Saturday, February 6, 2010

At Long Last, Super Bowl Sunday

Setting It All Up:

I suppose it really did need to come down to this matchup to resolve the whole season. Indy and New Orleans have been the two best teams over the course of the year, and while I had some pretty serious reservations about the Saints' win over the Vikings, everybody deserves to be here. As of Saturday, Indy is about a 6 point favorite, so the majority viewpoint puts the Colts on top pretty substantially. Keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily mean that the oddsmakers believe the Colts will win by 6--it's just that this is the number they give the Saints to get a 50/50 split on the public betting. In don't see it quite like that, and lets take a look at how the Saints might win, and why they will.

Indy Offense vs. New Orleans Defense:

Clearly, Manning is playing at such a high level that he has every ability to win this one almost on his own. The guy is just throwing it all over hell and making it look easy, and it's hard to see them coming up with less than 24-27 points. He's generally been tough against the blitz because he's so good at assessing where the pressure is coming and finding the hot read quickly. That being said, if New Orleans plans on just sitting back and letting him consistently throw against 4 man rushes, they better pack their bags and head on home right now.

Here's the part where I think New Orleans actually is decently well-equipped to handle the Indy passing game: pass defense is what they do well. If Indy is able to consistently run it with Addai and Brown they're going to be extremely tough to beat, but I don't foresee this even being a big part of the game plan--they're going to rely on Manning to make their plays (not a bad plan at all). In essence, the entire game plan for New Orleans all year has been to (1) get points on the board early with the offense; (2) force the other team into throw the ball to catch up; and (3) play aggressive pass defense because they know the other team isn't going to run it at them. The reason Minnesota was so tough for them to handle last week was that Minnesota could pound the hell out of them up front while still posing a deep threat (also, the Vikings were a damn good team). The Colts don't seem to pose that same threat up front, and this should allow the Saints to basically attack them constantly the same way that they did Arizona. Granted, Indy's a better team than Arizona, but the approach for both teams are in essence the same.

Moreover, while New Orleans doesn't have a single corner on par with Revis of the Jets, they have a tough top man in Greer and solid depth. The Jets were able to seriously control Wayne, but Lito Sheppard, Lowery and the other corners were beaten consistently. Now we hear Wayne is banged up, which is obviously a help to New Orleans. Don't get me wrong, Manning and the pass game will generate offense and points. I just don't see them able to control the game like a lot of people are thinking.

New Orleans Offense vs. Indy Defense:

I can't for the life of me understand why people aren't more concerned about the Saint run game. New Orleans has the personnel to consistently spread Indy's corners, which should allow some great fronts for Pierre Thomas and Mr. Kim Kardashian to gain some good chunks. Thomas is a hell of a lot better than people give credit for, and the Colts sure as hell aren't set up like the Vikings up front. I like Thomas to have a pretty big game with a few long runs.

The other element is that the run game is going to set up some really solid play-action. Because they're a smallish defense, the Colts rely on their corners and safeties to help on the run defense. If New Orleans can consistently pose a run threat, this should force more Colt defenders close to the line and allow Brees to toss it down field against single coverage. Sean Payton is so damn good at structuring offensive plays to isolate single defenders against his wideouts, and he's going to get that done tomorrow.

Overall, I like, but don't love, the matchups for the Saints in the pure passing game. The New Orleans Offensive line is good without being great, and the matchup on the ends favors Indy even if Freeney is limited with the ankle injury. Mathis is too good against the right side of the Saint line to handle with a single blocker, so they'll have to chip with tight ends consistently to prevent him from making big plays. The Saint receivers didn't play all that well last week, but my guess is that they'll bounce back a little and make plays.

All together, I actually like the Saints to win this, although in a way a little different from most of their wins this year. They aren't going to be able to just spread Indy out and throw it all over the field. Their coaching staff is probably the best in the league right now at creating mismatches and openings, though, and they'll be able to do this enough to get some big plays. And most of all, I like them running the ball. The Jets and Ravens couldn't run very well against Indy because their pass games were shit and Indy could stack everyone up front.

For the Colts, it's a matter of protecting Manning and getting good games out of their young receivers. Wayne more than likely won't have a huge game because of his injury and Greer, so Garcon and Collie take on an extra importance.

To beat the Colts, you have to flat out attack them on offense. If you remember the first 3 quarters of the New England game this year, the Pats were able to gain a big lead being extremely aggressive on offense, much as the Jets were able to in the first half last week. This is what New Orleans must do at all costs, be it with the run game or the pass--attack constantly. And fortunately for them, this is when they're at their best.

The Pick: Saints, 34-31

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