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Colts/Saints Super Showdown

   by Al McMordie - 02/02/2010

Everyone's looking at the matchups on the field for the Super Bowl as the Saints battle the favored Colts, but let's start with the key guys carrying the clipboards on the sidelines. Neither coach, Sean Payton and Jim Caldwell, have led a team to the Super Bowl. However, they were second in command to guys that won Super Bowls. Payton was in Dallas under Bill Parcells, while Caldwell worked with Tony Dungy.

The big story this week is the health of Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. He is fighting an uphill battle to play in Super Bowl 44 that could keep him from being a big defensive force in the game. Freeney is battling an ankle injury suffered during the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game. The problem with this ankle injury is that it is one of the worst degrees he could have suffered. The swelling and pain have bothered him all week and he even had to wear a boot. If Freeney is able to recover enough to play, he may not be able to play the whole game. He is expected to receive treatment until game time and hopes to be in uniform.

That's big news. Both offenses are loaded with talent, but the one key area where the teams have major differences is that the Colts have a better defense. They have speed in the secondary and a potentially key edge up front with pass rushers Freeney and Robert Mathis.

We saw the Vikings get pressure on Brees in the NFC Championship game and rattle him. Brees and the New Orleans offense did not have a good day and looked out of sync often. If you are looking to back the Colts, you want that double-barreled pass rushing edge.

One area the Saints rely on defensively is 34-year old CB Darren Sharper, who tied for the league lead in interceptions (nine), returning three of them for scores. Sharper is a ball-hawk, but he's facing the best QB in the game in Manning. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis blanketed WR Reggie Wayne during most of the AFC championship game, holding him to three passes for 55 yards. But Manning went to talented young WRs Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, who combined for 18 receptions, 274 yards and two touchdowns. That was against the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Now they face the 25th.

While the Colts won the Super Bowl three years ago, the Saints don't have much Super Bowl experience. Cornerback Randall Gay, fullback Kyle Eckel and tight end David Thomas won championships with the Patriots and free safety Darren Sharper played in and lost Super Bowl 32 as a rookie. Late in the 31-28 overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, the Saints appeared to grow tight, needing some fortunate penalties (and a win of the coin flip) to survive.

In the 11 games since they went 0-for-3 against San Francisco, the Colts have had 33 red-zone opportunities and scored touchdowns on 24. That's a red-hot 72.7 percent success rate to take into the Super Bowl. If you're looking at prop bets, such as "Will the Colts get a rushing TD?" or "Will Manning throw over/under 2 TD passes?" note what Manning had to say this week: "It still comes down to execution. The field gets smaller there, so you may put in different plays down there, but you still have to execute. The red zone comes down to making plays, making a good catch, making a catch in traffic. It's always nice to be able to pop a running play down there."

Pop a run in there? Yeah, they do, to keep defenses honest. When they won the AFC Championship game 38-34 three years ago in a comeback against New England, the winning score game in the final minute on a draw play. Also note that the Saints ranked second in red-zone defense during the regular season. They allowed 18 touchdowns in 43 attempts, a 39.3 percent conversion rate. That suggests they are better than that overall ranking of 25th. Counting the regular season and playoffs, the Saints have forced a whopping 46 turnovers in 18 games!

The Saints like to throw all kinds of defensive formations and blitzes at the opponent, something first-year defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has installed. They did get pressure on QB Brett Favre in the NFC Title game, despite giving up 28 points and 470 yards. However, the Jets did all kinds of things to Manning, blitzing him early, dropping back in coverage, zone blitzes, and nothing worked after the first quarter. Rex Ryan marveled at how Manning adjusted and everything they threw at him failed. The Saints are going to have to try different things, as well, or just score a ton of points, if they want to pull the upset.

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