THE POLIAN CORNER

Week 19, Super Bowl Bye Week

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Q: The Colts beat the New York Jets, 30-17, in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, a victory that puts them in the Super Bowl for a second time in four seasons . . .

A: It's great to go to the Super Bowl anytime, much less twice in four years. It did have some similarities (to the victory over New England in the AFC Championship Game following the 2006 season). The thing that I took away from the whole experience was that, No. 1, we got to our playoff games healthy and with our team intact. I saw Sunday – and every knowledgeable observer I've spoken to saw as well – the toll that a playoff drive takes on a team. The Jets, who make their living running the ball and do it very, very well, were down to one back at the end of the game. They lost (rookie running back) Shonn Greene for virtually the entire second half. There's no question that he would have made a big difference. I don't know that it would have changed the score, but it might have made it closer, certainly. You hate to see a player like that injured, but that means the Jets essentially have gone through three running backs and had to finish with Thomas Jones. We were healthy coming in. They played five tough games to get there, four of which were on the road, including the trip to California (to play the San Diego Chargers in a Divisional Playoff Game) and back. We played two. That tells you that earning the right to have the home-field advantage, earning the right to have the bye, is very, very important. It clearly is something that's worth pursuing, and we're glad we got it and glad we worked so hard to get it in the Jacksonville game. We were playing on two days rest in that ballgame, but we sold out to get it, and it turned out to be exactly what we needed. The contrast between clearly a tired Jets team in the fourth quarter and ourselves was pretty stark. Never good to see a player like Shonn Greene leave the game, but it worked to our advantage, so we'll take it. I hope it's nothing serious, and I'm led to believe it isn't. That's the price you pay for having to play week after week after week in this league.

Q: It took the Colts a quarter and a half or so to figure out what the Jets were doing defensively, but that's a difficult defense to face . . .
A: It's well-conceived. It's well-coached. It's well-thought-out. In broad, conceptual terms, they decided they were going to take away (tight end) Dallas (Clark) and find a way to take away (wide receiver) Reggie (Wayne). Some of it was with (Jets cornerback Darrelle) Revis one-on-one, but not nearly as much as people make it out to be. Revis Island isn't populated by just one person. Oftentimes, there are two. It required: A, that we make the appropriate blocking calls, which (center) Jeff (Saturday) has to do in order to make sure we get all the various blitzes protected. Secondly, once we get that and get the one-on-one coverage or get zone coverage, you have to take advantage of those opportunities. (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) and our receivers did a phenomenal job taking advantage of those opportunities. We were able, once we got it sorted out, to go ahead and do a good job with the football. What I was really impressed with was the fact that we kept our cool throughout. I said to the people I was sitting with, 'If we just get a field goal before the half, we'll be fine.' We ended up getting a touchdown, and you could tell that was a huge momentum swinger. It was a gratifying performance by a bunch of guys who are good, solid pros who worked hard and prepared well. Faced with some adversity, they held up well under it and went and made plays.

Q: Talk about WR-Pierre Garcon and WR-Austin Collie . . .
A: They didn't (look overwhelmed), nor have they all year. As far back as April, we were singing the praises of Pierre Garcon and telling everyone around the building how much he had developed and how much he had grown up in the year he spent as a rookie – and how much more physical and exciting it was looking at him in the off-season workouts. When Austin got here, the first day of workouts for rookies, two guys jumped out: Austin Collie and (cornerback) Jerraud Powers. You could tell right away they were going to be in the lineup. For those of us around here, there was a constant refrain that, 'We have some pretty good young receivers here. They're going to be good football players.' That kind of took on a life of its own in the preseason as they began to show more and more. The season began and they've performed admirably throughout. They have been no surprise. They're probably a surprise to the people who simply read stat sheets. But if you've followed our team, they ought not to be a surprise.

