I do not care how you see it, Colts-Saints, Manning-Brees, David-Goliath (historically speaking), New Orleans-Destiny, ar any other way you want to look at the Super Bowl. All I care about is that you care about it. It will feature the two best teams all year, something increasingly rare in today’s sports, and has more storylines than CNN, FOX, and NBC combined. We will get to that position-by-position breakdown as promised, but we would be remiss in not looking at these teams and all they have accomplished. The Saints are America’s Team (apologies to the Cowboys). They are the little engine that could all grown up and now looking like the enormous locomotive that will run you over. Ask Brett Favre and Kurt Warner if you don’t believe me or ask the Patriots about their trip to the Superdome. The ‘Aints are no more, and the Seven Deadly Virtues are born (I realize it is Deadly Sins and Heavenly Virtues, bear with me). Brees, Bush, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper, and receiver #2, whomever that may be on that day are these Seven Deadly Virtues and if you don’t know about any of them, congratulations on the end of your coma. We will get to them each in far more depth in a bit, but let’s turn our eyes to the Colts. They have won every game they have put in 4 quarters of effort into. They have beaten the #3 and #1 defenses in the league, Baltimore and the Jets respectively, to get where they are and pretty much everyone else too. This was supposed to be the year Peyton Manning fell off a little with the new coach, no more Marvin Harrison, no running game, and after the first few plays from scrimmage, no more up-and-coming Anthony Gonzalez. No, there was no chance he would be the same after all those changes. They were right, he was better. Top 5 in every meaningful category, no losses (for him at least, I’m looking at you Curtis Painter), he groomed two more outstanding WRs in the blink of an eye, and did it all while still not really having a running game. Oh yeah, and he is the MVP. With all due respect to Vikings fans, there is no doubt in my mind that the two best teams in football will be on the field in Miami this Sunday.
Colts- Throw the football while keeping possession to keep Manning on the field. Explosive and steady. Fast defense with solid tackling. Have been vulnerable to run in past. Offense: 26.0 PPG (7th), 9th overall, 2nd passing, 32nd rushing. Defense: 19.2 PPG (8th), 18th overall, 14th passing, 24th rushing.
Saints- Run the ball to set up the pass, then let Brees pick defenses apart. Explosive and steady. Fast, hard-hitting, risk taking, opportunistic defense. Has been prone to big play. Offense: 31.9 PPG (1st), 1st overall, 4th in passing, 6th in rushing. Defense: 21.3 PPG (20th), 25th overall, 26th passing, 21st rushing.
Peyton Manning vs. New Orleans Secondary
Advantage Manning. If you replace New Orleans secondary with Chuck Norris, Tim Tebow, or the Incredible Hulk, it would still be advantage Manning. However, he has his work cut out for him with up-and-comer Jabari Greer, developing semi-star Tracy Porter, and the vet Darren Sharper. The defense is ranked 25th in the NFL, and that is not a good sign for New Orleans, but they were first in takeaways. Obviously, Manning has to avoid the costly pick, and as long as he limits it to 1 turnover, he should be more than fine.
Colts Running Game vs. New Orleans Front 7
Advantage… No one. So the Saints defense struggles with the run, and coincidentally, so does the Colts offense. What does this mean? Not a lot. Just do not expect the Colts to come out and run the ball 40 times. All they need are some well-timed, effective runs rather than pounding the ball at New Orleans the entire game. No advantage to either team here. It is worth noting that although the Colts are dead last running the ball, they are 6th inside the Red Zone. Translation: They can run the ball when needed it is just less effective than putting the ball in the hands of the MVP.
Receivers vs. Assignment
Advantage Receivers. This is just about universally true in today’s NFL, but I needed some way to bring up Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, and Dallas Clark. I assume Jonathan Vilma will be assigned to Dallas Clark, but there are few, if any, LBs in football who can cover him. For how un-intimidating he is off the field (in contrast to
Antonio Gates or Vernon Davis), he sure is a pain to defenses on it. The Colts have matchups all over the field they can possibly take advantage of.
Colts Offensive Line vs. New Orleans Front 7
Advantage Colts Line. Peyton Manning was sacked twice in the first two series against the Jets. After that? None that were memorable or impactful. The offensive line is among the main reasons this team is where it is today, and I doubt it will change drastically on Sunday. I expect the Saints to get some pressure on Manning, but not nearly as much as they would like. The Colts gave up 10 sacks the entire year. Just to put that into perspective a little, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 8 times in one game. Yeah, the Colts line is good, and happens to feature two undrafted free agents. One being Pro-Bowl center Jeff Saturday, and the other being Kyle DeVan, a man who was playing for the Boise Burn in an arena football league at the beginning of the season. Yeah.
