For real this time. You can hear my interview here.
I believe it's archived at the same place, so if you missed it, go check it out later!
For real this time. You can hear my interview here.
I believe it's archived at the same place, so if you missed it, go check it out later!
I hate the extra week before the Super Bowl.
One moment everything is happening, it's all action and excitement, and then a giant H-bomb of confetti goes off, and the whole slate is wiped clean, reset. The only thing I can do about it is wait. Waiting drives you crazy. When the AFC Championship game ended, I was pumped. It was as excellent a penultimate chapter as could be hoped for. Now I'm waiting for the final episode of the 2010 post-season, and all I can do is hope that the ending doesn't suck, somehow invalidating everything that came before it.
I feel like I'm trying to take in two divergant realities. In the first, the quest is successful and everything goes back to normal. The hero is safe and sound (though still battling father issues). Old favorites who should have died a long time ago are inexplicably still around (Del Rio, cough).
But if they should lose on Sunday night...I don't even want to think about it. Everyone will wake up disoriented and bloody, not sure where they are or what they are supposed to do next. It will feel like all that is good and right and pure is dead. Oh sure, there's will be hope whispering from the grave not to give up. Peyton will dust himself off and keep plugging away in his efforts to save everyone, but most of all himself. I've seen enough of the previous episodes to maintain some flicker of faith that by the end of it all, I'll get a few more thrills and be satisfied, but I can't help being nervous about the whole thing. There isn't that much time left. What if all the loose ends aren't tied up? What if I never get my happy ending? What if the whole thing just sucks until it's done?
I shouldn't be so uneasy, after all, I've seen enough to know that on the island that is the NFL, no one is dead until they are dead. One more comeback is always in the works. So what if one of the heros is crippled? You never can tell when he'll rise to his feet, miraculously healed.
This Super Bowl is driving me crazy, because it's hard to root against the Other team. Half the time they seem like they are on your side. Sure they are crazy dangerous and their offense is weird as crap, but after the way they treated the evil Patriots, should we really be so distrustful? Maybe they really are Saints, devotees to some ancient NFL religion sent to us to help our hero complete his arduous tasks?
The one trap we can't fall into is trying to read all the tea leaves and decipher every little clue to the ending. Whatever happens, it won't unfold like we think, and all the signs and arcane numbers will just lead us down the wrong path.
There's nothing we can do now but wait and watch, and pray that damn plane doesn't crash again.
Wait, what was I talking about?
Tune in at 8:30 EST when DZ will appear on the Sports Show Live. There is a link to online streaming.
CORRECTION: I'm an idiot. I'll be on Wednseday night at 8:30. Whoops.
(programming note: DZ will appear on Sports Show Live tonight at 8:30 to talk about the Super Bowl)
Generally speaking, coordinators are overrated. Players win games in the NFL much more than schemes do. A good coordinator can make the difference between a win and a loss once or twice a season, but for the most part they are all slaves to the talent they have.
Larry Coyer has a unique task this week. The book on the Saints since the start of the 2007 season has been to play cover-2 against them. Ironically, after a year of receiving praise for moving the Colts past the 'bland Tampa-2' of Tony Dungy, it turns out that now Indy is playing a team that you have to beat by playing...a bland Tampa 2. On top of everything else, he has to design a defense knowing that Dwight Freeney will most likely be limited. It isn't an enviable task.
Somehow, lost in all the hoopla about Peyton Manning, everyone has lost sight of the fact that the Saints have a much more dominant offense than the Colts, and it's not even close. The Saints average 32 points a game, though if you take out special teams and defensive touchdowns, that number does drop to 27.5. For some reason, the Vikings game has convinced everyone that the Saints aren't likely to score a lot of points, and I've seen predictions that peg the Saints around 21 points. What is amazing to me is that people consider the Saints offense (which scored under 24 points twice this year, and under 30 just six times in 17 games) more suspect than the Colts. Indianapolis didn't score 30 points 8 times in 16 games.
