As I wrote earlier this week, I think we’re in store for the first aerial shootout in Super Bowl history. Though the media’s been working tirelessly to promote the Saints and Colts defenses as formidable units this week, I truly don’t think we’ll notice either team’s D very much, if at all on Sunday.
Or the punters, for that matter. Hell, we might not hear Thomas Morstead or Pat McAfee’s names all evening.
And that’s a good thing.
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We, as football fans, have waited too long for an offensive fireworks show in the Super Bowl. In 43 games, we’ve never had a pure offensive showcase. One-way? Sure, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Doug Williams and countless others have had their all-time performances. But a pingpong match of dueling high-powered offenses going back and forth? We haven’t had one of those yet.
Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will be the first opposing quarterbacks with 4,000-plus passing yards in the regular season to meet in the Super Bowl. The two combined for 8,714 yards, and there’s no reason to think either will take a mulligan on Sunday night.
Heck, we deserve this. And with these two teams, with these two coaches, and with these two very special quarterbacks — we’re going to get it.
No doubt, Super Bowl XLIV is going to be a high-scoring affair. The offenses are both going to get theirs. But in the end, it’ll be the Indianapolis Colts hoisting Lombardi’s Trophy. Here are five reasons why: 1. The MVP
As Alex Marvez boldly put it in his column this week, Peyton Manning is just one win away from wrapping up the “greatest season ever completed by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.” I’m on board with that and can’t see a scenario playing out where Manning doesn’t get that win.
No. 18 is playing at a different level right now; a level I can’t recall a quarterback — of any era, at any stage — reaching. He’s been there for months. Manning’s dissection of the Jets defense — the top- rated unit in all of the land — for 377 yards and three touchdown scores was not a typical performance from your typical hot gunslinger. It was cerebral. Manning adjusted to the Jets pressure on the fly, sacrificing a few early sacks early on for an unparalleled final 35 minutes. His ability to come to the line of scrimmage, read what the defense is both going to do and what it’s giving him, and then adjust is more than uncanny; it’s unfair.
"He’s like a coach out there in a player’s body," Jets corner Darrelle Revis said before Sunday’s Pro Bowl. "He controls the game very well. He audibles four or five times to get them in the right position for them to make the good play."
“Peyton is very smart; he dissects the defenses very quickly," Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell added. "You know you can only throw so much at him because, eventually, he’s going to get into the right check and get those guys in what they need to be in. He’s just so smart that he’s seen everything.”
To say this is Manning’s “year of destiny” would be trite, perhaps even a bit corny. But he’s too good to lose. Drew Brees may be playing out of this world, but Manning’s in an entirely different orbit at the moment. There’s truly nothing Gregg Williams’ defense can throw at him that he won’t be able to handle on Sunday.
And he’ll handle it immediately. I’ve heard scouts say that Manning reads and adjusts to things at the line of scrimmage that opposing coaching staffs wouldn’t be able to fix in entire offseasons. He’s healthy, he’s focused, and he’s determined. He also happens to be a living, breathing football machine.
And as long as he’s in the game down the stretch, I see no way he’ll allow his Colts to lose.
2. The Experience Factor
There’s something to be said for the Super Bowl experience. Playing in a big college bowl game or an early round NFL postseason contest is one thing; playing in the TV year’s highest rated slice of programming is another thing entirely. Whereas it might take the young and inexperienced Saints a few drives to get settled, the battle-tested Colts have been there and done that. And they’ve done so in Miami, no less. The Colts are staying in the same hotel they were in three years ago, many of the players are staying in the same rooms they were in three years ago, and the squad is practicing at the same facility that they did three years ago. Nearly half of the playoff roster has Super Bowl experience, with 25 of those players having been on Indy’s Super Bowl XLI winning team.
As for the Saints?
It’s the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl. Of the 27 NFL franchises that have played in this game, 19 lost in their first visit.
As for the Saints players, only four have experienced the pressures and spotlight of both the Super Bowl itself and the week that leads up to it. There’s a myriad of responsibilities that go with playing in this game — from increased media duties, to not only practicing, but living in an unknown setting for the week, to tickets and entertainment demands from friends and family.
The game, itself, is different, too. Halftime is 28 minutes long; not the usual 12. The pregame hoopla, which lasts close to a half hour, can completely drain the untrained psyche.
