MIAMI – Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints’ top-ranked offence will be like nothing the Indianapolis Colts have faced in these playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Saints’ big-play defence has demonstrated a penchant for making clutch stops and producing game-changing turnovers all season long. Just ask Brett Favre.
The Peyton Manning-led Colts are five-point favourites in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Yet the Saints have shown – during a 13-3 regular season and a pair of playoff wins over teams with great quarterbacks – that they have what it takes to bring New Orleans its first NFL championship on Sunday night.
“We’re playing and expecting to win,” tight end Jeremy Shockey said this week. “It would be great for the city.”
Indeed, it’s about more than matchups and statistics. Football is an emotional game, and the Saints are motivated by the higher calling of bringing happiness to a fan base that has seen a lot of losing in the previous 42 years and a lot of suffering since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The difference this year is that New Orleans has the talent on both sides of the ball to make its emotional edge matter.
The Saints passed for 272.2 yards per game – the fourth-highest average in the league – and did so without relying on a particular receiver. Marques Colston led the Saints with 1,074 yards receiving and nine TD catches, but the six-foot-four target doesn’t have to have a big game for New Orleans to win. Deep threats Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem can strike without warning.
If star tight end Jeremy Shockey is covered, Brees won’t hesitate to throw to tight end David Thomas.
Lance Moore, the Saints’ leading receiver last season, can give defences fits in the slot.
“I love my receiving corps. As a group, they are the best in the league,” Brees said. “Each one of them has some very unique strengths.”
Reggie Bush had 47 catches during the regular season and didn’t just grab short tosses coming out of the back field. He’ll line up in the slot or out wide.
Pierre Thomas can turn a screen pass into a big play as well as anyone. Exhibit A would be his slashing 38-yard touchdown against Minnesota in the NFC title game.
The Colts faced two of the NFL’s youngest and least experienced quarterbacks in their previous two post-season wins.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez don’t posses the experience or resume of Brees, who has thrown for more yards than any NFL quarterback during the past four seasons.
Although Brees’ passing total dropped from 5,069 yards to 4,388 this season, it wasn’t because he got worse. The Saints’ running game got better – sixth in the NFL with 131.6 yards per game – allowing them to resort to a clock-killing ground game after they’d piled up double-digit leads.
Including the playoffs, 10 of the Saints’ 15 wins have come by double digits. That may seem odd for a team with a defence that ranked 25th in the league in yards allowed, but that same defence has a knack for making critical stops deep and forcing turnovers. The Saints have seven takeaways in their two playoff wins so far.
Even if Manning avoids interceptions, receivers and running backs must hold onto the ball. Saints defenders hit hard and rip at balls like bullies on a playground.
“All my life I’ve been trying to speed players up, toughen players up, nasty players up,” defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams said.
It shows. His defence doesn’t mind risking a 15-yard roughing penalty in the pursuit of rattling a quarterback’s bones, as Anthony Hargrove did two weeks ago when he picked up Favre and drove him into the turf.
Manning doesn’t get sacked often. It doesn’t mean he won’t get hit.
The Saints can find a way to slow him enough to let Brees and the offence score the most – and bring the Lombardi Trophy to the Big Easy.