Q: Were you surprised with how Garcon handled the emotions of the past two weeks?
A: He has had a tough time. He has family in Haiti, and he wants to try to do his best to help them and publicize relief efforts for Haiti as best he can. That has been difficult, but he is pretty darned level-headed. Throughout the year, he has kept his cool and is calm. He takes care of himself. He has an agent who cares about him being the best football player he can be, not the best marketer he can be, so working together, we've been able to craft a strategy to keep him rested and healthy. It's a tough position to play for us. It's wearing on you. You run a lot of routes. The no-huddle offense about doubles your number of plays. You run lots of routes and you have to be careful with them over the course of the season. He has done pretty well. Of course, the demands on him will increase exponentially now, but we'll handle it well and more importantly, he'll handle it well.

Q: Apparently, the Colts can run the ball and can stop the run – 3.0-yards-per-carry rushing for the Jets and 4.2 for the Colts . . .
A: There should not have been a question about our ability to stop the run. That was pretty clear throughout the season. If it wasn't clear after the Baltimore game, it never would be clear. I think there are simply people who exist on perception. There are people out there who say we're a 'finesse' defense. I've heard people say, 'Well, the Colts are on the smaller side.' Our defensive tackles are 315 pounds and 330, respectively. Our two outside linebackers are 240. It's just perception. Why let fact get in the way of a good sound bite? We've been very good against the run all year and we were terrific against Baltimore against a very, very good running attack. We were nothing short of spectacular Sunday, holding them to 3.0 yards per carry and 86 total yards. I believe that's their lowest output of the season, if I'm not mistaken. They were averaging more than 200 yards per game, but that's what we do. It's what we've done all year. It was a good performance by the defense – not overwhelming. The defensive coaches weren't jumping up and down about it. They thought it could have been cleaner. They were very upset about the two long pass plays, which were really nothing more than mental errors. We have to get those straightened out and make sure we don't do that against (New Orleans Saints quarterback) Drew Brees. He has the capability to make every play a big play. We talked about how well-coached the Jets' defense is and how well-conceived they are, and how much they take advantage of match-ups and try to take people away – and how creatively they do it. In Dallas' case, they did an old turn called, 'Chuck the Receiver at the Line of Scrimmage,' which means impede his route. They were doing it actually with a defensive lineman. Before he rushed, he would knock Dallas off stride and get the pass defender playing him man-to-man another extra second to deal with his coverage. Very interesting. I haven't seen it done very much, especially against a tight end of Dallas' caliber. But that's an example of the kind of really good thinking and the conception they have in their defense. Their offense – that quarterback (Mark Sanchez) is major league. He must have huge hands, because he did two things that are amazing. No. 1, he pumps the ball almost all the way through and never loses touch with it and keeps it in one hand and comes back and releases it on the money. Secondly, on the touchdown pass to the tight end, (Dustin) Keller, he took a ferocious hit. Most any other quarterback would have been forced to throw that ball into the fourth row of the end zone seats. He hung on and made an extremely accurate pass. (Safety) Melvin (Bullitt) had Keller covered quite well, and he was able to complete the play for a touchdown. He's cool and calm and collected. It's not too big for him. Physically, he's very gifted and he's a ferocious competitor. They have a good one there.

Q: Can you talk about how you develop players into mature professionals so quickly?
A: First of all, it all starts with the kind of people you bring in. We try very hard to bring in people who we believe have very good football temperament. Football temperament consists of a love for the game, mental and physical toughness, the ability to process information and the ability to work hard and do what you have to do to improve yourself. In addition to that, we like for people to be good citizens and people to believe they have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Everybody can live their life differently. That's one of the great things about America, but if you're a professional, you should conduct yourselves as such. If you use that criteria, the likelihood is you're going to come up with fellows who have the kind of professional maturity to conduct themselves in a way that reflects well on the organization and the sport off the field. That's not to say in a group of 60 or so guys between the ages of 22 and 29, who have more money than you and I ever dreamed of having maybe in our lifetime, that you're not going to find some fellows who will occasionally take an incorrect step, but by and large, we have guys who are good people who really care about their jobs, care about the people they work with and care about the community in which they live. That reflects itself both on and off the field.

