Eyes in the Backfield-Saints

7 Things to Watch for in Sunday’s Colts-Saints Game

So creepy. So hard to understand.

Last week, the Colts made Andy Dalton look like Drew Brees. This week, they play Drew Brees. So yeah. Good luck with that, guys. Here’s what to watch for:

1. Watch the mirror image. They came off the Super Bowl and saw their defense regress. They won 10 games in 2010, but lost a heartbreaking first round game to an inferior team. They’ve become a largely one dimensional offense, and on defense they can’t stop the pass at all. Their entire franchise rests upon their quarterback who threw an uncharacteristically high number of interceptions in 2010.

The Colts? Nope. I’m talking about their NFC doppleganger, the Saints. The Saints ARE the Colts, only without the catastrophic injury to their Hall of Fame quarterback. They have nearly identical defensive metrics, and the only difference in the record comes down the fact that they’ve scored 29 points a game, and won a couple of close games.

2. Watch for inefficiency. The Colts run DVOA is up over 2010. Curtis Painter has been surprisingly effective at quarterback. Normally, those two components should mean a respectable offense. Even with the move to Painter, the Colts are still languishing at the bottom of the league in points and offensive efficiency. The question is why? The Colts are 30th in the NFL in first downs per game. They have the worst average starting field position in the NFL. They are 28th in drive success rate. The Colts have put together some big plays this year, mostly by Pierre Garcon. Those big plays are keeping them in games. They are prettying up some stat lines, but they are also hiding the fact that on the whole, the passing offense isn’t generating consistent drives. The Colts aren’t moving the chains and sustaining drives. Oh, they’ll hit you for a big pass interference call 40 yards downfield, or Garcon will slip behind the defense, but most of the time, the offense is bogging down too quickly. The result is an offense where no one’s numbers look to bad, but the team doesn’t score enough to win.

3.  Watch for time. Drew Brees is among the least sacked quarterbacks in the league and the Colts have one of the worst pass rushes in the league. Since Foster and Nevis went down, the Colts have only managed two sacks. Indy hasn’t forced a turnover since the first half of the Steelers game. So what do you get when you combine the Colts secondary with a defensive front that isn’t getting to the quarterback? Points. Lots and lots of them. The Colts have been ineffective blitzing in recent weeks, and if they don’t figure out some way to get their hands on Drew Brees, it’s going to be the second half of the Super Bowl all over again.

4. Watch the other ghost of playoffs past. Darren Sproles destroyed the Colts in the 2008 playoff loss in San Diego. He signed a 4 year $14 million contract to go to the Saints, where he has done a little bit of everything. He’s averaging 7 yards a carry, but only 4 carries a game. He has 39 catches already. He scored a touchdown on a punt return. In other words, he’s what Reggie Bush was supposed to be. If the Colts have any hope to win the game, they’ll have to come up with a way to keep Sproles from making a big play. The problem is that there are so many ways he can beat you, you can’t prepare for just one.

5. Watch for happy Purdue fans. Painter versus Brees! It’s a Boiler-gasm down in ol’ New Orleans! So, you are telling me that Joe Tiller recruited three NFL quarterbacks to play in West Lafayette? I’ll grant you that Kyle Orton and Curtis Painter aren’t amazing players, but someone remind me why Boiler fans were actually happen to get rid of a guy that gifted at recruiting NFL talent? Whatever. Hope you enjoyed those bowl games, Boilers. You aren’t getting back there any time soon.

6. Watch the replay. You’ll see it over and over again this weekend on the pregames and during the game. It’ll be the same thing every time. Reggie Wayne will stumble. Porter will pick off the ball. It’ll all be over. And they’ll play it again five minutes later. It will be set up as this moment of supreme meaning. It’s going to hurt every time they show it. And they are going to show it and show it and show it. Get ready now. It’s going to be a long weekend.

7. Watch for a massacre. I wish I could say that I saw some path to victory for the Colts. I don’t. Frankly, if it’s even close, the Saints should be ashamed of themselves. I can’t imagine Indy stays within 14 points. Saints 45 Colts 17.