Of the four Saints with Super Bowl experience, Randall Gay is the seasoned vet, with two appearances as a New England Patriot. Darren Sharper hasn’t been to the Big Dance since his rookie season, 12 years ago. Meanwhile, the other two players who’ve been to the Bowl, fullbacks Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel, were role players for New England in ’07. Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey spent Super Bowl XLII in a luxury box drinking beers, out with a broken leg while his Giants took on the Patriots.
The Colts are treating Super Bowl XLIV as a business trip. The gloss and glow of “just being there” is long gone. They’ve been there and they’ve done that. They know what needs to be done and they’re going to do it. ‘Nuff said.
The Saints? Well, who knows? Their colors may be black and gold, but they look awfully green to me.
3. The Chess Match
The Saints defense is like a Vegas high roller. It gambles, it parties, and it’s willing to take some losses early on in exchange for the big win at the end. Against 30 NFL teams, Gregg Williams’ blitz-happy defensive style makes sense. But, if there is one team in the league that would welcome such a gameplan, it’s Indianapolis.
The offensive line, which amazingly features three undrafted players as starters, gave up only 13 sacks all season. Peyton Manning, as immobile as he might appear to the naked eye, is as shifty as they come when under pressure. With New Orleans sending up to six or seven guys at once, Manning will have just enough time and just enough foresight to hit one of his countless receiving targets in one-on-one coverage.
From there? Good luck, Tracy Porter.
Williams’ comments on getting to Manning were blown a bit out of proportion by a bored and grasping media. But after the NFL’s czar of officiating, the esteemed Mike Pereira, came out and publicly acknowledged that the zebras missed two blatant roughing the passer calls in the conference championship round you better believe the officials will have those flags ready in their holsters. The last thing the NFL wants is an injury to Manning in this one. The second-to-last thing the NFL wants is to see Curtis Painter anywhere near under center.
The Saints defense makes its bones on pressured quarterbacks being bruised and battered, making bad decisions in key moments, and forcing turnovers.
Manning’s line (and the officials) will protect him from assault, he’s too good to make a bad decision when it matters, and he simply doesn’t throw interceptions.
When you break it down that way, it’s checkmate for the Indy O. Send six, seven, eight guys. Heck, send everyone. Manning and the offensive line welcome such heat.
4. The Unknown Army
The Colts start eight undrafted players. Three of them — middle linebacker Gary Brackett, defensive tackle Daniel Muir, and strong safety Melvin Bullitt — star on the defense. This is a unit that thrives on being doubted and, like Manning, is always adjusting on the fly.
When 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders went down earlier this season, the Colts did not miss a beat. Antoine Bethea’s been arguably the best free safety in all of football this season. The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, crumbled when they lost Troy Polamalu for the year.
For as wonderful a player as Dwight Freeney is, too much is being made of his potential absence. On another team and in another year, the loss of the pass-rush specialist would be crippling.
But not with this squad.
Don’t get me wrong, Raheem Brock, Robert Mathis, Eric Foster, Fili Moala and Kenyunta Dawson will all need to step up their games if Freeney’s out.
I just have zero doubt that they will.
5. What, Me Worry?
It’s funny how things work out sometimes, isn’t it? Had the Colts been 18-0 heading into Super Bowl XLIV, there’d be a much different vibe in Miami this week. There’d be online polls about the best team ever. There’d be an endless loop of highlights from the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLII collapse. There’d be a lot more Mercury Morris and the ’72 Dolphins on the scene.
But the Colts are 16-2, not 18-0. They lost to the Jets at home in Week 16 and to Buffalo on the road a week later. Instead of all the pressure and superfluous conversation about “the first 19-0 season ever (!!!!)”, there’s only football to worry about.
Perhaps Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell, universally killed by the media and fans following that Week 16 loss, were right all along. Indianapolis is rested, for the most part healthy, and completely focused on the task at hand.
Caldwell is known to cite his favorite poem, "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley: "In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud, Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed."
Whether William Ernest Henley or Don Henley is your lyricist of choice, the truth remains: This is a determined team with just one goal in mind.
It’s the same goal they had in the preseason when they lost 18-17 to the Lions, and it’s the same goal they had when they were blown out by the lowly Bills in January.
That goal is to win Super Bowl XLIV.
A goal that I have no doubt they will achieve on Sunday night.
Schrager 2010 Playoffs Record: 8-2
Schrager Super Bowl XLIV Prediction: Colts 45, Saints 35