Super Bowl XLIV: sneak peek

With Super Bowl Sunday approaching, let’s start to get into the game plans, schemes and notes for both the Colts and Saints as we begin the hype before kickoff. The NFP will be in Miami all week delivering notes from media day and around town to keep you updated on all topics.

Today, let’s take a sneak peek at some early pregame notes.

…The Dwight Freeney injury that’s now being reported as a torn ankle ligament is big, but when do we see the effects if Freeney can’t go on Sunday? I’ve never been a believer that missing one player on a defense can alter an entire game plan, but I do look at situational football when it comes to injuries. From my perspective, we need to watch how the Colts attack Drew Brees and the Saints on third downs if Freeney is on the sideline in street clothes. The beauty of playing Cover 2 on third-down situations in Indy is the rush the Colts get off of the edge from Freeney and Robert Mathis. But when you take Freeney out of the equation, the Saints can use the running back in scan protection to chip on Mathis before he gets out into his route. If Freeney sits, don’t be surprised to see the Colts use some forms of zone pressure to get after Brees. You can’t him sit back there — as he will rip apart that Colts secondary.

…Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was in the news this past week for stating that his defense is going to leave some “remember me hits” on Peyton Manning. I supported it, and there were plenty other opinions written about it as well, but let’s be honest here: The Saints aren’t going to pressure Manning every time he drops back to pass. One tape I believe the Colts should study is the Saints-Patriots game from the regular season. New Orleans played a lot of coverage vs. Brady and the Pats, and this is something I think we can expect to see when the Colts are in obvious passing situations. New Orleans can play Cover 2, 1 Robber (rover between the hashes) or 2-Man. Williams will use his “Ruby” (3 DL, 2 LB, 6 DBs) in this situation and drop eight into coverage — forcing the ball to be thrown underneath where his guys can rally, make a tackle and get off the field.

…Who’s going to match up with Dallas Clark? I like the idea of bringing free safety Darren Sharper down over the top of Clark, but when you do that, you’re taking away his playmaking ability in the middle of the field. The Saints don’t have a cornerback in the mold of the Jets’ Darrelle Revis, so they need someone who can get from the middle of the field to the top of the numbers on any outside vertical route thrown to Reggie Wayne or Pierre Garcon. Clark could be that player who causes a major issue for Williams' game plan.

…Don’t forget about Brees. I understand the talk about Manning and the Colts, but let’s not forget that the Saints are one of the few teams that can keep pace with Indy because they have quick-strike ability and they can spread the ball around to multiple weapons just like the Colts. I like the Indy defense: It’s athletic up front, can run to the football and is better than we think in the secondary, but they aren’t one of the top defenses in the league. Brees will have opportunities to throw the ball down the field, and like we’ve seen all season long, he can put the ball wherever he wants -- especially on routes outside the numbers where he throws the ball to a spot that only the receiver can get. Brees can have a big night against this defense.

…The Saints need a big play from Reggie Bush on Sunday night. After exploding against the Cardinals in the Saints’ first playoff victory, he was average in terms of total yards against the Vikings. Bush is at his best on offense when he can draw the best matchup, but against Cover 2 teams, there are no real matchups outside of the Mike Backer running against the vertical seam down the middle of the field. This defense is designed to force players to catch the ball in front of defenders. But the Saints have to find a way to implement Bush in their game plan, especially the running game, when the Colts show a seven-man front. Get him to the edge of the defense in the outside zone game and use him out of the backfield on the “Rail Route.” This route, which is no different than the TE or slot seam, allows Bush to test the middle of the defense, split the safeties and outrun a Mike Backer to a point 20 yards down the field between the hashes. Indy will let him catch the ball in the flat all night. The Saints have to find a way to get him in space.

…Let’s not worry about the Colts’ running game because as much as we want to try to interject that Indy needs to control the clock and set up manageable third downs, it doesn’t matter. Joseph Addai will get his touches — and Manning will check to the run at the line of scrimmage if he sees what he likes from the Saints pre-snap look — but this Indy team uses the 3-step passing game as its run package. Plus, committing to the run takes the ball out of Manning’s hands and also takes the ball out of Wayne’s, Clark’s, Garcon’s and Collie’s hands. Indy was dead last in the league in rushing during the regular season, but when you watch them play, it doesn’t even creep into your mind because the Colts can eat up the clock and control the flow of a ballgame with Manning in the pocket.

…Red-zone scoring will be big in Miami, and it usually is in any postseason game. The field shrinks, the routes have to be run quicker and with less room to work, and as I’ve noticed this season, plenty of teams will once again play Cover 2 or Cover 4 inside the 20-yard line. A field goal is a win for the defense, and both units in Indy and New Orleans will play with an agenda to force the ball to the flat. In Cover 2, that essential means a 2-under, 5 deep look with the corners and the Mike backer dropping to the goal line. And, in Cover 4, the secondary will form a 4-across look and pass off any crossing routes to each other. Have to score touchdowns in the red zone.

Check back daily with the NFP for Super Bowl XLIV coverage.

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