Is this the year?

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Much has been made of the emergence of the Indianapolis Colts defense, which was mostly like vapor against the run from September through December, in the postseason.

The Colts offense, known for its finesse, has lately been recognized for being able to get physical when necessary with a power running game.

Don't be fooled by either development.

The Colts' fortunes in Super Bowl XLI will depend on what they have depended on in every game the team has played for the past nine years: the performance of Peyton Manning, their ninth-year quarterback.

It isn't simply because Manning is such a prolific passer or one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. It is because of his ability to function as a second offensive coordinator, along with Tom Moore. It is because of his unique on-field management of an offense that he commands like a maestro, constantly changing signals (or pretending to) before the snap and moving players around as he identifies the exact spot of the defense he wants to exploit.

Almost without fail, Manning has the right call for the right situation.

"He runs that offense better than anybody could run it," Chicago Bears defensive end Alex Brown says. "He knows what the defense is going to do before they actually do it. He could probably look over and tell the cornerback, 'Well, you're not supposed to be there. You should be here.' He's that good. He understands the game that well. He understands defenses that well."

What has to be particularly frightening for the Bears, who allowed an average of 307 passing yards and at least two passing touchdowns in the last four games of the regular season, is that Manning understands their defense better than any other in the game.

That is because the Bears run the exact same Cover Two scheme that the Colts employ. Manning has seen enough of it on a daily basis at practice to provide the very coaching across the line of scrimmage that Brown suggested he could.

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