In our continuing Super Bowl coverage I bring to you brilliant expert NFL analysis from an unlikely source. Two Canadians, Andrew Bucholtz and myself. Without further ado, here’s Andrew’s take.
In my mind, one of the keys to this year’s Super Bowl is going to be the running game. The Saints were one of the best rushing teams this year, finishing sixth in the regular-season in yards per game (131.6) and first in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics. They have a triple-threat lineup with the quick-but-powerful Pierre Thomas, the lightning-fast Reggie Bush and the bruising Mike Bell. Meanwhile, the Colts were last in yards per game (80.9) and 22nd according to Football Outsiders, but they found a lot of success rushing the ball in the AFC championship against the Jets’ great run defence. They didn’t get too far lining up in traditional run formations, but had terrific results rushing the ball when everyone was expecting a pass.
The Colts face a tough task trying to shut down the Saints’ rushing game. For one thing, New Orleans is so explosive in both the rushing and passing games that it’s tough to sell out to stop one or the other. For another, the Saints’ backs all have vastly diverse running styles, making it more difficult to draw up a plan to deal with all of them. However, the Colts do have one advantage; their linemen and linebackers are generally small and fast, which should make them a bit more effective at slowing down Thomas and Bush than the typical NFL defence.
For the Saints’ defence, they’ll have to be careful not to focus too much on just stopping the Colts’ passing game. That’s what the Jets did in the AFC championship game, and they got burned on some unexpected runs by Joseph Addai. They did better stopping Donald Brown, and part of the reason is Brown’s weakness as a pass-blocker (see this clip of Peyton Manning yelling “Goddamnit, Donald” after Brown missed a block against the Ravens in the divisional round ). Even though he might be a more talented runner then Addai, the play-call is usually a run when he checks in, which loses the element of surprise. By contrast, Addai isn’t a great power back, but he’s good at picking up blitzes and catching passes out of the backfield. The Saints will need to keep him contained if they hope to win.
In the end, there are always a multitude of different elements that go into any football game. Good execution on offence, defence and special teams is important, but so are the breaks such as big kick returns, missed field goals, improperly run routes, fumbles and interceptions. Still, I’d expect both teams’ rushing offences and defences to play a key role in today’s game. Whichever team does better on the ground will have a sizeable advantage, and may just come out on top.
Okay it’s my turn now. I’ll do my best to keep my homerism to a minimum. I’ll do my best.
Today’s game brings us an interesting contrast. It’s a game between America’s new team and the boring old hat. The Saints are considered to be more than a team to the city of New Orleans. They went 3-13 the year before Hurricane Katrina and were continuing 4 decades of being a miserable franchise. Then Katrina happened. America generally jumped to help out New Orleans recover, as not only is it a fascinating cultural center, but the devastation was so extreme. The Saints home stadium, the Superdome, was damaged and became a temporary shelter for thousands of displaced citizens. Then something unexpected happened, the Saints went on a tear, going all the way to the NFC championship. It marked the first time the Saints had ever had a sellout season.
The city tied itself to the Saints and has not let that connection go. As a result, America in general, has tied itself to the Saints fanbase for this Super Bowl. The Colts on the other hand abandoned Baltimore, the city where they were founded and won a Super Bowl. That is such an amazing dichotomy, one team is a key cog to it’s city and its rebuilding and the other team abandoned its city in the middle of the night. Coupled with the fact that the Colts being “winners”, having won an NFL record 12 or more games for 7 consecutive seasons and setting both the consecutive regular season win streak and the record for most wins in a decade, the Colts are the boring old hat that only natural fans are rooting for.
The Saints are a flashy team, explosive even. When they’re firing on all cylinders, they’re explosive and hard to stop. Drew Brees is a very accurate QB, and at times seems like he can make all the throws, even downfield into the smallest of windows. None of the Saints receiving core is high profile, but they get the job done and can take a hit.
Their run game can be very dynamic. Pierre Thomas is a very effective, dynamic back as long as he doesn’t get too many carries. Mike Bell is a bruiser and occasionally has a big game, 100+ yards, running between the tackles. Reggie Bush is, well he’s unique. He has been known for being a soft, outside only runner in the past, but this postseason he has shown glimpses of being a bruising powerful runner that is just as likely to run through a guy than around one. If he starts trucking guys today it throws an interesting dynamic into the game that opposing teams haven’t had to plan for in the past.