Eyes in the Backfield-Saints

18 Things to Watch for During the Super Bowl

I’d think they’d be playing for something better, really.

Two weeks ago, the Colts punched their ticket for Miami.  Now it’s finally here, and the media attention is through the roof.  I considered not doing an Eyes in the Backfield for this game, because I figured that no more digital trees should be cut down to feed the hype machine.  Then I realized that digital trees actually hurt the environment, and that I’d be doing the world a favor by adding my long winded opinions to the mix.  So for the Colts, the city of Indianapolis, and yes, the Earth itself, I offer you this column.  Here’s what to watch for come Sunday…

1.  Watch for Wolverine.  Dwight Freeney is the big story, face it-the only story, this week.  I’m echoing the thoughts of others, but something is off.  My first clue was Jim Caldwell’s rather thorough description of the injury on Sunday night.  When have the Colts EVER given that much information that specifically about an injury.  All this started when an anonymous source tipped off Adam Schefter that Freeney popped a ligament in his ankle.  Then, all week we see him walking around in flip flops.  What?  Flip flops hurt my feet on a good day.  Now Raheem Brock announces he’ll play RDE if Freeney’s out.  Huh?  Just a hunch, friends, but I’m thinking 93 plays and plays a lot.  Otherwise, the Colts have just been extra nice to the media on Super Bowl week.  Oh, did I mention that no one has seen Polian in forever?  Hmmmm…

2.  Watch Greer.  FO’s numbers show that Saints corner Jabari Greer is significantly better than the other corners New Orleans has.  Granted, he’s no Revis, but it could lead to another quiet night out of Reggie Wayne.  I know Wayne wants to have a huge day playing his home town team in the city where he went to college, but with a bevy of deadly receivers to choose from, Peyton could be content to let Reggie Wayne occupy the Saints best corner (and maybe a safety too), and throw to Collie, Garcon, and Clark.

3.  Watch Don Brown.  The Saints are vulnerable to runs up the middle.  The Colts are excellent at runs up the middle.  Addai will get more work than Brown because of his blitz protection, but I have a sneaky suspicion that Brown is going to make one truly spectacular play in this game.  This could be one of those instances where he slams the hole and bursts for about 80 yards.  A whole season of frustration for and with the rookie could be wiped out by one big run or screen.

4.  Watch Reggie Bush. Personally, I don’t think he’ll be effective in the run game, but he’s going to try and make a play on special teams.  It might be a fumble or it might be a score, but it will be an impact play.  The only question is which team will benefit. One thing is sure, we’ll have to watch too much of a someone who is basically a big bust.  At least we know what they have in common…

5.  Watch the pick up.  The only way I can see the Saints winning this game is if they confuse the Colts line early.  Manning will need help from Addai and Clark to pick up the extra man or men the Saints might send at him.  Should the Saints show blitz and drop back into coverage, plan on watching a lot of screens to Addai.  Manning will take 4 or 5 yard gains rather than force the ball down field into extra defenders. If they do rush him, there will be plays to be had in single coverage.  If the Colts can give Manning 3 seconds, he’ll give them 6 points.

6.  Watch for a handle. My nightmare is the dreaded wide receiver fumble.  In three of the Colts’ most painful postseason losses, fumbles after catches played a critical role.  The random turnover by a wide receiver or a kick returner could prove to be back breaker in a game that promises to be high scoring.

7.  Watch for field goals.  The Saints are going to pile up yards in this game.  It’s a given, and the Colts are more than ok with it.  The key will be limiting them to field goals in the red zone.  The speed of Indy’s defense makes it difficult for teams to attack once the field grows short. Applaud every kick, Colts fans.  Each field goal attempt is a win.

8.  Watch the fatal flaws.  At this point there aren’t many left.  Caldwell might still freeze up on a key fourth down.  Stover could miss a 47 yard kick (less likely if Caldwell doesn’t freeze!).  The run game could fail to put the game away in the fourth quarter.  Those are basically the only options at this point.  Personally, I’m not much worried about any of them any more.  Any team that has gotten to the Super Bowl probably doesn’t have a fatal flaw. Indy might not win, but it’s hard to argue that we’ll have seen the culprit coming since September.

