With Peyton Manning controlling the offense, he and the Colts have a second Super Bowl title in mind

By Mark Maske and Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 7, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- On one side of the field Sunday, there will be a team playing in a Super Bowl for the first time, making franchise history and leaving even some of its most fervent supporters in disbelief. On the other side will be a team playing for something with a different sort of historical heft, a bolstered Super Bowl legacy.

There is a sense of belonging on this stage when it comes to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, a familiarity that does not yet extend to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. In the season in which he secured his record fourth NFL Most Valuable Player award, Manning will attempt to become a two-time Super Bowl winner and boost his credentials in the conversation about the greatest quarterbacks in history.

"Our experience down here three years ago was a memorable one because we were fortunate to win the game," Manning said this past week of winning his first Super Bowl. "We feel fortunate to be back in this game. I have the same excitement I had three years ago and just feel fortunate and grateful to have the opportunity to play. . . . This is our opportunity to be here as a team."

It was, in some ways, a season of change for him. Tony Dungy stepped aside as the Colts' coach after last season and the team parted ways in the offseason with wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Manning's longtime favorite target. But Manning made things work with two young wideouts, Pierre Garçon and Austin Collie, plugged into the lineup to complement wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark, and he ensured that the transition from Dungy to first-year Coach Jim Caldwell, formerly the club's quarterbacks coach, was seamless.

Manning nearly lost his veteran offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, last offseason as well, when Moore and offensive line coach Howard Mudd nearly retired, in part over pension issues. But Colts owner Jim Irsay intervened and worked things out so that Moore and Mudd could stay, and Moore will be collaborating with Manning yet again Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

"Peyton is an unbelievable guy, [but] the thing people don't talk about is he's been with the same offensive coordinator his entire career," former Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Colts coach Don Shula said. "Tom Moore is in his ear. He gives Peyton a few options and Peyton picks the play that's going to work the best. It's a relationship that's been built over time. It's one of the great relationships in the history of the game."

'Healthy communication'

Moore is a play-adviser more than a play-caller in a system that wouldn't work without Manning. The quarterback makes the play calls -- most often while standing at the line of scrimmage, yelling and gesturing before the snap as he looks over the defense and makes a judgment about what will work the best.

"I give him an idea to think about, and then he takes over," Moore said. "I'm responsible for the bad plays, and he can take credit for the great ones."

Said Manning: "It is a little bit of controlled chaos out there. We're all just trying to get on the same page. We don't huddle, so we do make calls at the line of scrimmage. Obviously if we huddled, we probably wouldn't have to do so much at the line of scrimmage. . . . [But] just because we might change a play or signal something new or point at somebody -- that doesn't have anything to do, necessarily, with the success of the play. It's about: Can you block them? Can you get open? Can you get the ball to the open receiver?"

Manning is like an old-style quarterback in that regard, making adjustments on the fly and being given the authority to do what he thinks is right without being questioned by his coaches. The time for everyone on the offense to slow down, catch their breath and reevaluate things comes between possessions, while on the sideline.

"Since we don't huddle on the field -- we are in a no-huddle offense -- we have to use that time on the sidelines to communicate," Manning said. "And, really, what I try to do is gain information from Reggie and Pierre, Austin, Dallas -- talk to them. I really think it's important for those guys to be assertive and communicate, tell me what is going on out there, make suggestions -- and real suggestions. Not just, 'Hey, I'm open. Throw it to me every time,' which is what most receivers say. But, 'Don't call this route. He's covering this one well.'

"It has been healthy communication. I can't tell you how many times we have used a conversation in the second quarter that comes back up in the third or fourth quarter for a critical play. But you are constantly adjusting. Defenses are constantly doing different things, so you'd better be on your toes. But the main thing is being on the same page with your wide receivers."

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