The Saints have been defensive weaklings in the past, but that changed this year with new incoming defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. Williams is a keen defensive mind who has a tendency to blitz. He’ll have his work cut out for him, as the Colts love playing against the blitz, but I’m sure he’ll have something planned for that. The defense is keyed by Jonathan Vilma, who will likely get much screen time as he’s of Haitian descent, and old man winter, Darren Sharper. Vilma, a LB that is just starting to reach his potential, lead the team with 110 tackles while Sharper was a defensive player of the year candidate who had 9 interceptions, including 3 for touchdowns. The defense is a big powerful one, and according to Amber Jones, they have a combined weight of 6,739 pounds. That’s a lot of fatty. If they’re able to jam the Colts smallish receivers at the line, they may be able to man handle the Colts offense.
On special teams they have Reggie Bush returning punts. As noted above he’s explosive and does return more than his fair share of punts for touchdowns, which could be dangerous against the Colts weak special teams. Expect the Colts to try and kick away from him.
The Colts offense has been called boring by some, notably Drew Magary on the latest Deadcast. I don’t think it’s boring but it is efficient and relatively simple. On offense they don’t really mix things up and yet they still put up a lot of points. You can know what they’re going to do, yet it’s extremely difficult to stop them. Peyton Manning is by far the best QB in the league at reading the opposing defense and he goes through his progression and makes his decision almost immediately. He thrives against the blitz, because that means that he has an extra receiver or three that’s open. He also rarely gets sacked as he’s either made his throw or throws the ball away so quickly. The receivers are smallish but quick. Only Pierre Garcon, also likely to receive screen time for his Haitian descent, has that breakout speed but his hands have been unreliable this year. Reggie Wayne runs incredibly precise routes which makes up for the fact that he doesn’t have breakout speed, which makes him a more physical Marvin Harrison. Then there’s Dallas Clark. He had 108 catches this year as a tight end, and pulled in 10 touchdowns. He’s a nightmare for defensive co-ordinators to plan against as he’s too fast for linebackers to keep up with and too powerful for most safeties to take down. They are a finesse unit though that’s success is predicated on timing. If you jam the receivers at the line and are able to throw off the timing, Peyton will miss throws.
The running game this year for the Colts this year was abysmal. They’ve stepped it up in the playoffs but it’s a troubling aspect to their game. As Andrew stated above, Addai is best as a pass blocker and catching out of the backfield. He’s not explosive, nor a home run threat. He rarely runs for 20+ yards, though he’s not a fumbler and it usually takes more than one hit to take him down. Donald Brown is that explosive runner, though he’s not raised his game to the NFL level yet and can’t block to save his or Peyton’s life. If the Colts are able to make headway on the ground, it will be significant as their offense relies on the play action pass being effective. Having said that, this year they’ve shown that even if the defense is expecting pass it often works, especially in the last two minutes of either half.
The Colts defense is small and fast. Again, according to Amber Jones, the Colts defense weighs 5,951 pounds, which is significantly less than the Saints. They are susceptible to the run, though this year come playoff time they’ve shut down two of the league’s top 3 running games, the Jets and Ravens. They were also able to contain Chris Johnson this year. Because of their speed, they match up fairly well against guys like Reggie Bush, and because of their system, they don’t often give up big plays. The Saints are the most explosive team that the Colts have faced this year, so it is a new test.
The Colts special teams just aren’t special. They are susceptible to big returns. Matt Stover is a solid veteran kicker who made most of the kicks he needed to this year, but that was in a dome. The weather in Miami is going to be cold and potentially rainy. I’d feel better if Vinatieri is playing, but he’s sliding fast on the downslope of his career.
In today’s coaching matchups, Sean Payton is clearly the better of him and Jim Caldwell. It’s often a joke that Caldwell is a robot, but it’s still unknown how much he’s involved in the whole operation. In some circles it’s thought that he oversees everything, but lets Coyer run the defense and Manning/Moore run the offense. Caldwell has shown he’s more aggressive than Dungy, and I expect this to be a game where the punting game is only used when necessary. There will be a 4th and 6 today that one of these coaches goes for.
In summation of all this verbiage that nobody read, I think the Colts will take the game. Even when down this year, they’ve shown they could win and they won every game they tried to win. The Saints on the other hand did not. There were games that they lost and games that they just didn’t look like they had it. The Colts are coming off a dominating second half victory against the Jets, while the Saints are coming off a game that the Vikings fumbled up into their hands. I think that if the Saints aren’t winning by more than 14 at the half, the Colts will win this game. It will be close, and I suspect it will keep up the tradition of the past few Super Bowls. I expect the Colts to come from behind in the dying minutes of the game to win 35-31 and wrap up an excellent season. Enjoy the game everyone.