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Defense Preparing For Sunday Chess Match


The Packers defense is in for a stern test Sunday as they travel to Indianapolis to face Peyton Manning and the Colts. The match-up will be the first in a series of two games in three weeks where the quarterback on the other side of the ball is the reigning league co-Most Valuable Player.

Manning shared MVP honors with Tennessee's Steve McNair in 2003 and the Titans will be paying a visit to Lambeau Field in week five.

With all eyes fixed on the game at hand, though, Green Bay free safety Darren Sharper didn't have to look far from his locker to find a metaphor for Sunday's battle with Manning and his arsenal of offensive weapons.

Located about 10 feet from Sharper's stall in the Packers' locker room is a table on top of which two chess boards are available for players to use during free time.

The defender may have seen them as he responded to a question about the prospect of going up against Manning and his notorious practice of calling audibles at the line of scrimmage.

"It's tough, but it's a challenge that we look forward to," Sharper said. "Playing against a team that has a lot of weapons, a team that has a quarterback that likes to play a lot of mind games out there, it can sort of get on your nerves a little bit. Before he snaps the ball, he's making a lot of checks. A lot of them are just fake checks, and it's a little bit of a chess match."

The Colts are often out of the huddle and at the line of scrimmage with 20 seconds or more left on the 40-second play clock, giving them plenty of time to adjust from the original call. Watching Manning move up and down the line of scrimmage orchestrating each player's assignment can be sometimes be as maddening as watching golfer Sergio Garcia line up an approach shot from the fairway into the green.

Responsible for making the calls and adjustments for the Packers on the defensive side is middle linebacker Nick Barnett. Incidentally one of the most frequent players at the locker room chess board, Barnett doesn't think he will be drawn in by all of the affectations of the signal-caller across the line.

"It doesn't affect me at all, to tell you the truth," said Barnett. "I've still got to do exactly the same thing I had to do before he starts audibling. If there's a formation shift, maybe then we'll check into something else. Other than that, it really doesn't affect what I have to do. The same thing I had to do before, I have to do now - same reads and same keys."

While they may not be drawn in by his pre-snap maneuvering, the Packers undoubtedly respect the talent and overall control of the game Manning possesses.

Packers' GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman heads the list of those who hold the quarterback in high regard.

"It's like having an offensive coordinator on the field calling the play, getting everybody on the right page," said Sherman. "Obviously, his recognition of defenses, his intellect as a football player helps them, in their standpoint, make the right play against the right defense. I'm sure they feel like that's to their advantage in those situations for them to be able to call what they think you're going to run, the best play possible against what you're going to run."

Defensive end Aaron Kampman, one of the men who will be doing his best to throw the quarterback off his game, not to mention throw him for a loss of yardage, knows that trying to confuse Manning will be a difficult task, but important to holding him relatively in check.

"He has great decision-making skills," said Kampman. "I'm not a quarterback, but if I was, I would think that would be one of the best qualities to have. He seems to make a lot of decisions and make them very quickly and very efficiently and effectively.

"You watch the films from this year, or any game, and an integral part is us trying to make him make bad reads, make bad decisions."

Sharper is eager to match wits in the game of chess to be played on the 100-yard field Sunday afternoon.

"We look at it as a challenge," he said. "The main thing as a defense is we don't want to show our looks too early - kind of play games with him. There's a lot of reverse psychology going on out there. We'll look like we're doing something, but we might be doing it or might not be doing it.

"Hopefully at the end of the day we can say checkmate."

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