Super Bowl XLIV: The Difference Makers

Jim OxleyContributor IFebruary 2, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 16:  Darren Sharper #42 of the New Orleans Saints breaks up a pass play, that was called back due to an offensicve penalty, against Steve Breaston #15 of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Louisana Superdome on January 16, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images


The 2010 Super Bowl is highlighted by two, high-powered offenses led by all-pro quarterbacks.

Both Drew Brees and Peyton Manning have thrown their way to 4,000+ yards and 30+ touchdowns this season. Both have completed about 70% of their passes and have quarterback ratings around 100.

However, both teams don't rely solely on the quarterbacks.

Drew Brees heads to the Super Bowl with the sixth best running game in the league to back him up. The trio of Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush have combined to rush for 1,837 yards and 16 touchdowns.

The Saints' defense was 3rd in the league in turnover differential of +11, after forcing 15 fumbles and intercepting 26 passes. They also scored five defensive touchdowns.

Statistically speaking, Peyton Manning has a bigger burden on his shoulders, as the Colts' last-ranked rushing game averages just 80 yards a game (compared to the Saints' 131 yards per game).

The Colts turned the ball over much more than the Saints this year and sported only a +2 turnover ratio, tying them for 12th in the league.

Indianapolis' total defense ranked 18th in the league this year, one of the few stats Indy has over New Orleans, who sits at 24th.

New Orleans has the 26th-ranked pass defense in the league, something Manning is sure to take advantage of.

Over the past few years, Manning has become one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL and is considered by many to be the best in the league at reading defenses pre-snap.

This is where Manning takes the cake. Indianapolis rarely huddles, as Manning often calls plays from the line of scrimmage. This hurry-up style of offense causes personnel problems with defenses, as they have little time to identify the offensive formation and prepare accordingly.

To respond to this, the Saints will have to hide their own coverages and schemes. Largely in charge of this will be middle-linebacker and play-caller, Jonathan Vilma, along with safety Darren Sharper.

If Vilma and Sharper can mask their schemes effectively, Manning will not be able do audible to take advantage of the Saints defense like he has been able to do to opposing defenses all year.

Vilma, a six-year veteran, has led the Saints in tackles and has been a force to be reckoned with all year. Sharper comes into the post-season with nine interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. It's no question that these two defensive standouts will have a huge impact on the outcome of the game.

The Colts' defense is heading into the Super Bowl with some uncertainty.

Defensive end Dwight Freeney is currently listed as "questionable" with a torn ligament in his right ankle suffered during the AFC Championship Game. Freeney is not expected to practice at all this week, yet still hopes to play Sunday.

"Hopefully, towards the end of the week it starts to get better," Said Freeney at media day. "The decision will come later on in the week. It's kind of early now."

Freeney led his team with 13.5 sacks this season,and is considered one of the team's defensive leaders. If Freeney is unable to go it may cause problems for the Colts' already lackluster rushing defense, who gave up 125 yards a game in the regular season.

All in all, stats matter little.

New Orleans still needs to be able to shut down Peyton Manning. The emergence of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie has opened up the Colts' passing game and Manning is as hot as ever.

New Orleans will have to take advantage of any turnovers they can force. The Vikings fumbled numerous times in the NFC Championship game, yet the Saints failed to turn all of these turnovers into points. That game should never have made it into overtime.

I expect lots of big plays, in a high scoring game for this year's Super Bowl. The game will be won by whichever team can force turnovers and turn them into points.

If Peyton Manning has his way, as he often does, the Colts could walk away with a blowout. However, if the Saints' defense shows up with the same swagger and intensity we saw against Minnesota, get ready for a heated battle on both sides of the ball.