The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

It’s almost time.

After two weeks of waiting, days of hype, and roughly 1,831 hours spent discussing whether or not Rex Grossman will go down as the worst quarterback in Super Bowl history, we are finally ready for the Super Bowl Sunday.

Despite the seven-point spread in favor of the Colts, the teams are virtually equal, with each team possessing clear advantages. The Bears have a better running game, a more dangerous return game with Devin Hester being a constant touchdown threat and, most importantly, a much better defense. The Bears gave up 294.1 yards per game, good for fifth in the NFL-the Colts gave up 332.3, 21st in the league.

The Colts’ advantages come in the form of a deadly passing attack led by Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne as well as the most clutch kicker in NFL history, Adam Vinatieri. Plus, if any team can slow down the Bears’ deadly pass rush, it is the Colts’ offensive line, which yielded an NFL-low 14 sacks during the regular season.

No matter what anybody tells you, Grossman is the sole reason the line for the game currently stands at seven. Otherwise, the teams are even. But the reality is quarterbacks get all the hype, glory and blame, so when two QB’s have as contrasting reputations as Manning and Grossman, predictions are bound to be lopsided.

But here’s a stat you won’t hear too often: Grossman had seven games this season in which he had a QB rating over 100. So did Manning. Only the Rams’ Marc Bulger had more, and that includes the likes of Carson Palmer, Drew Brees and golden-boy Tom Brady.

Sure, Manning’s league-leading 101.0 rating was significantly better than Grossman’s 73.9, but the point is Grossman has the ability to have great games. In fact, Grossman’s postseason rating is nearly 10 points higher than Manning’s.

So please, just for me, don’t cringe every time the guy throws the ball. Don’t act like he’s the worst thing to ever happen to the Bears-does anybody else remember Kyle Orton? Or Cade McNown? Or Jim Miller? Or Shane Matthews? Or Erik Kramer? Or Jim Harbaugh? If anything Grossman is the best thing to happen to the Bears-at quarterback at least-in the last 20 years.

With Grossman having as much as a decent game, which he will, the Bears are the better team. True, Indianapolis improved against the run during the playoffs, but they did not stop one team from reaching 100 yards during the regular season. The Bears averaged giving up under 100. The Colts will have no chance if Chicago can come anywhere close to the success of Jacksonville when they gained an absurd 375 yards on the ground in a week 14 win over Indy.

You might argue that the Colts slowed down the run-heavy attacks of the Chiefs and Ravens during the playoffs, and that is certainly true. But those teams fell into the trap of abandoning the pass game and convincing themselves they could shove the ball down Indy’s throat with little-to-no strategy involved. As bad as the Colt’s run defense is, it can stop a team when there is no threat of a passing attack.

Combined, the Ravens’ and Chiefs’ starting QB’s threw for just 280 yards. The Colts do have the NFL’s second-ranked passing defense, but as long as the Bears can provide an air threat, their stout running game featuring Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson will have a big day. And say what you will about Grossman, but he can make the big play as well as anybody.

On the other side of the ball, Peyton Manning will have his work cut out for him against a fierce pass-rush. The story of the day will not be the play of Grossman-instead it will be who wins the o-line/d-line battle with the Colts on offense.

In the NFC Championship, the Bears harassed MVP runner-up Drew Brees mercilessly after shutting down the Saints’ running game, allowing Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush a combined 37 yards on a mind-boggling 10 rushes. If the Bears can make the Colts similarly one-dimensional, Manning will have a long, painful day.

Of course, there is the problem of slowing down Harrison, Wayne and the overlooked-yet-effective Dallas Clark, who combined for 246 receiving yards against New England in the AFC Championship. If there is a chink in Chicago’s defensive armor, it is in the passing game, where the Bears ranked 11th in the NFL.

But if the Bears could give McAllister and Bush so much trouble, there is no reason why Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes will find any more rushing success. Chicago will force the Colts into being one-dimensional just like they did to the Saints, and when teams become one-dimensional against the Bears, points become scarce.

On the other side of the ball, Grossman and speedsters Bernard Berrian and Rashied Davis will make enough big plays to give Jones and Benson room to run. Jones will earn MVP honors as the Bears win, 24-20.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]