Let’s check out my game notes from Sunday night’s 31-17 Saints win in Super Bowl XLIV…
Colts DE Dwight Freeney looked fresh in the first half. He came off the ball with speed and was able to move laterally against the run, but more important, he was effective at getting to Drew Brees. We saw him use the spin move and the bull-rush. However, in the second half, I thought Freeney was tired, and for the first time all night, he looked tired. Warrior effort without a doubt — just not enough left in that ankle to show us the impact he usually has on a game.
The Saints’ final drive
The Saints final drive was a classic example of how offenses can run their routes based off the coverage they see. When the Colts showed a single high safety in the middle of the field (signals Cover 1 or Cover 3), the Saints ran the 10-yard out routes. When the Colts showed their Cover 2 looks, Brees took what the defense gave him and checked the ball down. They methodically worked the ball down the field, sprinkled in the power running game with Pierre Thomas, and when they needed a play to score points, they got creative. The Saints went three WRs to the field and aligned TE Jeremy Shockey away from the formation as the backside “X” receiver — where he was matched up on a corner. It’s a matchup that Shockey can exploit because of his size, and as usual in the NFL, a 3×1 look to the field equals a backside slant. Great call for six points and the winning score.
Brees takes the MVP
Was it anything that we didn’t expect from Brees? He was efficient, competed 32 of 39 passes, threw 2 TDs and protected the football. The Colts’ game plan on defense was designed to keep their safeties deep to protect anything over the top and to get from the middle of the field to the numbers versus any outside vertical throw. But that’s why I liked watching Brees so much last night. He was accurate and was able to throw the entire intermediate passing game of the New Orleans playbook. And like we always see from Peyton Manning, he played off the defense. When they took something away, he found another way to exploit them — and it usually involved Marques Colston. Brees deserved the MVP award.
It is tough to judge Manning on one throw. He finished the game with 333 yards passing, but we know this game will be judged by the interception by Tracy Porter, who basically squatted on a 5-yard Smash Route. Manning got away with an out route earlier in the drive that was almost picked by Malcolm Jenkins, and all Porter had to do was sit at seven yards and drive downhill on the Smash Route because the Saints were bringing pressure and he has safety help in the middle of the field. I can understand why Manning threw the ball — the Colts had been getting any 3-step route they wanted for most of the night. But you would expect Manning to know that the Saints corners would squat on routes because of the pressure look. Tough way to lose a Super Bowl on a throw that surprised everyone — in a game by Manning that was almost flawless.
Williams’ game plan
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams used a game plan that was similar to the one we saw from the Monday night game against the Patriots during the regular season. He talked about pressure all week and getting hits on Manning, but the Saints were a coverage-first team last night. Plenty of Cover 1 schemes and Cover 2 on third downs with their “Ruby” package like we talked about above. And when Williams did bring pressure, free safety Darren Sharper played the deep middle third of the field. Add in the Cover 7 schemes (man coverage with safeties taking away any inside breaking routes), and Williams had a game plan that didn’t yield big plays. Great game plan.
We didn’t see game-breaking plays from Reggie Bush, but I loved how head coach Sean Payton used him in the game plan. Bush was paired with Thomas on the first play, and we got to see him align in almost every position on the field: as the deep back, the spot back in their one-back sets, in the stack looks and split out wide. But he was most productive when the Colts played their Cover 2 schemes and he was able to check down underneath the coverage — and between the linebackers — with running room in front of him. Only nine touches on offense — and only 63 total yards — but when we look at situational football, they were yards that moved the Saints into scoring position.
Joseph Addai’s night
Best performance I’ve seen from Addai all season. He was able to get to the second level against the Saints defense, and when they went to their “Ruby” package (3 DL, 3 LB, 5 DB), the Colts used the inside and outside zone — plus the sprint draw — to get Addai the football. He looked explosive, broke tackles and was running downhill and with more power than I’ve seen this season. I was impressed.
The NFP’s Joe Fortenbaugh talked about it earlier in the week from South Beach, and Sunday night, the Saints won the special teams battle. Their coverage units were excellent, and they never gave Manning a short field to work with — instead, he had to earn every yard. We all know the onside kick was big, but the kicking by Garrett Hartley was impressive. Three 40-plus-yard field goals in the Super Bowl? Not bad.
The National Football Post will be at the NFL Combine at the end of the month in Indianapolis with full reports on the workouts, scoops from around the league and the forecast for free agency. It is time to start over…again.
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