game. For chrissakes, Peyton Manning runs like a giraffe yet he's been scoring rushing TDs this season and picking his spots wisely to add yet another wrinkle to his game.

Devin Hester vs. Colts Special Teams

The Colts Special Teams are terrible. 26th-ranked. The Bears Special Teams are top-ranked, up and down the line. The Colts would be foolish to let Hester do any damage on Sunday. When you're 7-point favorites, you don't let a wildcard like Hester change the game against your confirmed-terrible unit. Bears' up men, look alive, and let's run the squibs back to the 45.

Chris Harris vs. Cato June

The Bears safety and Colts linebacker obviously don't square off against each other, but this is the Fred Thomas Memorial matchup. When there's a big play against these teams, you can count on Chris Harris and Cato June running 5 to 15 yards behind it. Both guys are terrible football players, there's no point in pulling punches.

I'll call this one a draw. While it's easier to pick on a safety than a linebacker, the Bears are aware Harris is a liability and should have some adjustments in store. Despite being pushed around and missing tackle after tackle, June talks a big game and the Colts don't have much of a choice but to accept it, given the other gaping holes they've scrambled to fill.

I'll have to do the math on all these matchups later, but clearly my conclusion will be advantage: BEARSS!

With all due respect to the Colts, the Bears are going to best exploit the Colts' weaknesses by simply playing the style they've played all year. Pound away on the ground with Jones and Benson, throw long passes, and not a whole lot in between.

MVP: Bernard Berrian


azibuck said...

YOUR wrong.

>Jeff Saturday vs. Tank Johnson

>The Colts' center has the edge here, big-time. I'm a little nervous about Tank holding his own, especially when the Colts go heavy on the no-huddle, up-tempo offense. By the end of the Patriots game, Saturday was dominating Vince Wilfork.


>The Football Outsiders offensive line stats show that when the Colts had a yard or two to go on third or fourth down, they converted just 60 percent of the time, ranking 22nd in the league. And 22nd is actually the best the Colts have ranked in the last five years.

Rightthere! Best of the Manning era! Well, OK, maybe not the whole era. But you think you know... more than one of the goat(ee) boys? Is that what you think?

You'd be right. I think Saturday's pretty goddam good. MDS, not so much. If you read that FO article, it talks about how Wilfork beat Saturday on this play or that (early). And that Seymour and Ty Warren beat Saturday or Lilja or Glemm. And and and, you know what? Wilfork, Warren, and Seymour don't suck. Sure they beat the Colts OL on some plays. But the Colt OL was relentless, and pretty much won the game in the 2nd half. They didn't exactly embarass themselves against the Raven either, and that defense was passable last I checked.

This is pretty good stuff Jord. I'm starting to think it's going to be a (football) game. To watch. I think I want Chico to be The Man for Dallas, so I may even end up rooting for them.

dhort said...

The Bears have been picking up 4th downs to beat the band. They've also been cracking down on 3rd and 4th and shorts, so maybe that's an edge they can take advantage of right there.

Pretty sure Rivera's Chico nickname is racism. Some dumbshit like McMahon probably said "I notice you're Mexican. We'll call you Chico and we'll Keith Ortego will be Peedro."

Never noticed before, but Rivera's got something going on with his left eye. Might want to check that out before you covet him as your new coach, AZ. It might be nothing, just sayin'.

azibuck said...

I think it's pretty minor. But if it freaks out the players such that they perform better, it's OK with me.

It almost looks like the flash catches his left eye, but not his right. Last time I saw something like that was in Sixth Sense. When Bruce Willis is looking at pictures of the Osmond kid, there's always this weird little glare next to him in every photo.