It’s up for grabs

High-pow­ered of­fences ready to rack up some points when ball kicked off on Sun­day

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

Colts, Saints will bat­tle for Vince Lom­bardi Tro­phy in Sun­day’s Su­per Bowl XLIV.

FORT LAUD­ERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts have the high-pow­ered of­fences to rack up the points when they meet in Sun­day’s Su­per Bowl.

The game will come down to some key matchups, how­ever.

When the Colts have the ball

The Saints’ chore on de­fence is ob­vi­ous yet very com­pli­cated — stop quar­ter­back Pey­ton Man­ning.

Man­ning has been mar­vel­lous again this sea­son, winning an un­prece­dented fourth MVP award, then mak­ing the key com­ple­tions in play­off vic­to­ries over the Ravens and Jets. In­deed, he found weak­nesses in two of the league’s stingi­est de­fences, com­plet­ing 67.5 per cent of his throws for 623 yards, five touch­downs and one in­ter­cep­tion. His 104.6 rat­ing is far higher than he man­aged in lead­ing the Colts to the 2007 Su­per Bowl, where they beat the Chicago Bears.

New Orleans must find a pass rush and Will Smith was sec­ond in the NFC with 13 sacks. But the Saints have only one in the play­offs, even though they reg­u­larly hit Brett Favre last week. Sedrick El­lis, Bobby McCray and Jon Vilma, Scott Fu­jita and Scott Shanle need to pres­sure Man­ning, or he will use a deep col­lec­tion of re­ceivers to pick apart the Saints.

When the Saints have the ball

New Orleans scored 510 points to lead the league and has 76 in two play­off games. The Saints have got­ten every­one in­volved, with quar­ter­back Drew Brees, the NFL’s most ac­cu­rate passer, throw­ing for six TDs while not be­ing in­ter­cepted. Brees has more mo­bil­ity than Man­ning and is ef­fec­tive, even bril­liant at times, throw­ing on the run. Brees can be un­stop­pable when he uses short drops for quick­hit­ting plays over the mid­dle.

So Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney need to get in his face rapidly, but Freeney is plagued by lig­a­ment dam­age in his right an­kle and his avail­abil­ity will be a ga­me­time de­ci­sion. If the Colts can’t get a de­cent pass rush, Brees will find Mar­ques Col­ston, Dev­ery Hen­der­son, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore and Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas. Shockey has been plagued by right knee prob­lems and Thomas has ca­pa­bly filled in.

Spe­cial teams

Saints PK Gar­rett Hart­ley isn’t likely to face a more stress­ful kick than the 40-yard field goal he made to lift his team into the Su­per Bowl. Un­less, of course, he’s asked to repli­cate that feat Sun­day.

Hart­ley missed the first four games of the sea­son for us­ing a banned stim­u­lant and has ben­e­fited from the guid­ance of vet­eran John Car­ney, who stepped aside and be­came a kick­ing con­sul­tant when Hart­ley re­turned.

Indy has the op­po­site sit­u­a­tion in vet­eran Matt Stover, who has re­placed the in­jured Adam Vi­natieri, the most suc­cess­ful Su­per Bowl kicker ever.

Stover doesn’t have long range, but is plenty ac­cu­rate. Tight sit­u­a­tions rarely have both­ered the 20-year vet­eran.

Rookie punter Thomas Morstead has been steady for New Orleans and comes off a strong game. Indy rookie Pat McAfee also has per­formed well. Both can boom deep kick­offs, too.

Indy’s kick cov­er­age teams are su­pe­rior to New Orleans.

Coach­ing

For any­one who ar­gues that Jim Cald­well in­her­ited a cham­pi­onship-cal­i­bre team when he re­placed Tony Dungy, re­mem­ber it took Dungy five sea­sons in Indy to reach a Su­per Bowl. Cald­well is the fifth rookie coach to take his team to the ti­tle game.

Cald­well learned well from his men­tor, and be­ing the hand-cho­sen suc­ce­sor to Dungy made the tran­si­tion eas­ier. That doesn’t mean Cald­well didn’t have sig­nif­i­cant is­sues to deal with, beginning with the off-sea­son re­tire­ments of key as­sis­tants Tom Moore, the only of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Man­ning has worked with, and line coach Howard Mudd. Get­ting them back on staff as “con­sul­tants’’ set­tled Man­ning’s mind.

Per­haps most im­por­tant, Cald­well’s ap­proach and de­meanour are sim­i­lar to Dungy’s, mean­ing the ad­just­ment wasn’t over­whelm­ing.

Sean Pay­ton is the ar­chi­tect of the Saints’ on-field turn­around from stum­bling no­mads to of­fen­sive pow­er­house and NFC cham­pi­ons. Brees was his hand­picked quar­ter­back, and to­gether they’ve got­ten the Saints to their first two con­fer­ence ti­tle games and, now, the Su­per Bowl.

Pay­ton’s bril­liance at of­fen­sive strate­gies and abil­ity to rec­og­nize tal­ent have been crit­i­cal in New Orleans’ rise. Yes, he got lucky with Col­ston, a sev­enth-round draft pick, and un­drafted free agents Pierre Thomas and Lance Moore. But he and gen­eral man­ager Mickey Loomis used trades and free agency to bring in such key con­trib­u­tors as Shockey, Vilma, Fu­jita and Shanle.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Ben Nix, with NFL se­cu­rity, pol­ishes the Vince Lom­bardi Tro­phy, which is awarded to the win­ner of the Su­per Bowl. The New Orleans Saints will play the Indianapolis Colts in Su­per Bowl XLIV, Sun­day, at Sun Life Sta­dium in Mi­ami.

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