Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Colts' Scariest Player

Yesterday I boldly predicted that the Bears could stop, or at least contain, Peyton Manning. I'll probably be really pissed that I wrote that Sunday evening when I'm curled up fetal on my couch. Nevertheless, I'm pretty confident in how the Bears match-up with Manning and the Colts' passing game. As for the Colts' running game, not so much.

The Colts had the sixth most efficient running attack in football to compliment the league's best passing attack. They use that passing attack to set up their running attack. The Colts often spread Dallas Clark and their other tight ends out into the slot. Most teams respond by sending on their nickle defense. Then the Colts up the tempo. The defense is trapped in a nickle alignment while the Colts' no-huddle offense runs through them with a variety of traps, draws and delays. It has certainly appeared from watching the Bears, especially against the Seahawks in the playoffs, that they're vulnerable to this strategy.

The Bears ranked as the number five run defense during the regular season. Most observers of the team, however, felt that their best days came early in the season before Mike Brown and Tommie Harris were lost for the year. So, can the Bears' run defense answer the bell in the Super Bowl? The Bears' defensive tackles have continued to play well against the run all year. Tank Johnson and Ian Scott is as strong a duo against runs between the guards as the Bears can put on the field, even when Harris is healthy. Right defensive ends Alex Brown and Mark Anderson have held up fairly well, as well. And, left outside linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer is at his best playing the run.

The problem is that Hillenmeyer may spend most of the Super Bowl standing on the sidelines because of the Colts' spread out, no huddle attack. Thus, one of the Bears' best run stoppers is absent. Also, teams have had success attacking Adewale Ogunleye, a defensive weakness that may be even more exposed without Hillenmeyer backing up Ogunleye at the point of attack. And, when teams have attacked the edge on Lance Briggs's side, they've often been able to overpower him at the point of attack. So, their are holes in the Bears' run D.

The good news is that the Colts have enjoyed their greatest success running between the guards and behind left tackle Tarik Glenn, which is right into the strength of the Bears' defense. The bad news is that the Colts have been pretty good running the ball in just about any direction, and if they test Chicago's run defense, they're likely to find its flaws, especially if they succeed in keeping the Bears' nickle package on the field.

And here's where it gets really scary. The Colts' scariest player is just 5'11", 215 pounds. Joseph Addai was the NFL's fifth most productive and sixth most efficient runner this year. Twice this year, the Bears faced comparably productive runners. Tiki Barber carried the ball 19 times for 141 yards against Chicago. Stephen Jackson carried 18 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. And, Addai is actually more consistent than either Barber or Jackson. In fact, he's the most consistent back in football. He gained 1,074 yards and seven touchdowns on just 226 carries. He led the league with a 62% success rate, which represents a player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays.

I'm having nightmares about Briggs racing back into coverage against Clark or Ben Utecht, who often line up in the slot, as Addai takes a delayed hand off around the left end. Before the night is over, I suspect Addai will hurt the Bears badly. Of course, the Bears beat both the Giants and the Rams despite giving up good to great days to New York's and St. Louis's runners. Addai's presence and the Colts' deceptively deadly running game hardly spell doom for Chicago. But if anyone was wondering what's making my stomach churn waiting for Sunday, now you know, its a little rookie from LSU.


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