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Superbowl Focus

In NFL on February 1, 2010 at 9:55 pm

The 44th Superbowl takes place next Sunday night when the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints take to the field in Miami. These two teams have been the best in their divisions all season, and possess arguably the two best quarterbacks in the league.

Here’s a breakdown of the key players on each side, and where the game is likely to be won and lost.

Indianapolis  Offense:

Colts Key Man: Peyton Manning


Of course, we start with Peyton Manning. The Colts quarterback is head and shoulders above everyone else in the game right now, and if he plays like he can then the Colts will win.

Manning has been a superstar since he arrived in the league 12 years ago, but his form rarely seems to dip. This year he racked up another 4,500 yards passing to go with 33 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions. Statistically, it’s been his best season since 2004, when he had Marvin Harrison to aim at. It’s also his 10th season in the last eleven where he has surpassed 4,000 yards passing, and when he gets into rhythm, he is as close to unstoppable as it gets.

In the Championship game against the Jets, he was kept under wraps for almost the entire first half by the best defence in the AFC. Down 17-6 in the embers of the 2nd half though, he suddenly exploded and drove his side 80 yards in three plays. That burst changed the entire complexion of the game, and the Colts took over from that point on as they cantered to a 30-17 win.

Even with corners like Darrelle Revis taking his best receivers out of the game, Manning can still run an offense that is virtually impossible to defend against. He can find any one of his battery of targets seemingly whenever he wants, and is so accurate that even when defended perfectly, he can still cut up the field.

Can the Saints stop him?

Not completely. I don’t think anyone can. But they can unsettle him, force him to rush his passes a little and pressure his receivers. They did this beautifully against Brett Favre and the Vikings, and have to believe they can do it again.

Saints Key Men: Bobby McCray, Darren Sharper and Jonathan Vilma

Defensive end Bobby McCray has been a terror in these playoffs, and will be plaguing the nightmares of Kurt Warner and Brett Favre for a long time to come. In fact, if you want to go crazy with the hyperbole (what the hell, it is Superbowl week) you could say he retired two hall of fame quarterbacks.

That’s definitely a stretch, but he definitely had a big hand in getting his team where they are. He marmalised Warner in the open field with a perfectly legal hit in the Divisional round. That hit brought Matt Leinart into the game, and it was at that point that you could really see the belief ebbing out of the Arizona faithful. Then in the Championship game, he was a major part of the batering Brett Favre received. The league were so unhappy with his borderline tackles that they handed him a $20k fine after the game, but you can be sure he’d happily shell out twice that if it meant he could knock Manning out of his stride.

Darren Sharper, meanwhile, has continued his astonishing regular season leading the turnover addicted Saints secondary. He had nine interceptions, returning three for touchdowns, and he is a danger for any quarterback. He could play a key role in disrupting Manning’s connection with his receivers, and if he can pick off a pass or force a turnover, he could help cause an upset.

Darren Sharper has been a big part of the New Orleans turnover machine

Jonathan Vilma. The Colts rarely rush the ball, using it more as a decoy to freeze opposing defenders, but they had some rare success against the Jets. The Saints aren’t as good as New York at stopping the run, but if Vilma has a big game, they might not even have the option of using Addai.  Vilma is a dominating middle linebacker who’s clocked in with well over 100 tackles every season he’s completed. He will be a big factor in taking Addai out of the game, and can still be a nuisance in the backfield, as he showed with his interception against the Vikings.

X Factors:

The Colts receivers. With Darrelle Revis shutting down Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark having an unusually quiet game, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon stepped up and played like champions. Wayne and Clark should find more space against the Saints, but if the youngsters can step up like they did in the Championship round, Manning could run riot.

Joseph Addai. The Colts had the worst ground attack in the NFL this season, mostly as a result of Manning’s wizardry through the air. They had some surprising success against the Jets though, gaining over 100 yards, 80 of which went to Addai. If he can replicate this production, he’ll take a lot of pressure off his QB.

Turnovers. The big one. The Saints defence is actually quite porous. They give up a lot of yards, and were absolutely shredded by Favre and the Vikings at times. But they have an uncanny knack of forcing turnovers at key times, whether they be fumbles or interceptions. If they can win the turnover battle, they have a great chance. If not, then Manning will be well on his way to another Superbowl ring.

Saints Offense:

Key Man: Drew Brees


Just like Manning, Brees has the ability to beat any team single handed on his day. His numbers are even more impressive than Peyton’s this year, as he threw for 34 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions on his way to a ridiculous QB rating of 109.6.

He’s been a revelation ever since he moved to New Orleans, both on and off the field. He’s also one of the main reasons why this city has a team in the Superbowl. Unlike in recent years, he’s got a seriously good team around him now, with a talented young corps of receivers and a varied rushing attack which means he doesn’t have to do everything himself.

In fact, he was relatively quiet against the Vikings, only throwing for 197 yards. But in his 10th season in the league, he has the experience not to force it and his 3 TD passes came with no interception caveats.

