Indianapolis Colts

Super Bowl XLIV Preview: The Milk Run

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I am going to attempt to write close to 1,000 words on Super Bowl XLIV without using the words “Peyton Manning” and “legacy” in a sentence together. Also, read in amazement as I write this without using the name “Peyton Manning” and the phrase “greatest quarterback of all-time”. Everyone seems ready to anoint Manning. Before we crown the Colts, don’t we have a game to play?

Sunday, February 7 @ 6:25pm – New Orleans Saints vs. Indianapolis Colts

The Skinny: For the first time since Super Bowl XXVIII when Dallas took on Buffalo, the conference’s number one seeds both made it to South Beach. Each team sports a high powered offense featuring two of the league’s most feared quarterbacks. We have seen this movie before though. This game is likely to be decided by some other entity; namely each team’s rushing unit and of course, defense, defense, defense.

New Orleans X-Factor: Gregg Williams meets Peyton Manning…again:

Manning’s first ever playoff game pitted his Colts versus the Super Bowl-bound Tennessee Titans.  The defensive coordinator of those Titans? New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

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The Titans won in Indy 19-16 to advance to the AFC title game and made Manning look feeble in the process. The Titans forced the playoff neophyte into poor throws and disrupted the timing of previously potent offense.

A decade later, we find the uber-advanced Manning and Williams in similar roles but this time in the Super Bowl. Due to Manning’s incredible ability to be a quick study, Williams’ success since that game has been limited. His teams like to blitz a lot typically. Here is a rundown of Manning versus Williams defenses:

Season Opponent Att/Comp Yards TD/Int Result
1999 Vs. Tennessee 19-42 227 0-0 19-16 L
2006 Vs. Washington 25-35 342 4-0 36-22 W
2008 Vs. Jacksonville 15-29 216 1-2 23-21 L
2008 Vs. Jacksonville 29-34 364 3-0 31-24 W

It is definitely a mixed bag for Manning and Williams. Here is what we know though about Williams’ defenses. He likes to blitz but Manning likes to get blitzed in return. That is a bad mix for the Saints.

As poor as New Orleans looked at times two weeks ago against Minny, they forced Favre into two critical mistakes that helped determine the game’s outcome.

Their problem will be forcing Manning into mistakes, pressuring him, and hiding some of their less than stellar defensive backs. While the Saints have Jabari Greer, they also have Randall Gay, who is a liability at times in coverage. Despite mediocre numbers against the pass (26th in the league), New Orleans has survived against the pass all year long.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=Darren+Sharper&iid=7586664″ src=”7/2/c/7/NFL_Divisional_Playoffs_6099.jpg?adImageId=9958683&imageId=7586664″ width=”234″ height=”158″ /]One of the big reasons for that is safety Darren Sharper, who picked off nine passes and scored three touchdowns to boot. It’s good to have a veteran in the secondary facing someone who is playing quarterback about as well as it can be played.

It’s a matter of picking your poison with the Colts. New Orleans is 29th against the run which is a disaster waiting to happen. If the Colts can generate any run game, it will be curtains for the Saints. Manning will go to play action and that will lead to Dallas Clark abusing an extremely suspect group of linebackers fronted by the Scotts (Shanle, Fujita) and Jon Vilma, who is a bit more dependable in the middle.

The Saints need to invest in the bend but don’t break concept on Sunday and succeed against Indy in the redzone. New Orleans is going to give up a lot of yards but they need those potential touchdowns to become field goals. A few turnovers would not hurt either. They forced opposing quarterbacks into 26 interceptions during the regular season.

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Indianapolis X-Factor: Indy’s D vs. Saints running backs:

Assuming Reggie Bush and the rest of the Saints get enough sleep prior to Sunday’s big game, they should be quite a handful for the Colts defenders. Regardless of Dwight Freeney’s playing, he’s not likely to be at full tilt with the torn ligaments in his right ankle. While Robert Mathis is a problematic issue for the Saints, Indy’s back seven needs to play well on Sunday.

How New Orleans deploys their multitude of running backs will go a long way in determining the offense’s effectiveness. Conversely, Indy’s defense is arguably the fastest in the NFL. Thus, the N.O. screen game is likely not to be as potent. Expect New Orleans to run right at them instead of around them.

This is a beast the Colts defense has not seen in quite sometime. Indy has primarily played a ton of one dimensional teams. The days of playing eight man fronts and cheating safeties up to the line are over.

Drew Brees, you know, the other guy in this game leads a passing attack that moves the ball to receivers like Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Jeremy Shockey but also to the backs in space as well.The Saints can run it and throw it.

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The Saints have gotten into trouble this season though when they became unbalanced with their offense approach. Running the football is imperative to their success on Sunday. With Freeney either sidelined or relatively ineffective, the Colts will not be quite as stingy.

People tend to forget that New Orleans ranks 6th in the NFL in rushing offense and when they run the ball effectively, New Orleans can be devastating. As explained during the NFC title game preview, the Saints must run the ball effectively. When they don’t run for at least 100 yards, their team struggles. They win, but it’s far from easy.

Opponent Rush Yards Result
vs. Carolina 84 yards 30-20 (W)
@ Washington 55 yards 33-30 (OT-W)
@ Atlanta 95 yards 26-23  (W)
Vs.Dallas 65 yards 24-17 (L)
vs. Minnesota 68 yards 31-28 (OT-W)

The team that carries most and rushes for the most yardage has won the last nine Super Bowls. For the Saints to have a shot to win, they need to outperform Indy on the ground. That means names like Melvin Bullitt, Gary Brackett, and Antoine Bethea can’t become household names by night’s end.

Synopsis: From listening to national experts, you’d think the Saints were an 8-8 team that just stumbled into the Super Bowl. Just two weeks earlier, these were some of the same folks saying the Jets were going to the Super Bowl. Now, the Colts are the reincarnation of the ’92 Cowboys.

Anyhow, Super Bowls over the last decade work in a few phases.

Phase I: Stalemate – Typically, early first quarter each team is trying to figure out the other and everyone is getting rid of the butterflies. Often, this leads to strong defensive play in the first quarter.

Phase II: First Blood – One team establishes control over the other via an early turnover or one team putting together a good drive.

Phase III: Halftime Funk – I don’t know how much juice The Who has in the tank these days but they’ll take their sweet time figuring it out. A long halftime often leads to one or both teams coming out sluggish. Anyone remember last year’s third quarter between Arizona and Pittsburgh? Me neither.

Phase IV: The Finish – Chaos, chaos, chaos, chaos. With two defenses that offer up questionable secondary play, we could be in store for a fourth quarter meltdown from both defenses. Also, the trailing team may panic, which leads to turnovers, more scores and people in Vegas making money hand over fist.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is Peyton Manning’s chance to solidify himself as one of the all-time greats. He has to win this game. He’s going to have help though. The Colts always seem to be able to run the ball when needed.

Unfortunately for you Saints nation, I think your fate can be best summed up by the closing sequence in the Miami Vice episode from 1984 titled “The Milk Run”. It didn’t work out for Eddie and somehow, thanks to Peyton Manning, it’s not going to work out for the Saints on Sunday.

PREDICTION: COLTS 38, SAINTS 31

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