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SUPER BOWL XLI | Xs AND O's

Grossman has the chance of lifetime

February 02, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

The stage could not be set any better for Chicago's Rex Grossman to join a list of quarterbacks who had breakout games in the Super Bowl.

The New York Giants' Phil Simms did it in Super Bowl XXI, Washington's Mark Rypien did it in Super Bowl XXVI and New England's Tom Brady did it in Super Bowl XXXVI.

On Sunday, Grossman will get his chance against the Indianapolis Colts, who will crowd the line of scrimmage in an effort to entice him to throw more.

And why not? After all, Grossman has been a model of inconsistency this season. He had seven games with a quarterback rating over 100.0, but he also led the NFL with five sub-40.0 rated games.

In the playoffs, however, Grossman has been solid, completing timely passes and avoiding mistakes in leading the Bears to victories over Seattle and New Orleans and thereby securing their first Super Bowl appearance since 1986.

Grossman's quarterback numbers have actually been better than his Indianapolis counterpart Peyton Manning in the postseason. Grossman has a 75.4 passer rating compared to Manning's 66.8, and although Manning has played one more game, Grossman has the same number of touchdown passes -- two -- and five fewer interceptions.

Against the Colts, Grossman will face a defense that has turned things around in the playoffs by stopping the run.

During the regular season, Indianapolis did not hold any team under 100 yards rushing and gave up averages of 173 yards a game and 5.3 yards a carry. Yet, in the postseason the Colts have given up only 252 rushing yards in three games and opponents are gaining only 3.8 yards per carry.

With Indianapolis expected to feature the same stop-the-run-first strategy it successfully used in playoff victories over Kansas City and Baltimore in which it gave up fewer than 100 yards, Grossman will probably have his best opportunities to complete passes against single coverage on first downs.

But in order for that to happen, the Bears will have to open things up. During the regular season, they ran the ball 59.5% of the time on first downs. In the playoffs, they have been even more conservative at 63.3%.

Expect Chicago to keep the Colts off balance by being more aggressive with passing plays on first downs. To do that, however, they are likely to use maximum protection -- keeping running backs, and perhaps even the tight end, in to block. That will put Grossman on the spot even more because he'll have more blockers in front of him but fewer receivers available.

Quick slants will be the easiest passes for Grossman to complete against the Colts' quick but small defensive backs. He has to make accurate throws to take advantage of the Bears' edge in size with wide receivers Muhsin Muhammad (6 feet 2) and Bernard Berrian (6-1) along with tight end Desmond Clark (6-3).

Indianapolis cornerbacks Nick Harper (5-10) and Jason David (5-8) do a good job of position coverage, but they can get beat with double moves. The key will be whether Grossman will get enough time to throw.

Summary: The Colts' determination to slow down running backs Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson should be considered a special invitation for Grossman to earn Super Bowl most-valuable-player honors.

If Grossman can manage the game like he did against the Seahawks and Saints, Indianapolis will be in trouble. The key will be producing positive gains on first downs to keep the pressure on the Colts, who thrive on predictable passing situations.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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