Super Bowl Preview
New Orleans Saints:
Why They Can Win: The Saints had the league’s best offense this season, led by one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, Drew Brees. While Brees has his favorite targets in receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, he does a great job of distributing the ball to all his backs, receivers, and tight ends. Brees has one of the league’s top pass blocking offensive lines, giving him the time to get the ball downfield. Though the Saints o-line are top notch pass protectors their specialty is run blocking. The Saints had the 6th best rushing attack this season, which is impressive considering their passing attack and the lack of a true feature back. Instead of one workhorse, the Saints have a three-headed monster in the backfield with Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush. The Saints defense isn’t nearly as good as their offensive counterparts, but they do have one major strength, turnovers. Be it luck or skill, the Saints are always around the ball forcing turnovers and creating points or scoring opportunities.
Why They Can’t Win: The Saints defense collapsed at the end of the season. First, they almost lost to both the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons (without Matt Ryan), before losing their last three games against the Cowboys, Buccaneers and Panthers (The Carolina game was against many 2nd stringers). Major holes were exposed in pass coverage, and the Saints front seven couldn’t stop any rushing attacks. While its easy to point to their playoff wins against the Cardinals and Vikings and proclaim that those problems are behind them, that may be a bit premature. For one thing both of those games were at home, an advantage they won’t have tonight. Secondly, the Arizona game could easily be an aberration, since they injured Kurt Warner severely limiting the Cardinals ability to produce offensively. Lastly, the defense wasn’t the cause for beating the Vikings, as Minnesota handed them the game with their fumbling issues. Favre and Peterson torched the Saints defense that day (though Peterson coughed up the game later), and the Saints caught plenty of lucky breaks with questionable officiating calls (If they try to go low on Manning you can bet there will be a penalty). So basically for the last two months the only time the Saints were able to slow down an opposing offense is when they injured a quarterback (and that didn’t even work against Favre).
Why They Can Win: While it seems simplistic to boil this game down to Peyton Manning vs the Saints defense, he really is the biggest difference maker on the field. Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is in the prime of a Hall of Fame career, Manning is the best quarterback in the league, and is in the midst of becoming the best quarterback ever. There is no definitive way to stop him, or slow him down. Earlier this season in a game against the Miami Dolphins (a game which was held at Sunlife Stadium), the Dolphins held the ball for more than 45 minutes, yet Manning was able to throw for 300 yards and lead the Colts to 27 points. One of the long standing truths in football is if you have the ball for 3/4ths of the game you will win. In the Championship game against the Jets, New York blitzed Manning and took away his top two receivers, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. Yet Manning was unfazed, throwing for over 370 yards and 3 touchdowns. Whats most impressive is that Manning is able to do what he does, despite not having a balanced attack. The Colts rushing game finished dead last in the league, even though they have two former 1st round picks in the backfield, and an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the league. Now partly that is due to the fact the offensive line is fairly overrated. They might have allowed the fewest sacks, but much of that has to do with Manning himself. No quarterback is better at reading pre-snap blitzes, allowing him to change the play and/or tell the offensive line who to block. In addition Manning is one of best quarterbacks at feeling the pressure and getting the ball away. Now Manning doesn’t do it solely alone, he does have his share of weapons on offense. In addition to Wayne and Clark (who both had 100 catches this season), Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Joseph Addai all have a big role in the passing attack. It’s not nearly as diverse as the Saints, but effective nonetheless. The Colts defense sometimes is misaligned as not being very good, but that is a mistake to count them out. They are notorious for giving up big yards, but then clamping down in the Red Zone. While its not always pretty, they always come up big in major games or situations.
Why They Can’t Win: The Colts defense is good, but they are not without weaknesses. They usually do better against one-dimensional teams, something the Saints are not. Their rushing defense has had major holes this season, and could be something the Saints can exploit. The Colts pass defense relies on the pressure generated by their front four, which is problematic against the Saints top notch offensive line, and Drew Brees quick release. That problem is even more of an issue if DE Dwight Freeney’s ankle prevents him from being 100% today. The injuries to Freeney and Wayne are going to be key today. While both should play, they will need to be at the top of their game for the Colts to win.
Outcome: Both teams have plenty going for them, and weaknesses that can be their downfall. In the end I think the Colts win behind Manning. I don’t think the Saints can get to Peyton enough to disrupt the offense, and if they aren’t getting to him then that means receivers will be open. On the flip side I believe the Colts defense will do enough to slow down Brees and company enough to walk away with the Lombardi Trophy. Colts win 34-23.