In the media frenzy that accompanies the week before the big game, pundits and prognosticators really seem to be talking up Marvin Harrison’s statistical drop-off from the regular season to the postseason. This season Marvin led the NFL in receptions with 95 catches for 1,366 yards and 12 TDs. In the playoffs, however, he is the team's fourth-leading receiver with 10 catches for 134 yards in 3 games. That’s a far below the norm average by about 3 catches a game for 44 yards or so.
So what should we expect this week? Well, the Colts are not going to change anything just to get Marvin the ball. He will still line up on Peyton Manning’s right and if he’s double-covered Manning will find the receiver in single coverage or check down. On the other side, the Bears will want to emulate what the teams that have had success with Harrison in these playoffs did.
Harrison actually saw his fair share of single-coverage against the Chiefs' Ty Law, Baltimore's Chris McAlister and New England's Asante Samuel this postseason. But what those three did so well was that they were able to get physical with Harrison at the line of scrimmage and successfully jam him. This week it’s Bears corner Charles Tillman who will be covering Marvin Harrison.
Tillman is already planning to get physical and forecasts a game turning rugged if officials 'let us play'.
"I think we have to be physical with them, and that's really nothing new for us," Tillman said. "They let us play for the most part in the New Orleans game. We only had one penalty. I thought that was pretty good."
In that game, the Bears defender did a solid job of jamming New Orleans rookie WR Marques Colston and getting him off his game.
Since Harrison and Manning do so many things based on timing, it will be Tillman’s assignment to disrupt that timing. But there’s a huge risk when jamming a receiver with Harrison's abilities. If you miss the jam, it usually means trouble unless there is help over the top. Tillman knows he can’t afford to miss and risk giving up the big play. The easiest way to avoid that is to play more zone and fall back into their base Cover 2.
The ability of Colts receivers to adjust their routes on the move, reacting to how defenders are covering them is one key to why they are so good. For example, if Harrison gets an inside "shade" from Tillman (to take away the slant), he will likely see him run at the corner, then break back to the outside for a simple post corner route. Because he and Manning have practiced this so many times, they are rarely out of sync. With that said I wouldn’t be surprised to see Manning and Harrison test Tillman early some of these post corner routes, but it’s integral that Harrison escape the Tillman jam.
Tillman is susceptible to beaten with double moves and quick change-of-direction routes. And no one does those things as well as Marvin Harrison. So if Harrison is able to work in space against Tillman, good things will happen
Even Tillman knows that.
“Marvin is a quick, small shifty guy who is very, very explosive. He runs great routes and finds the soft spots in zones,” he said this week. “You have to play him head up. You can't let him catch the ball and spin away. You have to tackle him. You have to outplay and outrun him. He and [Manning] are a new version of Jerry Rice and Joe Montana."
While know primarily as a Cover 2 defense, the Bears have actually shown a lot of Cover 1, man under and straight man coverage in the playoffs. Expect that to continue on Sunday unless the Bears are having trouble effectively jamming Colts receivers and are forced to drop back into a Cover 2 as an insurance policy against the big play -- or the referees are calling a very tight game.