Let me be clear, there is no way Indianapolis is holding the Saints under 30 points without a healthy Dwight Freeney. They simply do not have the talent to do that. Raheem Brock is a nice player, but has not posted more than 3.5 sacks in a season since 2005. He's posted more than 1 sack in a game four times in his career, and three of those games were against abjectly awful teams. Drew Brees is one of the great quarterbacks playing today. He is not Joe Flacco or Mark Sanchez. He won't be rattled by a random linebacker blitz. Brees was so good this season, that I felt like he had a legitimate claim on the MVP award. I couldn't argue with anyone casting a vote for Brees over Manning this year. Indy has an advantage at the quarterback position, but it is a slight advantage, not a gaping one.
So it falls to Larry Coyer to come up with some miraculous way to contain the Saints. In addition to Freeney being hobbled, we still have no idea about the health of Jerraud Powers. Can you imagine Brees targeting Tim Jennings 20 times on Sunday? I certainly can. I'm stating it now: Larry Coyer is not capable of doing anything that will stop the Saints. Granted, Coyer had great success against Brees in Denver. In five games, he limited Brees to less than 200 yards passing in every game, with one TD and 3 picks. The 2009 Saints are not the 2003 Chargers, however. There just isn't any reason to think that a Freeney-less Colts team will shut down the Saints. It's much more likely that we'll see a repeat of the first half of the Texans game (in which Freeney did not play), where Indy blitzed repeatedly with little to no effect, and the Texans shoved the ball right down the Colts throats, passing and running with ease. Unlike the Matt Schaub, Drew Brees isn't going to implode by throwing indefensible interceptions in the second half.
Given that the Colts are 7-26 in the Manning era in games in which the defense gives up at least 30 points (2-1 in the playoffs, though!), I consider the Colts to be underdogs. The Saints ARE scoring 30. The Colts will have to play flawlessly to get there. The Saints are the better running team (by a wide margin), so they should be able to dictate the tempo. If they want to hurry up, they can. If they feel the need to slow the game down, they can. This was never a great matchup for Indy, but without Freeney, it's virtually an unmanageable one. The best case for the Colts would look like the 2003 playoff game against the Chiefs.
Larry Coyer had better work some magic, or the Colts will lose on Sunday night.
Personally, I wish it was Dungy who was putting together this game plan.
I really wish the Colts had some cool back up pass rusher encased in glass. They could break him out for those rare occasions when Dwight Freeney couldn't go. Everyone who reads 18to88 knows that we consider Freeney the second most important Colt. He's the Manning of the defense. He's a gifted athlete who alters the way the opposing offense attacks the Colts, and has penchant for big, game changing plays. With the news that he may or may not be seriously injured, let's take a look at how the Colts have fared in games where Freeney didn't play, but Robert Mathis did. I'm sure Freeney will step on the field Sunday, but there's no telling how effective he'll be.
|Points||Mathis Sacks||Mathis FF||T-sacks||T-turnovers||W/L|
So the good news is that the Colts have gone 6-1 without Freeney, but with Mathis. Mathis has still posted three sacks and three forced fumbles in those seven games (one of which was his rookie year, and in the other he got hurt in the first quarter and barely played against Baltimore). The lone loss came against the Chargers, when Mathis and Brock played injured. Both rushers were in the game, but both were limited.
The bad news is that almost all of those wins came against non-playoff teams. The Chargers and Texans are the only teams on the list that had truly formidable offenses, and the 2007 Jags did go to the playoffs and beat the Steelers. Against real playoff caliber offenses, the Colts gave up at least 25 points every time, despite fine play from Mathis.
Without a healthy Freeney, I do not expect the Colts defense to hold the Saints under 25 points. Honestly, I'll be surprised to see them hold them under 30. Again, I expect Freeney to play. You'd have to saw his leg off to keep him out of the game. The question is if he can be effective.
If Dwight Freeney is not healthy enough to have an impact on the game (defined as demanding double teams), the Colts will have to score a minimum of 30 points to win. The Saints have been held under 30 points just five times in 15 meaningful games. Even worse, they have surrendered 30 points just twice this season.
