Things to Watch in Super Bowl XLIV
On the eve of Super Bowl Sunday, the anticipation for the big day couldn't be any higher. Two of the NFL's best offenses, led by two of the NFL's best quarterbacks, will be featured in what should be an amazing football game.
There are several key matchups that will likely decide who will win this game, and here's my take on the most important ones.
Saints' Running Game against Colts' Run Defense
One of the strengths of the Saints offense has been their newfound ability to balance their offensive attack with a running game.
They have averaged 131.6 rushing yards per game in the regular season and 119.5 yards per game in the postseason.
The Colts rushing defense was ranked 24th in the league during the regular season, but was highly effective stopping the running games of the Ravens and Jets on their way to the Super Bowl.
However, in those games the Colts were able to use eight- and nine-man fronts to stop the run, because both teams were protecting young quarterbacks from making the big mistake.
The Saints have a more experienced quarterback who will attack down the field as well as the use of a spread offense, which means the Colts will have to use six- and seven-man fronts to stop the running game.
A wild card in this matchup is the injury to Dwight Freeney. If Freeney plays, the Saints will run right at him to see how effective he is with the ankle injury.
The Saints' Pass Protection
The Saints do an excellent job of protecting Drew Brees, but the Colts do an excellent job of getting to opposing quarterbacks.
The Colts have to get to Brees, because the Saints simply have too many talented players at the skill positions, and Brees will pick the Colts apart if they give him time.
Also, if the Saints can run effectively, the pass rush will slow down significantly, giving Brees more time to throw.
Bush is a huge playmaker at times, but he is not exactly known for being consistent.
He will play his role as a running back, a receiver, and a returner, and one or two big plays from Bush can completely change the outcome of the game.
The Emotional Charge of the Saints
This is the Saints first time in the big game, and emotions will be running high. How they respond to those emotions will go a long way in determining if they win the game.
The Saints are a team that knows that their entire city is behind them in a way no other fan base is. The team wants that Lombardi Trophy for its community to erase the memory of a long history of losing.
Gregg Williams against Peyton Manning
Manning won the chess match with defensive genius Rex Ryan, but is faced with an equally difficult task in Gregg Williams' blitzing schemes.
Williams has already said that he wants Manning on the ground, and we will likely see a series of exotic blitzes with that purpose in mind.
The interesting thing will be to see which one of these two football masterminds stays ahead of the other.
If Manning can figure out the Saints' defense early, expect a similar performance as in the AFC Championship game. If the Saints can keep Manning off balance, they will likely contain the Colts' offense.
Another thing to watch out for is roughing-the-passer penalties if the Saints try one too many "remember me" shots.
The Colts Running Game
The Colts running game was awful during the regular season, averaging only 80.9 yards per game.
However, the Saints have a weak rushing defense and will likely be running nickel and dime coverages all game.
The Colts really do need to have some sort of effectiveness from their running game to win.
Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon
These two young receivers stepped up in a big way in the AFC Championship game.
With the Saints likely to focus their coverage on Pro Bowlers Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, Collie and Garcon will have to do so again. Will they continue their solid performance or will the big lights faze them? We'll see.
Which Defense Makes the Big Play?
When games turn into shootouts, a key stop or turnover is likely what decides the game. The Colts and Saints both do an excellent job of protecting the ball, making turnovers hard to come by.
The Saints get most of their takeaways off of interceptions, and remember that Manning threw 16 of them in less than 15 games of playing time.
The Colts are most effective getting strip sacks, and the availability of Freeney will go a long way in determining whether they get one or two.
The Saints are a much more effective running team and have more weapons at the skill positions than the Colts.
The defenses are relatively even, and both are capable of making big plays. Both teams have exceptional quarterbacks.
My opinion is that the Saints simply have too much offense for the Colts to handle.
Prediction: Saints 45-31