Q: It was a very moving National Anthem Sunday, didn't you think?
A: I agree completely. The eagle was a great experience and the young lady who sung did a terrific job. Our marketing and special events department has done a great job over the last four or five years in presenting those kinds of performances. It was certainly fitting for the magnitude of game it was. By the way, I neglected to add early, 'Congratulations to all of our fans, but especially to those fans that were in the stands for the Baltimore game and Sunday's game. You truly were the 12th Man. You gave us the lift we needed, the edge we needed. On the big drive that culminated with a field goal (by the Jets) and not a touchdown, you caused a false start penalty. Those things can be the difference in the ballgame. It's a different game if they get a touchdown. We, in turn, went back and scored a touchdown. You made a difference and thank you very much.' We've often said, 'Little things are the reason that games turn.' We go back one year ago, when we were all very upset as opposed to how we feel today, (the) inability to run in the four-minute period with four minutes left in the game in San Diego keeps us from advancing in the playoffs and very probably, since we had beaten them (the Steelers) already in Pittsburgh, going into the game against Pittsburgh as a favorite. Those little things add up, and in this case, the home crowd made a difference as it has for about the last eight or nine years. It has been terrific. I had a friend at the game Sunday who was in the building for the first time and who had been in the (RCA) Dome and he said to me, 'It's every bit as loud.'

Q: Can you update the Colts' injury situation?
A: Injury-wise, (defensive end) Dwight Freeney has a sprained ankle. It will need treatment, obviously, but I don't think it will have any real effect on the Super Bowl, especially if we can get that treatment going as quickly as possible. (Rookie cornerback) Jerraud Powers as we know has a bad foot. He's progressing. The rate of progress is what we're going to monitor. (Safety) Antoine Bethea hurt his back in the Baltimore game. He re-injured it Sunday – not terribly badly, but enough to certainly require treatment. I don't know how much he'll practice this week. It should have no effect on the Super Bowl, provided he gets the appropriate treatment. Reggie Wayne has a little swelling on his knee, which is sort of normal at this time of year, but it requires treatment. We may give him a practice or two off this week. Reggie's a gamer and you know he'll be ready. (Rookie running back) Donald Brown has a bit of a toe problem, which probably won't be a factor in the Super Bowl, but might require a practice off this coming week. We'll see. That's the extent of it.

Q: Can you talk about the job that K-Matt Stover has done, and what went into bringing him in this season?
A: Credit for that move goes to (Vice President and General Manager) Chris Polian and (Pro Scout) Kevin Rogers and the guys in the pro personnel department. They really have done a terrific job this whole season. Matt is decidedly middle-aged by anyone's standards, I guess, and he is exceptionally professional, exceptionally tuned in and an exceptional leader. It's rare that you find a kicker who is a leader, and we have two in Adam Vinatieri and Matt. We're so grateful and thrilled to have both of them. He not only performs well and performs splendidly in the clutch, but he's a very positive influence, certainly on the people on his platoon, but certainly on everyone around him, as is Adam. These are special guys. Both are probably bonafide Hall of Fame candidates. The electors have difficulty with special teams players, but certainly as candidates, they're both very deserving. He has been money in the bank for us. We got down there and didn't bang it in there in the red zone, 'Let's get the three points and let the defense go play.' That's the way it has been all year. He has been terrific.

Q: What happened on the failed quarterback sneak in the first half?
A: We were trying to get up there and go quickly. We didn't get it off quickly enough. They beat us to the punch and knocked our linemen into the backfield. In retrospect, it's probably a play you'd rather have back: go to another play. We did have another play in the package we could have gone to that, in hindsight, would have been better. (Hall of Fame Head Coach) Marv Levy always used to say, 'If what you did did not work, you should have done the other thing.' That's a clear case of that.' Fortunately, Matty was able to bail us out.

Q: With running back Edgerrin James so honored, why wasn't Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison mentioned as an honorary co-captain on Sunday?
A: You're only allowed to pick one. We had a Medal of Honor Army Sergeant as the other co-captain. The NFL made an exception for military figure prominent such as he, but we could only pick one and we thought that the day will soon come when Marvin will go on the Ring of Honor and so we'd give Edgerrin – who's probably playing his last year in the National Football League this year – the honor.

