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Colts Discover Their Calling

January 11, 2004|Bob Oates | Special to The Times

They kept making the Super Bowl only because Kelly kept throwing the ball in the formation the Bills used in their two-minute drill, which had been designed for the final minutes of any Buffalo first or second half. It was a no-huddle formation with three wide receivers, one back and a passer -- the set in which Manning was seen much of the time in the Denver game.

The feature of this plan that appealed to Kelly was that instead of his coaches, he was selecting the plays, accenting, as he did so, the great first-down difference between coach-called plays and player-called plays:

*Most coaches, fearing interceptions, want safe running plays on first down, hoping for the best even against defensive players primed for runs.

*Most quarterbacks, fearing sacks on later downs, want to throw the ball on first down, realizing that the best time to pass is when defensive teams expect running plays, as they normally do on first down.

One Star vs. Two

The Philadelphia Eagles will showcase the NFL's leading runner-passer, Donovan McNabb, in today's second game against Green Bay. The Eagles' marked man, McNabb has two problems as their quarterback:

He's a better runner than passer, although ideally it should be the other way around since good passing is what it takes to win playoff games. And he's still hampered somewhat by injuries.

Bottom line, this is a game matching Green Bay's two stars -- passer Brett Favre and runner Ahman Green -- against Philadelphia's one, McNabb. If McNabb is physically able to run the ball the way he so often has in other years, that will nullify some of Green Bay's edge with Green. If he can't run much, or if he's told to hold back, the Packers' two-star attack might be just too much for the Eagles.

It's all in doubt at the moment because a running-passing quarterback is the most difficult of all offensive players to stop.

On pass plays, defenses use every possible resource to mount a pass rush and still cover the opponents' pass receivers. There's nobody left to spy on the McNabb unless the defensive coaches take away a player they need elsewhere.

McNabb will draw inspiration and hope from that and from two other sources: The Packers lack a great defense and they don't play all that well on the road.

As underdogs, though, the Packers will be ready. They are used to performing in cold weather, they call plays well, they have a cleverly designed pass offense, and in Favre they have the great field leader of his time, a quarterback who is one of the finest all-around athletes ever seen at his position.

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