- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

MIAMI — Lovie Smith knows all about Peyton Manning.

In 1994, Smith was the defensive backs coach at the University of Tennessee when Manning, a true freshman, took over the starting quarterback position.

Since 2002, he has followed the offensive exploits of Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, coached by Smith’s close friend, Tony Dungy.

And for the last seven days, Smith has watched every Colts offensive snap to gain an even greater appreciation for Manning.

But just in case he needed a refresher, Smith got it during the Chicago Bears’ charter flight to south Florida yesterday afternoon.

“I had a chance to look at the Indianapolis press guide and at 18 pages of Peyton Manning,” said Smith, the Bears’ third-year coach. “It tells you a little bit of what we have in store.”

The Bears (15-3) arrived here for Sunday’s Super Bowl as seven-point underdogs to the Colts (15-4). A prime reason Chicago faces long odds is because of Manning, who returned to form with a 225-yard, 32-point second half against New England in last week’s AFC Championship game.

“Sort of the underdog?” Smith said. “We’ve been in this role all year, it seems like, and rightfully so. The Colts have a lot of weapons and I can see why we’re in the underdog role. I have a harder time seeing how we’ve been an underdog earlier this year because we’ve met all of the obstacles put in front of us.”

But as Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said, “I like to think we have some good players, too.”

And Chicago does. Pro Bowl linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs combined for 271 tackles, Tillman and Ricky Manning, Jr., each have five interceptions and rookie Mark Anderson has 12 sacks.

“They all know who Peyton is,” Smith said. “He’s one of the all time greats. But I think our guys want the opportunity to play against the best there is and in the biggest game of their lives.

“We’re going to give him all the respect that he deserves. But we’ll show up and play. We have a couple scholarship players, too, so hopefully we can slow him down a little bit.”

Slowing down the Colts’ offense, which finished third in yards and second in points during the regular season, is doubly important because it’s unlikely the Bears’ offense will be able to march up and down the field.

Pressure on Manning appears to be the best bet. Manning was sacked only 14 times during the regular season but has been sacked five times in three playoff games. Even though he made several key throws while moving his feet against New England, Manning isn’t exactly fleet. He has six interceptions this postseason.

Chicago isn’t a big blitzing team so it will be up to Anderson and ends Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown to make Manning get off his spot in the pocket. The Bears’ 40 sacks were tied for eighth in the NFL during the regular season. They have six sacks in the playoffs.

“Any quarterback can get rattled,” Brown said. “Peyton’s good. He’s really good. He rarely gets rattled, but it can happen.”

Smith said the Bears installed 80 to 85 percent of their game plan last week in Chicago. Brown said he’s glad that job fell to defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.

“I wouldn’t want to have to make up our game plan — I’m glad the coaches get to do that,” Brown said. “All I have to do is execute it. … [Manning] knows what you’re going to do before you actually do it so you have to try and disguise and see if we can surprise him a couple times and get our hands on a couple of balls.”

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