Colts need to rattle Grossman early

John Clayton has been picking the Colts for three years and here are the five things they need to do Sunday to make that prediction finally come true.

Updated: February 2, 2007, 11:52 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Thanks to the head coaching leadership of Tony Dungy of the Colts and Lovie Smith of the Bears, Super Bowl XLI has been Miami Nice.

Dungy and Smith are close friends. Both coaches are religious and good family men. On the field, they are stoic and generally not very emotional. Profanities aren't part of their vocabularies. That attitude is reflected in the way their players have behaved during Super Bowl hype week. There has been no trash talking. Both teams have been respectful of each other. Reports of curfew violations or other problems have been nonexistent.

Vegas favors the Colts by 6½ points and so do I. Why wouldn't I? I've been predicting a Colts Super Bowl for three years. Their date with destiny was delayed by the Patriots' mini-dynasty and a great run in the playoffs last year by the Steelers.

But beyond my belief that this is their year, the Colts will win if …

Quarterback
Indianapolis Colts

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Comp Yds TD Int Rat
557 362 4311 31 9 101.0
1. Peyton Manning can continue to master the 10-possession game. It's eerie how Manning manages games. He gets 10 possessions and usually scores on five of them. Usually that means three touchdown drives and two field goals. If the Colts get 27 points as expected, they should win. The 18-point comeback in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots illustrated how Manning can conquer all obstacles. It's his time. Like all the great quarterbacks, Manning is ready to capture his moment in the Super Bowl sun. He's worked harder than any other quarterback to master a no-huddle offense that allows him to call the plays. He has the right talent around him at the right time. If he does his part, Manning and the Colts should win 27-17.

2. The Colts' defense can control its aggressiveness. With a front seven that is smaller than average, but has good speed, the Colts have a tendency to overpursue on run downs. If that happens, Thomas Jones could have a big day. Jones is the most dangerous type of runner against the Colts. He's a cutback runner who reads zone blocking well. If defenders are caught out of position overpursuing they will be destroyed by cutback runs. DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and all of the Colts linebackers tend to lose control of their gaps. Manning and the offense could help by jumping out to a big lead, which would pull the Bears away from their running game.

Wide Receiver
Indianapolis Colts

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Rec Yds TD Avg Long YAC
95 1366 12 14.4 68 301
3. Marvin Harrison has a big game. Harrison has only two touchdown receptions in 12 career playoff games and he has only 10 catches in three playoff games this season. The Bears are going to play more man coverage schemes than most Cover 2 teams and Harrison has to win his matchup against Charles Tillman. Tillman is big and can be physical with Harrison. Expect Manning to get the ball to Harrison early and often to test Tillman.

4. Their special teams can find a way to not blow the game. Obviously, kicker Adam Vinatieri is money when the Colts need a key field goal. If they need to punt, they are in good shape with Hunter Smith. The concern is the coverage units, and it's a big concern. Devin Hester is the most dangerous returner since Deion Sanders in his prime time and Dante Hall in his early years. Hester can give the Bears field position or touchdowns, and the Colts can't afford for that to happen. They need directional punts and perhaps squib kickoffs to make sure Hester isn't a big player in this game.

5. Their defense shuts down Rex Grossman and doesn't allow him to gain confidence early in the game. Grossman seems to be either hot or cold, but not in the middle. Grossman can be dangerous throwing the ball deep, but the Colts' two-deep zone should prevent Grossman from burning them on too many deep passes. The Bears don't need Grossman to win the game for them, they just need him to not make a bunch of mistakes. The Colts have an aggressive defense and if Freeney or Mathis can get to Grossman early and force him into a bad throw or a fumble, it could go downhill fast for the Bears' quarterback.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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