As we start to inch closer to Sunday and football on the field again, let’s look at eight questions about the Super Bowl — and try to come up with some realistic answers.
1. Why aren’t we talking about special teams?
The NFP’s Joe Fortenbaugh had a chance to sit down with the Saints’ Pierson Prioleau (one of my all-time favorite guys in the NFL) Tuesday at Super Bowl media day and talk special teams — which will play a role in Sunday night’s result. With two big-time QBs playing, neither the Saints nor the Colts defense wants to start on the plus-50 side of the field. And with all big games, the kicking game will play a major role in deciding who goes home with the Lombardi Trophy. Knock the ball out, a big return, anything that sets up your offense with field position.
2. What’s the story with Dwight Freeney?
I think we’ve all heard enough speculation about Dwight Freeney's ankle, and like the NFP’s Michael Lombardi wrote Monday, the best way to test him out is for the Saints to run the ball right at him on Sunday — on the first play. If I’m Sean Payton, I keep doing it until he proves he can make a play or until the Colts are forced to take him out of the game. We’ll know early if Freeney is worth watching and if he’ll have an effect on this game.
3. What can we expect from Gregg Williams’ pressure schemes?
Like we’ve talked about this week, Williams will have to play his coverage schemes. But when the Saints do blitz, I don’t expect to see anything without safety help unless the Colts are in the red zone — and then all bets are off. However, out in the field, look for the Saints to use their zone pressure schemes (which can become exotic under Williams) to try and force Peyton Manning to throw the ball blindly with zone defenders dropping into passing lanes and undercutting receivers with help over the top.
4 Where’s the love for Drew Brees?
I understand the Colts are favored, and I also understand that Manning deserves all the hype he gets, but let’s not forget about Brees. He has the ability to put the ball where he wants it, and it shows in the way he challenges defensive backs. The fade, the fade stop and the inside vertical seam all are big plays in the Saints’ offense because Brees can throw the ball away from the defender — and his receivers can go up and get the football. If there’s one quarterback who can keep pace with Manning — and match him on the scoreboard — it’s Brees.
5. Are we selling the Colts’ defense short?
Outside of Freeney, it seems that media coverage on the Colts’ defense has gone silent. Just like the Saints, they’re a good — but not a great -- defense. However, they play with great speed off the ball, do a great job shedding blocks and getting to the ball carrier and have enough playmakers in the back end who fit their scheme, which is a mix of Tampa 2, Cover3 and man-to-man — along with their pressure packages. And keep an eye on safeties Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea, who might be the most underrated combo in the league. They’ll have to continue to make plays.
6. What can we expect from Sean Payton’s game plan?
I like to think that Saints RB Pierre Thomas will be a major attraction in the New Orleans scheme, but we’ll have a good idea of what type of game we’ll see from an offensive perspective on the first two series from Payton. Running the ball and controlling the clock sound nice, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Saints spread the field, align in their stack-and-bunch looks and run the combination routes that have produced free runners down the field all season. The Saints may try to jump out early with a big play.
7. Do the Colts have to alter their offensive game plan?
The Colts haven’t changed and won’t change for one game. They are basic to a fault when it comes to personnel, as they run their entire offense from two personnel groupings: Zebra (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) and Ace (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB). They’ll add some window dressing to those personnel groupings by their alignments, but the routes and how they run them will be the same thing we’ve seen all year from them on tape. Don’t expect it to change. Although they’re not considered exotic, they’re the best at what they do.
8. Why is it so hard to game plan Manning?
Because he can beat you in so many ways. You show pressure, he exposes your corners and safeties. You show coverage, and he has no issue throwing underneath and working the ball down the field. It isn’t surprising to see defensive coordinators and players shaking their heads after a Colts scoring drive because there isn’t a sure-fire way to game plan against the Colts QB. If you plan on taking something away, he’ll find another option to win with.
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