Sports commentary: 'Offensive' Super Bowl awaits fans

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- On Sunday, NFL fans will unite to eat hot wings, chips and salsa and many other party favorites.

They will unite to cheer in adulation and to scream in disbelief.

The nation will divide into two camps - New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts - when the Super Bowl kicks off at about 5:30 p.m. locally.

The old adage, "Defense wins championships," conjures images of suffocating units stifling the run and punishing quarterbacks when they drop back to pass. It is unlikely we will see this during the Super Bowl's 44th edition played in Miami.

Both the Colts' and the Saints' defenses ranked in the bottom half in yards allowed during the regular season. Couple that with the fact the Saints own the NFL's best statistical offense and the Colts are seventh in points scored, and the scoreboard should explode Sunday night.

Some strengths and weaknesses counter each other, however, so what happens in a few matchups will be key to winning the NFL title.

<b>Saints offense vs. Colts defense:</b> Everyone knows the Saints can throw the ball with quarterback Drew Brees slinging the pigskin. What many fail to notice is the Saints run the ball effectively, too.

The Saints finished sixth in rushing yards in the regular season, but the reason no one notices the ground game is because New Orleans doesn't use one dominant back. Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas both had more than 100 carries this year, and neither eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. Yet those two, joined with Reggie Bush, keep defenses from playing against the pass all the time.

The two backs the Colts will need to focus on are Thomas and Bush. Bush is a speedster who can score touchdowns on any play, and Thomas displays a good balance of strength and speed. Helping Bush and Thomas will be Pro Bowl linemen Jonathan Stinchcomb, Jonathan Goodwin and Jahri Evans.

To contain the outside, All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney will likely need to occupy Stinchcomb and/or Evans. If he does, this allows linebackers Philip Weaver or Gary Brackett to get to the outside to contain the speedy Saints backs. Freeney, however, is battling an ankle injury, which may limit how effectively he plays.

Of course, the defensive coaching staff for the Colts will spend numerous hours trying to figure out how to contain the quick passing offense of the Saints. The most frustrating assignment will be containing wide receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson and Bush. Coaches can call the perfect defense, but the jumping and athletic ability of the three can still grab Brees' passes.
To counter, Colts cornerbacks Jacob Lacey, Kelvin Hayden and Jerraud Powers need to bump the wide receivers off the routes at the line and throw off the offense's rhythm. This should limit the gains the Saints can garner.

If Freeney and fellow sackmaster defensive end Robert Mathis can get to Brees on a regular basis, this will also disrupt timing.

<b>Colts offense vs. Saints defense:</b> The Colts' offense defies conventional wisdom. To win championships, teams usually need to run the ball effectively, but Indianapolis ranked dead last in rushing yards this year.

The Colts get away with it behind the strong arm of Peyton Manning, who might be the best quarterback of this generation. Manning's uncanny ability to read defenses and a solid offensive line keep the Colts from long-yardage situations caused by sacks.

Manning always checks to another play if he doesn't like what he sees and displays the ability to make the short, quick throws across the middle and also the deep throws.

As difficult as it will be, the Saints absolutely must get pressure on Manning to have a chance. Sacking Manning provided the reason the New York Jets led at halftime of the American Football Conference Championship.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams must disguise his blitzes, and fortunately his unit thrives on aggressiveness. They live on turnovers, as evidenced by the five they forced during their National Football Conference Championship victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Blitzes from cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer and safeties Darren Sharper and Roman Harper could force Manning to make a mistake.

<b>Special teams:</b> In the return game, New Orleans owns the advantage as Courtney Roby has returned at least two kicks of 97 yards and scored one touchdown. The Saints will unlikely get much from the punt return unit. They haven't all year. The Colts, behind Chad Simpson are ordinary in the return game, but they own a slight advantage in kicking field goals behind Matt Stover.

<b>What will happen:</b> Both offenses pose many problems to opposing defenses. Since the Colts must guard against the run, Brees can carve up the middle with quick passes. In order to disrupt the Colts' offense, the Saints must blitz secretively to pressure Manning.

The latter is the hardest task since Manning studies so much film and knows defenses' tendencies. He will be able to diagnose blitzes and get the ball out to wide receivers Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark with ease.

The Colts defense is a bend-but-don't-break unit who will surrender a few field goals, so it will be difficult for the Saints to keep up.

The Colts, who won the last Super Bowl played in Miami, will once again leave South Florida victorious. <b>Colts 35, Saints 20</b>

Page last updated Thu February 4th, 2010 at 11:04