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Indianapolis Colts Look to Close the Deal with Super Bowl Victory

Indianapolis Colts fans all around the Circle City have a nervous confidence going into this weekend’s Super Bowl matchup against the New Orleans Saints. They have played out this game in their heads over and over again ever since Garrett Hartley hit the 40-yard field goal in overtime of the NFC Championship against the Minnesota Vikings. Even when cerebrally simulating the Super Bowl cautiously, all things point towards the Blue Horseshoes bringing home the Lombardi Trophy.

However, most fans in the Indianapolis area are still a bit guarded. After all, it was only two years ago when Peyton Manning‘s little brother Eli lead the New York Giants to an improbable victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Even though most signs point to the Colts being the better team, it really comes down to who plays better Sunday night. Unless you’re the Vikings, in which case it doesn’t matter how well you play, you’re going to lose.

I know you’ve had two weeks’ worth of hyperbole and countless articles describing why this will happen and that won’t, but stay with me. I assure you that all you will need is just one more article to have you ready come game time. So, what are the key-match ups and points of interest for the Colts and Saints in Super Bowl XLIV? Let’s get at it…

Experience:

One of the few things I have in common with Saints quarterback Drew Brees is that neither of us has ever played in a Super Bowl. In fact, the New Orleans squad only has four active players with Super Bowl experience. In stark contrast, the Indianapolis Colts have over 20 players with Super Sunday hardware. These aren’t journeymen and veterans holding on for one more taste of the big show either. Most of the Colts who played in Miami three years ago are important parts of the Indianapolis football machine.

Not only is experience important come game time, but the two weeks of practice, travel and media beforehand can take their toll. Watching the Colts these past two weeks has been like watching someone replace the paper in your office printer-mundane and uneventful. The big boys from the Big Easy have had a few more smiles and awe struck twinkles in their eyes. Kudos to them for enjoying this ride, but Indianapolis sports fans know the Colts would rather be smiling after the game is over.

Quick Start:

When you have two of the best offensive teams in all of the NFL facing off, getting out to a quick start is not essential. However, it could prove incredibly beneficial. If the Colts can nail a touchdown or two against the wall in the first quarter it might be all she wrote for the Saints. Likewise, if the Saints rush to an early lead, they can show Indy that they are ready for a 60-minute slugfest.

Even though it would be great for the Colts to get out to an early lead, it is not all that likely. In Indy’s first two playoff games this post season, Peyton Manning has used the first quarter to feel out the opposing defense. He doesn’t mind taking a few lumps early in order to learn how the Saints will defend. As long as the Colts don’t turn the ball over during these test drives, they will be comfortable with the game’s happenings.

The one difference between the Colts first two playoff games and the Super Bowl is that leading up to this game, they faced two of the toughest defenses in the league.In contrast, the Saints ranked 26th in overall defense.

A quick start is more important for New Orleans than it is the Colts. While I don’t believe the game will be as close as many have predicted, if it does come down to a late fourth quarter possession I like Peyton & Co.’s chances. During the regular season, Indianapolis won 14 games. Of those 14 victories, seven of them were fourth quarter come from behind victories. You can practice late game drives all year long, but until you get into that real life situation, you don’t know what you are up against.

Colts First Quarter Running Game:

If Joseph Addai and Donald Brown can move the chains early on Sunday, and keep the New Orleans defense honest, things could get ugly fast. Peyton is deadliest when his play action has to be respected–which is really all the time anyway. A couple of decent, to big runs will keep the Saints guessing. And, guessing against an offensive guru like Manning is not a favorable matchup for anyone.

Establishing the run could also be a big theme throughout the game. Everyone in America wants to see Peyton and Brees go back and forth all night long with big play after big play. What everyone fails to realize is that Peyton Manning is more interested in winning than gaudy numbers. If that means handing off 30 times, so be it.

Also, the best way to defend a high-powered offense like New Orleans is to keep them off the field. Eating up clock and holding time of possession could go a long way in winning SB 44. While they might not play the biggest part in the Indianapolis offensive scheme, the Colts running backs can set the table for a big day in Miami.

Final 120 Seconds of the First Half:

The Colts have been amazing while running the two-minute drill this season. However, as good as Indianapolis has been, the Saints have been better. During the regular season, the Saints scored 77 points in the final two minutes of the first half, the Colts put up 62 points.

However, during the playoffs Indianapolis has won a game in the final two minutes of the first half–they hung 14 points on Baltimore after the two-minute warning–and took control of a second game–against the tough Jets defense in the AFC Championship game the Colts finally broke through with a touchdown strike inside of two minutes which started a streak of 24 unanswered points.

New Orleans knows this and will do everything they can to control the clock and the ball during the final frame of the first half. Whichever team has possession during this time has a great opportunity to seize momentum heading into the locker rooms.

