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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl XLIV (Miami, FL)
Indianapolis Colts vs New Orleans Saints
Favorite: Saints (52.5%)


This was one of the best Super Bowl matchups we could get given the teams, not as much because each team was the best of their respective conferences, but because both teams have high-powered passing games and suspect pass defenses, which plays to both teams' offensive strengths. To call the Saints the 'favorite' is a bit of the misnomer: It's more like they have a 53-47 edge in what's actually a close matchup.



Colts Offense (with grade):

Points Per Drive: 2.43 (B+)
Drive Success Rate: .748 (A+)
Turnovers per: .140 (C)

The Colts' biggest issue, aside from their token running game, is that they are somewhat prone to turnovers and face a Saints defense that generates a strong number of turnovers. Together with somewhat slippery game balls and one of Brett Favre's dumbest throws ever, they helped generate several turnovers in their NFC title win over the Vikings.

Offense Line Run Blocking: D+
Left End: F
LT: C
Interior: B-
RT: C
Right End: C
Pass Protection: A+

Colts Backfield:

QB: Peyton Manning: A+
RB: Joseph Addai: B- (Receiving: B)
RB: Mike Hart: D
RB: Donald Brown: D (Receiving: A)

Colts Receivers:

WR: Reggie Wayne: B
WR: Austin Collie: B
WR: Pierre Garcon: C
WR: Hank Baskett: F
TE: Dallas Clark: A
TE: Tom Santi: B
TE: Jacob Tamme: F


It's a good thing Peyton Manning is arguably one of the greatest QBs ever to play in the NFL and that he has good receivers, because his running game does not play a huge factor in the Colts offense. Whether it's because of spotty run blocking or lacking abilities on the part of non-Joseph Addai tailbacks, the Colts can't count on much from the backfield on the ground.

As for the passing game, the Saints can match up well with Reggie Wayne, and might be able to somewhat contain Dallas Clark, but they are average overwise, which should open doors for Austin Collie.

One other key factor: The game is outdoors, and both teams are dome teams. Manning over his career has been a good QB whether at home or on the road, though Manning does have more picks on the road (101) than at home (80). However, this year he posted better numbers on the road (112.6 rating) than at home (89.9). And one more factor in Manning's favor: He has 4 career regular season games vs the Saints, and has done well against them: 75 of 115, 1173 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT, 116.3 rating. They can pick him (4 picks in 4 games), but he can shred them like he can anyone else.

Once the wind and elements comes into play, however, it's always going to be more difficult to throw the football outdoors than inside, no matter what. This never minds the condition of a grass field, though by all accounts the turf at Miami's Landshark Stadium was consistently firm and held up well during last week's Pro Bowl.

Colts defense (Base 4-3):

Overall: C (Momentum Weighted*: C+)
Points per Drive: 1.64 (C)
Drive Success Rate: .688 (C-)
Turnovers per Drive: .144 (C)

* - Weighed to emphasize late season performances over early season performances

Run Defense: C
vs left end sweeps: C
Right DE: D-
Interior run defense: C
Left DE: D
vs right end sweeps: F

Pass Defense: C
Defensive line vs rush: D-
Pass rush: C
vs #1 WR: C
vs #2 WR: D+
vs Other WR: C
vs TE: C
vs RB: C-

Never mind the injury to Dwight Freeney: The Colts defensive unit in itself is fairly overrated. Freeney and Robert Mathis are the only threats in an average pass rush. As run defenders they get run over. The run defense, beyond the raw stats, is actually fairly average per play, and weak when opponents run off-tackle. The pass defense is average at best, and frequently beatable. Expect big games from Drew Brees, Robert Meachem, Pierre Thomas and of course the emerging Reggie Bush.

Colts Special Teams:

Kicker: C (Kickoffs: C)
Kick returns: C
Punting: C+
Punt returns: D+

******



Saints offense:

Points Per Drive: 2.56 (A)
Drive Success Rate: .742 (A-)
Turnovers per: .148 (C)

Like the Colts, the Saints offense has a high powered offense that doesn't protect the ball as well as it shouldn. Unlike the Saints, however, the Colts aren't especially hawkish for the ball, and chances of the Colts generating turnovers aren't as likely.

Offense Line Run Blocking: A
Left End: C-
LT: C
Interior: A
RT: B+
Right End: A-
Pass Protection: B+

Saints Backfield:

QB: Drew Brees: A+ (Rushing: A+)
RB: Pierre Thomas: A (Receiving: A-)
RB: Mike Bell: C
RB: Reggie Bush: A (Receiving: C)

Saints Receivers:

WR: Marques Colston: A
WR: Robert Meachem: A+ (Rushing: A+)
WR: Devery Henderson: B
WR: Lance Moore: A
TE: Jeremy Shockey: A
TE: David Thomas: B-

Also unlike the Colts, the Saints have a good running game, and Freeney or not, expect the Colts to get run over frequently. Of course, the Saints true offensive strength is their passing game, and the Colts defense gives little indication that they'll be able to slow down, let alone stop the Saints' impressive passing game.

Saints Defense (Base 4-3):

Overall: C (Momentum Weighted*: D+)
Points per drive: 1.71 (C)
Drive success rate: .670 (C)
Turnovers per drive: .187 (A-)

* - Weighed to emphasize late season performances over early season performances

Run Defense: D-
vs left end sweeps: D-
Right DE: F
Interior run defense: C
Left DE: C
vs right end sweeps: A+

Pass Defense: C+
Defensive line vs rush: C-
Pass rush: C
vs #1 WR: A
vs #2 WR: C-
vs Other WR: C
vs TE: B
vs RB: C

Beyond their ballhawking tendencies, the Saints defense isn't particularly strong. They defend the #1 receiver and tight end well but are just average in covering anyone else. Their run defense isn't too good, for some reason prone to getting blown up on left-side outside sweeps while impressive in shutting down sweeps to the (right handed) QB's throwing side. Their left side does an alright job against the run but the right side gets owned too often.

Fortunately for the Saints, the Colts aren't a big running team and probably won't take advantage of the holes up front too often. But Peyton Manning is going to pick apart the Saints secondary, so long as he continues his excellent job of reading the coverage and doesn't walk into a blindside pick or two.

Saints Special Teams:

Kicking: D- (Kickoffs: C)
Kick returns: B
Punting: D
Punt returns: D

Whatever edge a good kick return game would get the Saints is blown by a poor kicking game that's been disguised all season by the Saints' prolific offense and winning ways. This will become a much more pronounced weakness in the outdoor conditions, especially if the game is at all close and field position plus field goals become a key issue.

******

So do the Saints really have the edge?

Only in the slightest sense of having a few more advantages than the Colts have. But otherwise, both teams are similarly strong and possess similar weaknesses. This is going to be a high scoring game, and the only way you could convince me to put money on this game is to take the over on the over/under line regardless of the number. But otherwise, I'd feel it foolish to put money on either team, even with the Saints getting +4 on the point spread from Vegas as the nominal underdog. Any dramatic swings during the game could turn the tide completely.

It should be a fun Super Bowl, so enjoy!

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