Everyone knows that the key recipe for success and the main winning formula in the NFL is found in the ingredient – balance, which is to run the ball, and on the other side, to stop it. Everything relies and hinges on those two factors(?), as the run department tells a whole lot about your team and how it will do. You have to shutdown the run on defense and run the ball effectively on offense, it’s that simple, so that’s what they say, right? Defense wins championships and offense sells tickets, you’ve heard the saying many times, on different occasions, by many people, ranging from the usual expert, all the way to your neighbor next-door that does not even know what team Reggie Wayne plays for. In this showdown, it will be a different story, so, while this game has “classic” written all over it, lets go ahead and breakdown each position and look at who has the edge ultimately. New Orleans and Indianapolis both will take a different approach towards how they score points and move the ball, and stop opposing offenses, so look for both teams to score a lot of points not only when they have the ball, but also on defense/special teams, will both these QB’s, who may be very accurate, tend to be a bit too aggressive at times; so you may see a defensive touchdown(s) run back to the house (both teams have speedy, strong hitting defenders). Offensively, both teams will showcase their highlight, game-breaking playmakers, visibly including them in a variety of ways. With the edge going to Indy because they’re at home (1999, last time a SB Champ lost an opener – home teams fare well), I will also show you why the Colts are the better team overall, also on top of that, they will win the game by at least two scores.
Scouting Report: Who has the Edge and Advantage?
QB: Drew Brees – Peyton Manning Advantage COLTS
Manning is at home, has better weapons around him, and can read a defense just as easy/good as Blake Kelley reads his routine (everyday) picture book at high school. Manning makes a lot happen at the line of scrimmage and will not have to deal with crowd noise, like Brees will, adjusting to the noise and defensive coverages and schemes of Dungy’s D (switches it up). Also, Manning faces a softer defense and won’t have to worry about blitzes as much as Brees will have to.
RB: Reggie Bush/Duece McAllister – Joseph Addai Advantage SAINTS
New Orleans has the best 1-2 punch in the NFL, with McAllister as the power back and Bush as the explosive threat, catching and rushing the football. Bush poses mismatches for any team that steps on the field against him, and this time is no different. Look for Bush to light up the Colts defense for some big plays and McAllister to make some key first downs in short yardage situation. Addai will run all over and around this Saints defense, along with catching passes on short plays and screens from Manning. Addai’s big game will be enough to help the Colts win, but I give the edge to the Saints in this area because of what Bush can do in the slot.
WR/TE: Reggie Wayne/Marvin Harrison/Dallas Clark – Marques Colston/Devery Henderson – Big Advantage COLTS
Not only does Manning have two great receivers to throw to on any down, at any given moment, he also has OSU Rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez and TE Dallas Clark to pass the pigskin around to. I don’t see the Saints changing up, starting a trend on stopping/containing the pass here in this game. They did nothing to improve the secondary in the off-season and they have no answer for the Colts WR’s. Indy has the best pass catchers in the game and Clark is very underrated, as he will slip by a defense for a short or big gain more times than not. N.O. has Colston, a young, polished, big target for Brees, and speedster Devery Henderson (X-Factor), who average close to 24 yards a reception last season. With these two, the Colts will have a hard time stopping â€˜em because they will be so hard pressed to find Bush in the pass game, putting two defenders on him at all times. If Bush makes his impact known early in the aerial attack, these Saints could shock the Colts. Overall, I expect Indy’s WR’s to be too much, while New Orleans’ weapons will be contained and confused by the “give up the short, stop the long” pass defense of Indy (led by Freeney and Sanders).
OL: Saints – COLTS – Advantage COLTS
Sure All-Pro OT Tarik Glenn retired and the line is getting older, but the Colts have Manning under center, Ugoh (Arkansas), a worthy enough replacement at LT (traded 3 picks to get him, including a future first), and a great center in Jeff Saturday. The Colts barely give up sacks and the Saints do not blitz a whole lot. Blocking DE’s Will Smith and Charles Grant (disruptive forces) will be a hassle, but look for the Colts to collectively as a unit, help double them and for offensive coordinator Tom Moore to cancel out the pass rush with some efficient play calling, by using the draw play (check SB XLI). Last year the Colts only gave up a total of only 18 sacks, the best in the league. On the other hand, New Orleans has a Pro Bowl mauler in Jamaal Brown, but other than him, their line is suspect. They are a better run-blocking unit, though their pass blocking is not up to par and at the same level as Indy’s is.
DL: SAINTS (Will Smith and Charles Grant) – Colts (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) – Slight Advantage SAINTS
Smith and Grant are the best 1-2 combo at DE in the game today, so expect for them to get some heavy pressure, bringing the heat on passing downs. Both of these linemen are All-Pro selections and they can also stop the run at a premium. Their presence has to big for the Saints to win. The defense starts and ends with â€˜em and they should make a difference at some point in the game, the earlier, being the better. Colts pass rushers Freeney and Mathis will get Brees out of rhythm, flushing him out of the pocket, forcing him to throw it away, or up for grabs, from time to time. They are thorns in the side for opposing offensive coordinators, who miss scheduled sleep, staying up late at nite, studying their technique and play. Look for the interior DL of Indy to have a tough time stuffing the run because of injuries (McFarland) and lack of depth. The inside of the Saints line is average at best, with the middle being an open run way for Addai to break a big one. Holes should be open for both teams up the guy, though you cannot count of either team’s QB having too much time back there.
