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Super Bowl Preview XLI
TIM LAYDEN
February 05, 2007
The matchup in Miami will hinge on a line-of-scrimmage mind game. Can Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher outsmart Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for football's ultimate prize?
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February 05, 2007

Super Bowl Preview Xli

The matchup in Miami will hinge on a line-of-scrimmage mind game. Can Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher outsmart Colts quarterback Peyton Manning for football's ultimate prize?

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Play number 1: The Bears lead 14--7 in the second quarter, and Seattle has third-and-seven from its own 40. Urlacher is in the A gap, and the Bears have a blitz called. Anticipating it, Hasselbeck checks off; running backs Shaun Alexander and Mack Strong split, a tip-off that the Seahawks are going to throw and use at least one of the backs to protect Hasselbeck. Urlacher, realizing that even with the blitz the Bears will not have enough rushers to outnumber Seattle's blockers, frantically changes the defensive call to Tampa Two, a variation of Cover Two in which the middle linebacker is responsible for the deep zone between the safeties. Urlacher then drops back and deflects a pass intended for wideout Darrell Jackson.

Play number 2: Four minutes later, still 14--7. Seattle has another third-and-seven at its 39. Urlacher is sitting deep, figuring that Tampa Two is the best setup, until he surveys the Seahawks' formation and determines they can block only six pass rushers. So Urlacher audibles to a blitz in which he "mugs the center" ( Rivera's words), linebacker Lance Briggs rushes from the right side and nickelback Ricky Manning steams in from the left. Manning, untouched, forces a hot read, and the hurried throw is nearly intercepted by cornerback Charles Tillman, who knew from Urlacher's signals that Hasselbeck would be passing under pressure.

Two audibles. Two stops. "We get off the field," says Urlacher. "Both times."

Still, the Colts would love it if the Bears try to outguess Manning. "If you want to play that game," says tight end Dallas Clark, "it's going to backfire on you."

Urlacher knows that too. "Peyton has the upper hand," he says. "Ideally, we would just change last, but it's harder for us to change. I have to lean over and shout at the linemen, and Lance and [outside linebacker] Hunter [Hillenmeyer] have to do the same thing. Then I have to get the DBs' attention and signal them. It takes a while, and there's no way you can go back. I'll just check once at the most and make sure we're all on the same page. Because if we've got guys running different schemes and Peyton just snaps the ball--which he can do at any time if he sees we're confused--that's when you get gashed."

Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday says, "Every team tries to play that game with Peyton. In the end it comes down to execution after I snap the ball. It always does."

POSTSNAP

The Bears and Colts are similarly cohesive. "Take a look at these teams," says Kitna. "They're not complex, but they're both exceptionally well coached, and even in this era of free agency, they've played together a relatively long time."

Chicago plays the best Tampa Two in the league, with the speedy Urlacher in pass coverage. "The only way to beat Urlacher down the middle is to get him running and throw the ball behind him," says Kitna. " Drew Brees threw one ball to Marques Colston like that, and Colston made a great catch. But to me, that's a one-in-10 play. With Urlacher out there, throwing down the middle is buyer beware."

Urlacher knows he'll be challenged on Sunday. "I haven't been tested in Cover Two all year," says Urlacher. "But this is Peyton Manning. He's got to test me down the middle. I'm expecting it."

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