It’s up for grabs
High-powered offences ready to rack up some points when ball kicked off on Sunday
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.
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.
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.
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.