Dwight Freeney’s Ankle:

Maybe you’ve heard something about this already, but apparently Dwight Freeney has injured his ankle and is questionable for Sunday’s Super Bowl. In all seriousness, as bad as this injury may be it is not a make or break for the Indianapolis Colts.

Dwight Freeney is one of the most beloved Colts in franchise history, and he is sort of like human security blanket for Hoosiers everywhere. You just feel better when # 93 is rushing the opposing quarterback. That said, he is no longer the only standout on this underrated defensive unit. Yes, his presence will not only add more pressure to Brees and require an extra blocker to stay home and protect, but even without the big man, the Colts will make do.

There are plenty of intangibles that come with Freeney’s freakish spin moves, but from a strictly numbers standpoint, Freeney has been held sack less all post season. Everyone feels he will play some sort of a limited role on Sunday, and he definitely won’t be 100 percent, but that just opens the door for other players to shine. Robert Mathis would be the number one guy on almost any other defensive unit and Freeney’s main replacement, Raheem Brock is no slouch.

With all the questions this injury has created, I can think of at least one positive that has come along with it. Since news of this injury hit the media last Sunday during the NFL Pro Bowl, it has far and away been the biggest story leading up to the Super Bowl. Freeney has spent the majority of his time between a hyperbolic chamber and speaking into reporter’s recorders.

Dwight Freeney has taken more than his fair share of media attention and pressure off his fellow teammates. After Pierre Garçon had a break out game in the AFC Championship–and his family ties to the devastated nation of Haiti–I would have all but guaranteed he would be the focal point of media coverage. Instead, he has slipped into the background and can go about his business of preparing for the biggest game of his life.

I think Freeney has even taken some attention away from Peyton Manning. The best part is, Dwight has been more than willing to except it, and seems to have handled it smashingly. With all eyes on the defensive end, the rest of the Colts were allowed to go about their routine like business as usual.

Dallas Clark:

The Indianapolis Colts tight end could have, and I believe will have, one of the biggest games of his career. Of course, it is all dependent on how the Saints game plan.

When the Saints hosted the New England Patriots earlier this season, the New Orleans defense doubled Randy Moss and Wes Welker and told Tom Brady that he would have to find other ways to beat them. Figuring that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will scheme in much the same fashion, it is safe to say Reggie Wayne will be in tight coverage all day long.

But, who will they look to cover second? Yes, Dallas Clark is a good candidate for similar treatment, but I am thinking the Saints go a different way.

For two weeks, everyone has been talking about how Pierre Garçon could be the X factor. I highly doubt a defensive coordinator wants to be shown up by the media and common fans, so I see Pierre getting more attention than usual. This will open up the middle for Dallas all day long.

Also, the New Orleans Saints have not seen anything like Dallas all season. The closest NFC tight ends with Clark-like ability would have to be Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons. The big differences are Witten has Tony Romo throwing the ball, not Peyton Manning. Although Gonzalez was once the premiere tight end in all of football, he is no longer the same player. The Tony Gonzales of four or five years ago is highly comparable to the Dwight Clark of today, not what he has left in the tank down in Atlanta.

If the Colts do win and anyone named something other than Peyton Manning is awarded the game’s MVP, it will go to Dallas Clark. The Colts # 44 comes up big in Super Bowl 44, sometimes these things just write themselves.

The Officiating:

It is a good rule of thumb to try to pressure, disrupt and hit Peyton Manning as much as possible. It is a bad rule of thumb to announce to the media that you are instructing your defensive players to get after Manning as much as possible, regardless if he is still holding the ball or not. See, Gregg Williams might think he is inspiring his players to get tough and physical, but you can’t announce that to the world.

Now that everyone knows your plan, I find it highly unlikely the NFL will just stand idly by as you try to attack its marquee player, Peyton Manning. At some point this past week, I am sure commissioner Roger Goodell has made a call or two instructing the Super Bowls officiating crew to take control and show the players who is in charge.

A tightly officiated game favors the Colts, who have shown great discipline all season long, and it is not the best idea to give Peyton Manning extra yards and plays.

Cautiously optimistic, I say this one ends Colts 38 Saints 24. And not a, “How did the Colts win by two touchdowns” type of game, but a convincing two touchdown victory. There has been a feeling in Indianapolis all season long that this Colts team has been running on idle for much of the season. This Sunday, they will drop the hammer and leave no question as to who is the best team in the NFL.

If you still haven’t made plans for the Super Bowl, or just want to waste a bit more time at work today, checkout my Indianapolis Colts Fandom and Super Bowl Party Planning Guide. No matter the result this weekend, come on back Monday where we will either celebrate or commiserate the game, and season that was.