LB: Saints – COLTS – Advantage – by default COLTS
Lets just say, this position is where both these team’s weaknesses are located. With N.O. – you have Simoneau, Shanle, and Fujita, all three who are sure tacklers and have good size. They don’t make many plays; they lack speed, and don’t do so well in pass coverage. They are very average and will hurt the Saints this year. For Indy, you have Brackett, Morris, and Keiaho, three players who can run to the ball carrier and play decent drop back coverage. Keiaho is inexperienced, though he has the speed the Colts want in a LB, Morris is an underachiever, and Brackett is a captain, who leads the team on defense in the middle, calling out plays. Overall, there goes a small/slight edge to the Colts because of Brackett.
DB: Saints – COLTS – Advantage – COLTS
Here you have the Colts defensive backfield loaded with talent and speed. They don’t necessarily have the size and big boys physically, but led by All-World SS Bob Sanders, you have a hard-hitting secondary on the horizon. Marlin Jackson (X-Factor), a third year pro, is a skilled, versatile player that can play both CB and S for Indy. Kelvin Hayden (SB Int TD) is a smart player that can cover well and Antoine Bethea (6th round draft pick of 2006) has a knack for the ball and can make plays in bunches. He was a good find late in the draft and brings tremendous value, along with consistency, to a Colts secondary that is definitely improving. Though they lost some starting CB’s from last year, they can easily replace â€˜em and overcome the losses with the young talented group in the making. With the Saints Mike McKenzie leads the secondary with a veteran poise and good size to stop most of the WR’s in this league. He is the only “credible” and consistent defensive back on this team. Fred Thomas, Roman Harper, Jason Craft, and Jason David are veterans that are serviceable at best. Josh Bullocks is a nice young player that should contribute more this year for the Saints. Out of Nebraska, he was chosen in the early second round of the ’05 NFL Draft, and has started his whole career. He is a good complement to the old secondary of New Orleans. Overall, I like Indy’s DB’s better because they are more aggressive and talented period. They also have Bob Sanders and more physical players that can jar a ball loose with a “licking”.
ST: Saints – COLTS – Advantage – COLTS (Close)
It all comes down to Adam Vinatieri, who is probably the most clutch out of all the kickers in the NFL All-Time. He can boom long field goals with amazing accuracy and win games at crunch time (won’t need to on this occasion). P Hunter Smith is also one of the best in the league. On the other side, Olindo Mare, who came over from Miami, is one of the most accurate booters in NFL history. He has lost some “boom” in his leg, but he still can kick â€˜em when it counts. Return-wise, edge goes to the Saints big-time because of Reggie Bush returning punts. Against Tampa last year he showed us his moves and why he is so dangerous, when he entered pay dirt, scoring a key touchdown in a divisional win last season. Every time he touches the ball, he’s a threat to go all the way. Also, on top of that, the Colts (Remember – opening kickoff – by a guy named of Devin Hester) are awful stopping returns, so this may be a match-up that New Orleans can use/work to their advantage, exploiting the weakness of Indy. The Saints can turn the Special Teams edge of the Colts around by returning a kick back for six points, having Coach Dungy shake his head in disbelief. Special Teams will play a key part in which team may have the advantage in the 1st half, when the game’s close, for the moment.
Coaching: Saints – COLTS – Advantage – COLTS (Close)
1st year Head Coach Sean Payton did as good as a job of any 1st year coach ever, if I can recall, all the way back to the days of 49ers coach George Seifert and Colts Coach Bill McCafferty. He was brought in to turn around, at the time, a horrible franchise/team that had won nothing but criticism. The roster was all over the place and the defense was erratic. But with a little bit of time last year, he put the pieces of the puzzle together. Payton, an offensive genius, has a creative mind when it comes to getting playmakers like Reggie Bush and Marques Colston involved. Offensively, not many compare to him, unless you’re going to talk Tom Moore, who has been around for a long, long, long time. Manning and Moore is a dream match and they work out the offense to perfection. They see eye-to-eye and a dangerous combo together making, calling out plays. Back to Payton, what he did was remarkable, and to have the Saints Super Bowl contenders in one year, that’s it, was incredible and shocking. He is one of the top coaches, but when it comes to the top, look no further than Tony Dungy. Dungy is a quiet leader and has a very humble character. The former Pittsburgh Steelers safety is the best coach in the NFL today. He has a brilliant defensive mind that ranks up near the top with the best in the league and is a great motivator, who will get players to do what they thought they could never do (unsung heroes). Dungy has overcome a lot, and will continue to lead the Colts to higher and higher goals, reaching the pinnacle, being the coach that always gets the job done. In this game, I’ll give a very small marginal edge to the Colts because of Moore’s play calling and Dungy’s adjustments on defense throughout the game (before – with films, too), along with his ability to lead by example. Payton may be a great offensive guru, but I look for Dungy to neutralize that on gameday. The coaching edge goes to the Colts because of their experience and of course, they’re defending Super Bowl Champs.
Intangibles: SAINTS – Colts – Advantage – SAINTS
When I look at intangibles, as many pundits call it, the Saints have the edge because of hunger, they have nothing to lose, and they are on the road in a hostile environment (love to say that). They want to rebound from last year’s shellacking handed to them by the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game, and they have something to prove. They have a chip on their shoulders and want to go out like gangbusters, and beat the best. The Colts, just won the Super Bowl, and might have a bit of down year, considering history says it’s hard to repeat. I expect them to win the game but if you look at this side of the game, New Orleans will come out more aggressively and loose on the road at the RCA Dome, the house that Peyton built. So, look for N.O. to throw some punches early and pull up a couple of rabbits (tricks) out of their sleeves often, as they try to faze the Champs, giving them a worthy opponent, in a contest that may only last 4-5 rounds, if they do not jump out ahead in the 1st quarter.