On Sunday, he’ll come up against a Colts defence which bends without breaking, and his ability to find the end zone will be key. The Saints can’t afford to come away with too many three-pointers when they get to the red zone, or they’ll find themselves chasing the game before too long.

Can the Colts stop him?

Like Manning, not completely. They can keep him out of the end zone though. If they can hold New Orleans to field goals rather than touch downs, Peyton Manning should do the rest.

Colts Key Men: Freeney/Mathis, Clint Session and the secondary

In Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the Colts have an elite pair of defensive ends who make life hell for any opposing quarterback. Freeney is fighting an ankle injury, but if he can take the field then the Colts have an excellent chance of getting to Drew Brees. The Saints have a solid O-line, and Brees rarely gets sacked, but if they can rush him, then the Saints offence will really suffer. Between them, the terrible twosome have forced 23 sacks and 6 fumbles. Even a couple of those on Sunday could make the difference.

Robert Mathis could be a major factor in limiting Drew Brees

Clint Session leads a linebacking group that could have a major say in the outcome of this game if they can help to clog the middle and stop Pierre Thomas from powering his way to the hard yards. Last week, the Saints had a nightmare converting on 3rd and short situations, and the lack of a go-to option on the ground threw the rest of the offense completely out of whack. Session and Gary Brackett are demons in the tackle, combining for more than 200 between them in the regular season. They’ve continued this production into the postseason, and if they can shut down Thomas and Reggie Bush like they shut down the Jets vaunted runners last week, the pressure will be on Brees.

The Colts secondary. I’ve included this group as a unit, because that’s exactly what they are. There’s no Revis or Asamugha, no Polamalu, and thanks to injury, no Bob Sanders. What we’re left with is a group of low-profile pros who work supremely well together. Antione Bethea and Melvin Bullitt form a reliable safety net behind a young cornerback crew of Jerraud Powers, Kelvin Hayden and Jacob Lacey. They communicate excellently and are safe in the tackle. They’ll need to play exceptionally well to keep a lid on Marques Colston and Devery Henderson in the backfield.

X Factors

Reggie Bush. A bits and pieces player who’s capable of almost anything, good or bad. When he’s on, he’s a home run hitter who can rush, receive and return with the best of them. When he’s not on, he can try for too much, like his muffed punt against the Vikings, which he was blessed to get away with. He could provide some much needed variety in the run game, and is always a threat on Special Teams.

The dynamic Reggie Bush could be game changer

Robert Meachem. Everyone knows all about Marques Colston’s aerial ability and Devery Henderson’s deep threat. But when Brees finds Meachem, it’s usually for a huge gain. He averaged 16 yards per reception during the regular season, and a touchdown every five catches. He’s only bagged two passes in the postseason so far, but if he and Brees can connect, they could really hurt the Colts.

The Colts rush D. The Colts defensive line felt like they had a point to prove against the Jets, and in shutting down the league’s best rush attack, they silenced a lot of doubters. If they can keep the powerful Pierre Thomas on the margins of this game, then they will force Drew Brees to win it. That’s all you can really ask.

Special Teams

With Reggie Bush returning the punts, the Saints could have a big advantage here. Bush is a searing runner who’s eminently capable of producing the big play. He’ll have to be very careful not to get a rush of blood like he did last week though, because Manning will not let him off the hook. Courteney Roby and Chad Simpson have both returned kick offs for touchdowns this year, and have very similar stats, so there’s not much to choose from here.

Both defences are pretty solid, so unless Bush can produce some magic, the returners are unlikely to have a big say in this game.

The kickers are a different matter though. Garrett Hartley may have nailed a 40 yarder to take the Saints to the big one, but he’s still desperately inexperienced. It’s only his second season in the league, and you’d have to have reservations about his ability in the clutch.

Inexperienced kicker Garrett Hartley was the hero against the Vikings - but would you trust him with the Superbowl on the line?

The Colts, on the other hand, have the vastly experienced Matt Stover to call on. Stover has been around for years, and has a wealth of big game experiences to draw on. Failing that, they could always pull Adam Vinatieri off the bench for one more game winning driller! Advantage Colts here.

Conclusion

In this age of the quarterback, it’s likely to come down to a shoot-out between Manning and Brees. While Brees is an incredible passer, I don’t think anyone can outplay Manning right now. He has the ability to do exactly what’s needed at the perfect time, and there’s a sense of destiny surrounding him and his team this year.

The Colts defence also looks like a more reliable unit, as the Saints have relied far too heavily on the turnover this year. It has gotten them out of jail a few times, and I think that luck will run out on Sunday as Mannning cements his legacy and erases all the doubts.

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  1. I can’t but see the colts winning this one. With manning behind such a well oiled machine calling the shots they will prove too dynamic a challange for the saints. The colts will certainly give the saints the turn-overs the vikings did last week and even that said, the vikings still should have won that one!
    All in all i don’t think the saints are as good as their regular season record suggested, and they should have been found out in the nfc championship game but were’nt. This one unfortunately, they wont even be able to fake.
    Colts to win

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