I suppose one ought to say something about the Super Bowl and even venture a prediction, although one knows better. It is usually better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
I will take the Colts. They are the better team from the better conference. They have a superior quarterback in a QB-dominant league. Their defense has improved. The Colts have paid their dues and are due. They fit a certainly profile, like last year’s Steelers or the 1997 Broncos – a team that was the heavy favorite the previous year but lost unexpectedly in its first playoff game; then struggled making the playoffs (or achieving a high seed) the following year. I also pick the Colts because I respect Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning. It is good when one’s analysis and rooting interest coincide (something that is missing unfortunately with state of affairs in Iraq).
It is a very close call. The Bears have almost precisely the sort of team that can overcome the facts noted above. As NFL fans know, the most definitive and consistent statistical predictor of success or failure in football is the turnover differential. In the previous Super Bowls, the record of the teams that have gained the advantage in turnovers is 29-3. The 40 winning Super Bowl teams have lost fumbles or thrown interceptions only 46 times (barely one per game).
This begs the question – is there an art or science to protecting the ball (the current euphemism is “ball security”) or forcing the other team to give it up?
Setting this aside, the 2006 Bears’ defense is certainly not dominant in the way that the 1985 Bears defense was. It gives up big plays. It is no longer confidently shuts down the run. But this Bears’ team has one important thing in common with Buddy Ryan’s old 46 defense – it forces turnovers and makes big plays, especially if one includes “defensive” special team play (punt and FG).
I mention Buddy Ryan for a reason. Ryan’s personal eccentricities, to put them mildly, overshadow the fact that he belongs with Bud Carson, Bill Belichick and a few others at the top of the list of great defensive coaches. The 1969 Super Bowl is remembered as Joe Namath’s Super Bowl. But people forget that Buddy Ryan was the Jets’ defensive coordinator in that game. Arguably it was his defense (and Walt Michaels’), not Namath and his offense, which was the deciding factor in the game. The Jets’ offense did play well – and it avoided TOs – but it scored only 16 points, not that much more than the two AFL teams had done in the first two Super Bowls (10 and 14 points). But the Jets held a supposedly high-powered Baltimore offense to 7 points, compared to the 35 and 33 points that Lombardi’s Packers put up on the AFL teams.
What did Buddy teach about defense? The three most important defensive statistics are turnovers forced, QB sacks, and third-down efficiency (denying the offense first downs). When you reflect upon these operational goals, defense becomes offense. Defense is about creating scoring opportunities, not just keeping the other team from scoring. Aggressive defenses can score directly by returning the ball for a touchdown. At the very least, effective defensive play flips field position and greatly improves the chances of one’s own offense to score.
There are important mitigating circumstances that favor Indianapolis. Chicago plays a variant of Tony Dungy’s defense (the so-called Cover-2 Buc, or the Tampa-2), against which the Colts practice against all the time. Indianapolis pass protection schemes seem to have difficulty primarily with a 3-4 defensive front (the Bears use a 4-3 alignment).
So, picking the Colts is reasonable but problematic. Watch the TOs. If the Colts take care of the ball, make some big offensive plays, and avoid catastrophic injuries and a cascade of bad and questionable officiating calls, they should be in a position to win, perhaps convincingly. But if the Bears’ defense gets on a roll --
There are important subtexts to this game, about which I will inflict comments on you at a later date. First, the fact that two coaches are black (I hate to use the term, “black coach,” as if it is a job description, like black quarterback). Second, the physical and psychological damage allegedly suffered by professional football players, perhaps to the point where health professionals and lawyers will try to shut the sport down. See
here, here, and here.