Slight advantage Colts. The position coaches for the Colts might be some of the unheralded great coaches you don’t hear about. Howard Mudd has been one of the top offensive line coaches for a while now, Tom Moore/Peyton Manning combine to be some of the best offensive minds, and the Colts RB coach Gene Huey is one of the great unknown coaches, dare I say, of his generation. Ask Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, or any other Colts RB who has come through him and they will tell you that he is not only a guru, but has been credited by Faulk and James for helping their progression and ascension in the NFL. Granted, I know this because I am from Indianapolis and biased in that way, but I would say the only area the Saints have a real advantage is with Gregg Williams over Larry Coyer. This may not make a huge difference, but it is a factor worth looking into when considering each team’s preparedness.
Caldwell vs. Payton
Advantage Neither. Not in the bad way, but at this point each is completely tuned in to their team and the difference each makes will be somewhat negligible. It isn’t like we are looking at Tom Cable and Bill Belichick here, the two are fairly even.
Kicking: Colts. Return: Saints. Punting: More or less even. Overall: Saints
When it comes to big games you always have to look at special teams. I know Garrett Hartley hit a game-winner against the Vikings, but in general I just trust veterans more so I give the edge to Matt Stover. However, the Saints have a large advantage in the return game in the form of Reggie Bush. He is a game-changer in the return game and is in stark contrast to Chad Simpson (the Colts returner) who, according to Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, keeps running into an electric fence at the 20 yard line. Thomas Morstead and Pat McAfee are probably just about even although McAfee has been on quite the run of late, pinning the Jets deeper than they had hoped numerous times. Morstead has not been seen often because of how rarely the Saints have to punt, so if nothing else, he has fresh legs. The overall advantage goes to the Saints here on account of Reggie Bush who could go Shawshank at any moment and just break out.
Even, advantage Colts. The Saints are a team that is very reliant on winning the turnover battle. Most teams like to win it, but when the Saints do not get their turnovers they struggle. I mean look at the Vikings game, they needed overtime to beat a team that turned it over 5 times. They would like to be +2 every game in turnover differential. Not happening with Peyton Manning. His only pick this postseason came in the Baltimore game, and Pierre Garcon chased him down to cause the fumble. The turnovers will be 1-1 oe 2-2 and that favors the Colts.
Drew Brees vs. Colts Secondary
Advantage Brees. Frankly, this is similar to the Manning argument above in that he is among the best QBs in the game, and in today’s NFL, that is more than enough to give him an advantage. The Colts secondary, however, is a far different animal from the Vikings. They are fast, I mean really fast, and can tackle. The Saints secondary looks better on paper, but the results have suggested otherwise. The Colts do not give up the big play generally, so everything Brees gets he will have to earn. In a relative way, Brees’ advantage over the Colts secondary is less than Manning’s against the Saints secondary.
Saints Running Game vs. Colts Front 7
Advantage Saints. Again, this advantage is not as large as it perhaps should be. The Colts held the best rushing attack in football to under 100 yards total last week and have been much better against the run than advertised this year. However, the advantage still goes to the Saints, who are exceptional at running the ball and have a nice 1-2 in Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. They will be able to run the ball against the Colts, but do not expect anything earth-shattering here. Probably 130 yards or so, which is their average.
Receivers vs. Assignment
Even. Allow me to clarify. It is damn near impossible to really have an advantage over a quality offense in coverage. The rules are set up to favor the offense so naturally the offense has a slight advantage. However, the Colts match up very well with the Saints. Gary Brackett is as good a guy as any to cover Jeremy Shockey and/or Reggie Bush out of the backfield. All the corners can tackle, and Antoine Bethea has quietly made everyone forget that Bob Sanders has been hurt with stellar play all over the field. The only real matchup problem for the Colts is the large Marques Colston. The Colts gave up 21 receptions to a similarly sized Brandon Marshall and have no one to match the size, but otherwise they match up as well as can be expected from a defense in today’s NFL. Consider it a pyrrhic tie for the Saints.
Saints Offensive Line vs. Colts Front 7
This one is in flux, and depends entirely on Dwight Freeney’s availability. If Freeney plays, the Saints will be forced to help out struggling left tackle Jermon Bushrod, making coverage easier and will throw off their rhythm a bit. It also frees up Robert Mathis to work on the other side 1 on 1. Less time for Brees, less rhythm and more threats for the Colts. Sounds like advantage Colts to me. If Freeney does not play, the Saints can help on Mathis, leave the other side (the side Mathis is not on) 1 on 1 without too much concern. You see where this is going. No Freeney means advantage Saints. One player can make a bigger difference than you think, especially when that player is among the elite pass-rushers in the NFL. He has also improved against the run, thought the Saints still maintain a slight advantage there. This advantage relies entirely on Freeney.
Alright, by my count that puts the Colts a bit ahead. They have a little more defense than the Saints that, in my opinion more than outweighs New Orleans’ slight advantage on the offensive side of the ball. However, I am a Colts fan, and any regular reader will remember that I picked the Ravens to beat the Colts, and the Colts won 20-3 with a fairly dominating performance. Then I picked the Jets over the Colts, which was followed up by a 30-17 whooping of the J-E-T-S. Noticing a trend here? Do I look like someone who would mess with a streak like that? Give me the Saints 31-29. Did I hint at something else above? Publicly, no…
And just to cap things off right, how about a little bonus Poll Question. It is halftime show related.