To be perfectly honest, if I was assured Freeney wasn't playing, or wasn't going to be effective, I would pick the Saints to win. I think Freeney is that important. I'm not saying the Colts can't win without him. I'm just saying I don't condsider it likely.
Freeney makes the whole defense work. I doubt the Colts ability to generate pressure without him. That means more blitzes, and blitzes are death.
Colts Pro-Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney has a torn ligament in his right ankle that will make it difficult for him to play against the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, a source familiar with the injury told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Despite the fact that Colts president Bill Polian has predicted that Freeney will play, there are serious questions about whether he will. Even if Freeney can, the question then becomes how effective he can be.
(note: I've rerun the numbers in light of a mistake)
The Colts and Saints are both classic 'turf' teams, which brings to mind Tug McGraw's famous line. When asked whether he preferred grass or astroturf, he replied, "I don't know. I've never smoked astroturf."
Because the Super Bowl will be played on grass, it makes sense to see how the two teams fared on grass fields.
This year, Indy played
six five games on grass: Miami, Arizona, Tennessee, Baltimore, Houston, and Jacksonville.
New Orleans played four meaningful games on grass: Miami, Philadelphia, Tampa, and Washington. They also played Carolina, but Drew Brees did not play that game, so I'm not counting it.
Here are the results (excluding all meaningless games for either team), the difference column is calibrated so that plus means the team was better on grass, minus means they were worse:
|PF||PA||Rush||Rush A||Pass||Pass A||TO||TO Forced|
I'm not sure you can make much of a comparison between these teams, because the worst team the Colts played on grass finished 7-9, and three were above .500. The Indy O regresses in terms of rushing yards, but not points on grass, but the Indy D is virtually the same on both, allowing identical yardage, but about a field goal a game more. The Saints played four horrid QBs on grass, so their stats are obviously improved. Of the 8 categories, the Colts were better in 3, the Saints in 4, and the teams tied in one.
The bottom line is that unless the field is wet or poorly tended, I don't think the grass/turf factor will hurt either team.
When a reader wrote me today and begged me to rip on Gregg Williams for his comments about Peyton Manning, I initially declined.
Generally speaking, I find trash talk boring and felt that Williams' words must have been taken out of context. Certainly, no one would be so stupid as to openly admit that he wanted his team to illegally hit the most high profile quarterback in football in the most watched game of the year. Surely, only an idiot would do something so stupid. No good strategist would alert the NFL and its officials that he was ordering his team to go after the league's top commodity and most visible player.
No, Gregg Williams couldn't possibly be that stupid.
I was wrong.
The more I read about William's further statements, the more obvious it becomes that he WAS trying to intimidate Manning by talking. When asked if he was afraid his words might lead to penalties, he said,
"If it happens, it happens."
I'm astounded that this is all the Saints have to resort to. Empty threats. Williams has to know that he is tugging on Superman's cape at this point. Manning has to be salivating over the opportunity to crack open Williams' defense and eat it for dinner next Sunday along with some nice fava beans. Do teams really think they can intimidate the Colts at this point? This team? The team that just got trashed talked for a week by the King of Trash and then bashed his team's head in on the way to the Super Bowl?
Williams is only provoking Manning, and nothing good can come of that. The Colts are quiet assassins, and I don't think the Saints are prepared for what is about to come upon them.
I've felt weirdly confident about this game despite the fact that a lot of the stats point to an even matchup, but after reading everything Williams said, I'm sure now.
Indy is going to win this game. The Saints are so scared, they think the only way to win is to intentionally injure Manning. Spin it however you want, that's what Williams is saying. That kind of cowardice is contagious. Come the first drive on Sunday, when the Saints don't lay a hand on Peyton, they'll know in their hearts that it is over. He's no 40 year old corpse fighting for one more resurrection. He's the freaking greatest quarterback ever dead in his prime, and he's going to eviscerate them. Williams screwed his team over with this kind of talk. They won't be able to breathe on Manning without a flag now. