Saturday, February 6, 2010

3 comments My Prediction for Super Bowl 44

Super Bowl 44 sure doesn't look as good as Super Bowl XLIV does it? I don't think so. Of course I am lazy and don't like having to read roman numerals so writing Super Bowl 44 is a lot easier for me to type, but doesn't look as official. XLIV sounds shorthand for a way to play the XBox game console over the Internet. Today I am giving my thoughts on Super Bowl 44 and then making my prediction. I have been pretty terrible lately in making predictions so go ahead and count my prediction as wrong, it's not like it will stop me from making one.

Since everything about the Super Bowl is supersized and super important, instead of my typical 5 thoughts I have 10 thoughts on the game. I am going to give 5 thoughts about the New Orleans Saints in relation to the game and 5 thoughts about the Indianapolis Colts in relation to the game, then make my prediction. I am pretty excited about the Super Bowl because for the 2nd straight year there is a game that I can just watch and enjoy rather than have to cheer for a certain team. I am going to start with my thoughts on the New Orleans Saints.

New Orleans Saints

1. To me the Saints are an underdog. It seems like the general consensus of the people I have spoken with and talked to is that the Colts are too strong offensively for the Saints defense to handle. I am not sure this is true. I think the Saints are strong enough offensively to keep up with the Colts. Sean Payton has had 2 full weeks to prepare for the Colts defense and figure out ways to exploit the fact the starting secondary is fairly young (they have 13 full seasons of NFL experience among the 4 of them). I think in those two weeks he will have game planned the best misdirection passes and matchups that he will want in the secondary to use against the Colts. On defense, I would think Gregg Williams has had time to game plan the best way to control Peyton Manning. I guess we will see, but I don't see the Saints as big underdogs in this game. Nearly everyone I have talked to has said they believe the Colts are going to win this game for the reason Peyton Manning will pick the Saints defense apart. I guess we will see.

The Saints should have lost to the Vikings. The Vikings turned the ball over 7 times and still the Saints needed overtime to beat them. That's obviously not going to happen this week, the Colts will try to take care of the ball and not give the Saints offense any more opportunities to score than necessary. The game against the Vikings confirmed to me the Saints defense is just an average defense. They take the ball away well, but in a close game, I don't know if I can trust them to make a big stop. The Saints defense creates turnovers and plays aggressively on defense, but I think overall they were exposed a bit by the Vikings offense.

2. The Saints offense is just as powerful, if not more powerful, than the Colts offense. They can run the ball and pass the ball well and have done so all year. I think the Sean Payton is going to try to take advantage of the fact the Colts secondary starters have 13 full seasons of experience in the NFL and 2 of the 3 cornerbacks that play the majority of the time for the Colts are rookies. If he doesn't scheme a way to test these guys he's an idiot or incompetent. The Saints are going to have to be patient with the Colts defense, but the Colts are going to try and keep the Saints receivers in front of them in an effort to prevent the big play. I don't think the Saints can win this game if Drew Brees is managing the game like he did against the Vikings. He's a star quarterback and will have to play like it. I was very, very disappointed with how he and the Saints offense looked against the Vikings.

Brees is going to have to be patient and not force any throws, but I also think there is going to be times when he has to trust his receiver to make a play. I believe the Colts secondary can get beat, just look at the 80 yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards in the AFC Championship Game. That was an example of how Powers and Lacey can have their inexperience used against them. All of the multiple formations and misdirection the Saints use should be able to confuse the Colts defense into being out of position and Brees hopefully can capitalize on that. Brees looked out of sync against the Vikings. He managed the game and made shorter throws. I feel like he never got into a rhythm and part of the reason is the Vikings pass rush was able to get to him and force him to make shorter throws and then the Vikings tackled well.

Brees has a good set of receivers, but they also benefit from the scheme Sean Payton runs. He finds ways to get these guys open and then Brees delivers the ball on time. The Saints want to throw the ball deep and make big plays, but the Colts are going to try and stop that from happening (I know, that's very obvious). They want the Saints to march down the field slowly instead of being able to pick apart the secondary. If the Saints game plan well, I think they have chances to exploit the young Colts secondary.

3. The Saints struggled against the Cover 2 defense of the Vikings. Drew Brees looked out of sync and didn't seem to find the receivers open that he wanted to find open. The Saints didn't run the ball well, which further proved to me much of their running prowess is based on the fact they throw the ball so well. The Colts don't blitz, so they have to get pressure on Brees, and the Saints offensive line didn't exactly acquit itself incredibly well last week because Brees never got a chance to be comfortable in the pocket. The Saints are going to have to deal with a defense similar to the Vikings defense in what the Colts run because they both wanted to get pressure on the quarterback with their front four and keep the Saints from making big plays. The Colts don't run a pure Cover 2 anymore, I don't think, but they still have many of the Cover 2 characteristics that the Saints struggled against.

Two weeks ago the Saints couldn't run the ball well at all on third-and-short. I don't know if the Colts are going to be able to stop the run as well as the Vikings defense was able to, but I do know how quick the Colts defense is. It's a fast defense that prides itself on getting to the ball carrier. Even if Dwight Freeney doesn't play much or effectively, Robert Mathis is still a good pass rusher, and the Colts may still be able to get pressure on Brees. I do think the Saints are going to have chances to score against the Colts though.

The Colts defense has looked good in the playoffs this year, but they have also played two teams that are not even in the same class as the Saints offense in the Ravens and the Jets. They haven't played Drew Brees, or anyone like him, yet and they haven't faced a team that is able to spread them out and force Jacob Lacey or Jerraud Powers to cover a good wide receiver like Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson or Marques Colston in space. I think there are definitely matchups the Saints can use to their advantage.

4. The Saints defense likes to play aggressively and get to the quarterback. Last week they beat the shit out of Brett Favre and the week before that they reinforced the idea he should retire to Kurt Warner. They are going to be looking to come at Peyton Manning with the same type of blitzes to get in his head and force the timing based offense to get off its rhythm a little bit. The Sharper and Harper duo makes for a good safety combination and the defense is great at forcing turnovers. There is no way the Saints would have even been in the game against the Vikings if it weren't for the defense causing turnovers. So that gives me some pause when I am bragging about the Saints defense. The problem in the Super Bowl for the Saints is that if Peyton Manning reads your blitz, he will adjust to it and make you pay. He's sort of good at stuff like that.

It's not that the Colts offensive line blocks well naturally, but Manning adjust the protection to where the pressure is coming from in an attempt to give himself time to throw the ball. The Saint defensive line with Sedrick Ellis, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove need to get pressure on Manning without too much blitzing in my mind. The Saints need to be aggressive but picking and choosing their spots is important I think. Simply put, I can't think of a time this year when Peyton Manning has been battered around during a game and I question whether the Saints will be able to start now.

The Colts haven't run the ball well this year. The Saints are probably better off ignoring (to an extent) the play fakes that Manning runs and making sure they get in Manning's passing lanes and disrupting the timing of his receivers. The Colts don't want to throw the ball, they just want to run enough to sell the play action fakes. Really, if I am the Saints I am fine with the Colts running the ball against me, as long as they don't start passing the ball all over the field. Of course if I am the Colts, I am fine with running the ball because I know it will set up play action.

5. I look at the Saints defense and I can't seem to figure out who is going to be able to matchup well with Dallas Clark. The Vikings did a good job of getting the ball to Visanthe Shiancoe in last week's game and that makes me think Dallas Clark could have a field day in the middle of the Saints defense. The Colts offense is purely timing based and once Manning gets into the timing he wants the Colts are going to be able to score points.

No team this year has been able to beat the Colts when they have been trying to win a game. I look at what Manning did to the Jets last week and just wonder defensively how the Saints are going to be able to prevent Manning from getting in the same rhythm? If they blitz Manning, he may be able to read it and then adjust accordingly, and if they don't blitz and can't get pressure, Manning has all day to sit in the pocket and throw the ball. I am not a defensive coordinator but I am sure Gregg Williams has a plan...I just don't know what it is.

Peyton Manning is not infallible. He threw (essentially) 2 interceptions against the Ravens and can misread a defense at times if the coverage is disguised well. The Saints have to cause him to make bad throws and be able to turn the Colts over like they turned the Vikings over. It's not really complicated what the Colts do on offense so the Saints defense has to be aggressive with the Colts receivers at the line of scrimmage and cause Manning to have to go to his 3rd or 4th read.

I think the Colts are going to be able to score some points. I don't want to put all the credit on Manning's shoulders, but he is part of the reason the Colts offensive line is so good. He slides protection where he needs it to be, so if the Saints can get pressure in Manning's face it may throw him a little bit off his rhythm. Of course the Saints know this and I think if they start blitzing Manning up the middle he is going to audible to smoke screens and hope to use the Saints aggressive to their advantage.

Indianapolis Colts

1. I like the Colts team. I think they are an improved defense from last year and I think the new guys they have integrated offensively are worked out really well. That being said, I don't see them as the unstoppable force others tend to see them as. This team is riding the back of Peyton Manning hard. Offensively they are a great team but Manning's mere presence makes Collie and Garcon reliable receivers when I am not sure they would be with a different quarterback. I think one of the most interesting things I have thought about is, if the Colts win the Super Bowl, that would mean the two teams Tony Dungy quit coaching (Tampa Bay and Indianapolis) in the NFL won the Super Bowl the year after he left that team. This doesn't make him a bad coach, but more makes him the Buck Showalter of the NFL. I find this interesting and not very complimentary.

The Colts looked great against the Ravens and great against the Jets. Both teams are good defensive teams and pretty mediocre offensive teams. Neither team was that strong offensively, so the Colts defense just had to stop the running game and give Peyton some time to score points. I don't see that happening against the Saints. The Saints have so many weapons I tend to forget about guys like Jeremy Shockey and Reggie Bush. I really like those matchups for the Saints against the Colts defense. The key for the Saints is how they can get Bush involved with the offense early in the game. Even though the Colts don't blitz a lot, I can still see the Saints having success with some screen passes to Bush or Pierre Thomas. Basically, I don't think the Colts are as good as we think they will be and the Saints aren't as overmatched as we think they will be.

2. The Colts offensively are going to run the same thing they always run, which isn't an insult, but a compliment to how well run the offense is. Manning is going to get to the line of scrimmage and look for matchups that he likes based on the defense and try to run a play or set up the play to exploit this matchup. Much of the offense is timing based with Manning wanting to get the ball out of his hand quickly, to neutralize the pass rush. The offense is the very definition of efficient. Manning got on a roll against the Jets and started to feel from which way the blitz was coming and had success. He isn't superhuman, but there isn't too much Manning hasn't seen when it comes to defensive strategies. The best defenses against him don't give him a look of what they are trying to accomplish until the ball is snapped. I envy how in-sync with his receivers Peyton Manning is and this is part of what makes defending Manning so difficult is that he is in such good rhythm with his receivers. He and his receivers know what each is thinking and adjust well to what the defense is throwing at them.

I think the Colts can run the ball against the Saints. I don't believe in the Saints ability to stop the rush, especially after last week when the Vikings ran the ball well against them. I know I am in the minority on this, but I still believe the Colts can run the ball with Addai and Brown. If the Saints took my advice of not falling for Manning's play action fakes then the Colts would greatly benefit from the running the ball. Last week against the Jets, the #1 defense in football, the Colts ran the ball 24 times for 102 yards or 4.2 yards per rush. I think this can continue this week against an average Saints run defense that hasn't been fully exposed this year due to how fast the Saints offense has gained the lead in games.

If I am the Colts, I show that I can run the ball against the Saints and force them to buy on the play action fakes and slow up the blitzes at Manning down a bit. I like the matchup for the Colts when they can go 3 wide with Clark or Collie and I am not sure how the Saints can stop this. Heck, the Colts can even run out of his set with effectiveness as well.

3. Having said the Colts should be able to run the ball and after complimenting Manning's ability to adjust the pass protection, I still don't 100% trust the Colts offensive line. I think there are weak spots in the line that can be exploited with the right kind of defensive scheme. One of the best ways I can think of to beat Manning is to start getting him frustrated and "pulling a Dan Marino." What I mean by "pulling a Dan Marino" is having Manning gesturing to his receivers about the correct route they should have run and having heated conversations with his offensive line on the sidelines. I can remember Marino late in his career always looking at his receivers like they are complete morons when he threw an incomplete pass or a play goes away from what the Colts wanted. Maybe I have a faulty memory, but this is something I never really enjoyed about Marino and I think Manning could have the tendency to do this as well. He is, and wants to be, in control of the offense so he knows how everything should be run. I believe it is entirely possible to frustrate Manning by throwing (not literally) his receivers off their routes and getting past the offensive line or pressuring Manning to not allow Manning time to throw.

The Saints are very aggressive on defense and I can't help but believe the Colts are going to attempt to use some of this aggressiveness against them. Sometimes the Saints go for the strip of the ball when they should tackle better and I love the matchups of the Saints secondary against the Colts receivers for the Colts. I can see the Colts spreading the Saints defense out and having success against them. Of course spreading the Saints out will also cause there to be fewer people available to block for Manning, so the key is going to be how Manning reacts to the Saints pressure on him...assuming they get pressure.

4. The Colts defense has looked solid in the postseason at stopping teams that run the ball well. That's always been my personal knock on the Colts defense, their ability to stop the run. They have gotten bigger this year and have been able to stop the run better. The Colts have to be very disciplined against the Saints and not get out of position on defense. The Saints love to test teams by running different formations and plays that cause defensive players to be out of position.

The defense the Colts run is going to require patience on the part of Drew Brees and great tackling on the part of the Colts. If Dwight Freeney is not 100% for the game, I can see the Colts blitzing a little bit more to get pressure on Brees, but not too much more than they normally do. Neither of these teams stop the run very well, but the Colts are a little bit worse than the Saints at stopping the run. I can see a scenario where the Saints try to run the ball a little bit more and get the Colts defense to take a step up or pay more attention to the run so Brees can go deep.

The Vikings defense gave up only 275 yards to the Saints. They stuffed the Saints on third down and prevented Brees from connecting deep on passes. They did this primarily by making Brees uncomfortable with the pass rush and keeping the Saints offensive players out of the open field. I think the Colts defense could do something similar if Freeney were 100% healthy, but I also see a situation where the Colts could have some success getting at Brees with Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock. Those two aren't shabby pass rushers. If Freeney plays, the Saints are going to smartly run some plays right at him and force him to move around on that leg. I know it is heresay, but the Colts inexperience in the secondary concerns me. They are undrafted guys and gritty hard workers but I can't help but think the Saints want to see these guys make a play on the ball to see if they even can.

5. In the playoffs so far, the Colts have had the luxury of loading up on teams in the box to prevent them from running. Neither the Jets nor the Ravens had the weapons to beat the Colts defense when they sold out on the run. The Saints do. No matter how fast the Colts defense has been this year, I still don't think they can keep up with some of the weapons the Saints have. The problem is whether the Saints will effectively use these weapons. Vikings I felt like the Saints didn't (or didn't have the chance) to spread the ball around to their different weapons on offense.

Against the Saints a team has to be ready for nearly anything. They are very creative offensively and I am not sure the Colts have not faced a team since Houston on November 29th that can put points on the board at the rate the Saints can, and even when they played the Texans, they played them without Owen Daniels. Defensively, I still think it will all come down to how effective the front four of the Colts is in pressuring Drew Brees. If he is given the chance to sit in the pocket and run long developing plays out of multiple formations, this game will turn into a shootout. If Brees is pressured then I can see him looking out of sync like he did two weeks before against the Vikings.

The Colts defense isn't the Vikings defense. There have been times this year the Colts defense has gotten off to bad starts and forced the Colts offense to play catch up. Against New England it was 31-14 Patriots in the early part of the 3rd quarter and against the Texans it was 20-14 Texans going into the 4th quarter. If the Colts defense allows the Saints offense to get momentum, they will not be able to afford getting behind early in the game. The Saints offense doesn't give many teams a chance to catch up. The Saints can continue to score points on offense and the defense gets more aggressive on defense when they have the lead. I think the Colts defense is good, but I have a gut feeling they aren't as good as they have shown over the past couple of weeks. If there is a team that can exploit the youth of the secondary and the fact the Colts still aren't a great run-stopping team, it is the Saints.

Overall Thoughts

It sounds so cliche to say this will be a shootout, but I could very well see this game going that way. There are two things each team wants to avoid and they want to do.

2 Things Saints should avoid:

1. Becoming too passive and allowing Brees to manage the game. I have no idea what was wrong with the offense against the Vikings but I was unimpressed. They need to come out guns blazing and trying to score points.

2. Giving Peyton Manning too much time in the pocket. If he has a chance to pick apart the Saints defense, regardless of how much or when the Saints blitz, this will be a long day for the Saints. I don't exactly know how to get at Manning, but the Saints have to do it.

2 Things Colts should avoid:

1. Giving Drew Brees too much time in the pocket. The first team to get pressure on the other quarterback wins the game in my mind.

2. Being overly aggressive on defense. I know this sounds stupid, but I think with as much misdirection the Saints throw at a defense, the Colts defense is better off staying in their positions and not trying too hard to make a play. Sometimes the Saints use misdirection to get defenders out of position. For example, they may run a screen pass to the left, or so it appears, and this could easily turn into a screen pass thrown to the other side of the field.

Two things the Saints should do:

1. Test the Colts secondary. Drew Brees is an elite quarterback, so he should be able to do what elite quarterbacks can do which is test a defense and not commit turnovers while doing this.

2. Blitz up the middle too much. I know pressure in Manning's face is the key but the best pressure I have seen teams get on Manning this year is from the ends of the offensive line.

Two things the Colts should do:

1. Run the ball. They can and they will need to in order to set up play action. I think the Saints can be run against and I think the Colts have to give establishing the running game a shot.

2. Make Drew Brees be patient and cause him to be timid and a game manager. The Vikings seemed to do that two weeks ago and if it weren't for 7 turnovers they would have won the game easily. This Saints offense isn't built for short completions and (as of two weeks ago) converting third-down-and-short plays. They can do it, but they don't want to.

I know the line on this game isn't huge, but I get the feeling the Colts are perceived as a big favorite. Given what Manning did to the Jets defense, many wonder what he can do to the Saints defense. I don't think the Saints will be as aggressive as the Jets were (which isn't saying much since the Jets are uber-aggressive), but they are going to try and be physical with Manning. I don't know if it will work. I think the Colts are going to run the ball to keep some pressure off Manning and the difference in the game will be one more play the Colts defense is going to be able to make.

Colts (-4.5) over Saints 34-31


Dylan Murphy said...

The reason why I like the Colts so much is because New Orleans is an opportunistic defense, which plays right into Manning's hands. He does not make the mistakes that other quarterbacks make. I forget who wrote the article, but on the NFL page of ESPN there's a great article about how Manning, even though he threw more picks, is less turnover prone.

Bengoodfella said...

Dylan, I agree with you. I think the Saints are very opportunistic on defense and try to create turnovers but I also believe Manning won't make the mistakes other quarterbacks make. I think NO has a good shot to win the game, but I don't believe they will.

I am not as sold on the Colts defense as other people may be.

Martin F. said...

Nice game. I thought both QB's played well, and that the defenses bent but didn't break that much.

My one observation: How badly hurt was Reggie Wayne? Guy seemed like he was playing at 3/4ths speed all game long. He didn't look like the receiver that I've come to expect. It wasn't about the coverage, he didn't seem to have the same speed or cutting ability when running patterns he usually does. He also didn't come back on that one deep ball in the 4th Q like I've seen him do a dozen times, he slowed up, but was not putting the hammer down to stop and come back on it.

Other then that, I had a good time watching it. Loved the onside kick call, how could you not?