Q: What color jersey will the Colts wear in the Super Bowl?
A: We've chosen blue. That's the way most of the players feel. They wanted to wear blue. We're the home team. That's what we're going to do. I tend to be a bit of a history buff, but I'm not sure it isn't the guys in the uniforms that make more of a difference than the uniforms themselves. They wanted to wear blue, so we said, 'Fine.' Let's hope the result, in spite of the uniform color, is the same we had last time (in a Miami Super Bowl).

Q: What is Manning yelling before the snap? It sounds as if he is speaking a foreign language.
A: In many respects he is. He's calling code words that tell the offensive players, No. 1, what play is going to be run, and secondly, to which side it's going to be run. There are any number of code words that can indicate that. Those are changed, sometimes on a half-to-half basis and almost always on a game-to-game basis, so everything in the offense is essentially called at the line of scrimmage. That puts a heavy burden on Peyton, because he has to read the defense and make all of the appropriate calls, but the other offensive players also have to understand that language and know what's being called. Every now and then, you'll see a miscue because of communication.

Q: How often does Manning change the play at the line of scrimmage?
A: It's at least 50 percent of the time, because what (Senior Offensive Coordinator) Tom (Moore) will give him is this: Tom may give him a run, but in the game plan and in what they have practiced during the week, he will also have a pass that's a companion to that – or maybe passes – if he sees a different look. For example on Sunday, in the second half particularly, the Jets were giving us what we call a run look: a four-down-linemen, nickel alignment with two outside linebackers. But on early downs, they were backed off the line of scrimmage, playing pass. They were essentially trying to drop into zone coverage. So, we ran the ball. He checked into runs and we got big yardage. That's what we try to do. He tries to get us in the best possible play for every situation. That's very hard to do. There are a lot of coaches at the collegiate level and even at the pro level who will tell you that's not the right way to run an offense. There are some coaches who believe you go up there and run what's called regardless of what the look is. That's not quite the way it is in the National Football League. It's much more prevalent at the collegiate level and certainly at the high school level. But we don't do that at all. He (Manning) has enough command of the total offense to try to get us in the perfect play every time. He may call the perfect play 85 to 90 percent of the time. There will be times when we don't execute or we get beat by the opposition – as was the case with the quarterback sneak on the goal line Sunday – but by and large, you would be amazed how often he gets us in the right play.

Q: What is the approach this week in terms of practice?
A: You try as much as you can to get an overview of the game plan in this week. The coaches will prepare today and tomorrow just as though we were going to play the Saints on Sunday. We'll go forward and practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Those will be practices similar to what we did in the bye week, but we'll give them a smattering of New Orleans, just to introduce them to it. Then, we'll try to finish the game plan up in Florida. We'll practice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and take off Saturday. Normally, we would have given them the weekend off, but this Pro Bowl fiasco where you have to send healthy Pro Bowl players down to the Pro Bowl on Sunday to make an appearance on television and be part of the festivities will cause us to practice on Sunday rather than Monday morning. We'll have a practice Sunday morning, the Pro Bowl players will leave ahead of their teammates – which in my view is tremendously distasteful – then the rest of the team will fly Monday. We won't practice Monday, as we originally had scheduled. We won't allow two missed because of the Pro Bowl. Tuesday will be Media Day at the stadium, then Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we'll just have a normal practice week.

Q: Discuss the Super Bowl opponent, the New Orleans Saints, if you will . . .
A: They're great on both sides of the ball, and they're great on special teams, too. That's one of the reasons they're there, but I think their offense is just scintillating. They can throw it. They can run it. They have home-run hitters with (running back) Reggie Bush and with their receivers, with (tight end Jeremy) Shockey. (Quarterback) Drew Brees is having a great year. So, all of those kinds of things make them a really, really high-powered, high-octane offense – to say nothing of their defense, which is great. It's a blitzing defense, not dissimilar to what we've seen in the last three weeks. It's a totally different offensive approach. This is a down-the-field, home-run hitting offensive team. They don't hit any singles or doubles. They run the ball. They run it effectively, but they're looking to hit home runs. No question.

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