9.  Watch the warriors. Both Robert Mathis and Raheem Brock are Classic Colts at least.  Mathis has been one of the biggest clutch players in Indianapolis history.  Brock’s hustle and relentless play have made him a stalwart on the defense. Should Freeney not be able to go, the burden will fall on them to stop Drew Brees before he carves up the secondary.  The Colts aren’t likely to get more than one or two sacks, but watch for Mathis to get a strip sack in the process and for Brock to pat down a pass or two.

10.  Watch for divided loyalties.  West Lafayette is in a tizzy because no one can decide whether to root for the Colts or for ex-Boiler Drew Brees and the Saints.  Boiler fans haven’t been this torn since it was revealed that Osama Bin Laden has an engineering degree (class of ’79!).  The press will talk about what a tough week it is for the Manning family, but they have no idea how torn Curtis Painter is right now.

11.  Watch the flea flicker.  The Colts have shown great vulnerability all year to play action fakes, and allowed two of their longest pass completions of the year on flea flickers.  Knowing Payton’s penchant for the trick play, the Colts cannot over bite on runs.  If the safeties get sucked down into the box, the corners will have to do their job, or we could see a long touchdown on a trick play.  On the other hand, if the Saints run a reverse…heaven help them.

12. Watch for too soon.  Personally, I find all the talk about Peyton being the greatest of all time disturbing.  Obviously, I think he is, but such titles shouldn’t be handed over so lightly.  True, he could well complete the finest season any QB has ever had, but it seems like just yesterday everyone was calling him a choker.  I want Peyton to hang on to that title for a long time, and if the media is just going to hand it over with one more Super Bowl, what will happen if Tom Brady wins another?  Oh, yeah…right.  That’s not going to happen.  Sorry.  Never mind. I’m good with it.

13.  Watch for composure.  The Saints could jump off to an early lead of as much as two touchdowns without feeling safe. The Colts are never out of a game until the gun goes off.  We all know the comeback numbers this season, and for the last several years.  Indy is a shark.  No matter the score, when they sense blood in the water, they go on the attack.  At any point of the game, no matter if they are ahead or behind, the Colts will jump on a mistake and get the boulder rolling down hill.  The Saints are going to have to keep their poise, because the Colts’ won’t lose theirs.

14.  Watch for controversy.  In response to Tim Tebow’s truly courageous ad, NOW has contracted Mel Kiper Jr. to do an opposing spot that claims that Tebow will be such a horrible pro quarterback, that maybe his mom made the wrong choice.  Too far?  See I thought that was funny…

15.  Watch Pierre Thomas.  The Saints entire offense is built on their ability to run the ball.  When they don’t run, they don’t score.  The Colts have been strong against the run in recent weeks, but many of those teams were one dimensional.  Session, Wheeler and Brackett are going to have to make plays against the run without the normal help from the secondary.  If Thomas has a big game, the Colts are going to have trouble stopping the Saints.

16. Watch the game changer. Darren Sharper has been a force of mass destruction this year.  With 9 INTs, a fumble recovery, and three touchdowns, his penchant for big plays have fueled the Saints defense.  Manning simply cannot afford to throw the ball where he can get his hands on it.  The Saints must force turnovers to win this game, and Sharper is the most likely suspect.  If he does pick off a pass, the Colts can’t let him score with it. The Colts D has only allowed one turnover to turn into a touchdown all season, so as long as the Saints D doesn’t score, the Colts should be able to minimize the effect of a turnover.

17.  Watch Brees’s shoulder. Observers thought something might be wrong with him after the Vikings game because his ball didn’t have the same zip on it.  This story has gone way under the radar, but one good hit on him could drastically reduce his effectiveness.  If he has lost his fastball, watch for the Colts corners to attack like piranhas.  If he’s not 100%, the Saints are doomed.

18.  Watch for a dynasty.  The Colts are too locked in to go down.  Upsets happen when the favored team is unfocused or over confident.  Those are not words that have ever described the Colts.  I can’t see the Saints doing this. The Colts take home their second crown and set up a chance at a dynastic run. Indy 38 Saints 23.

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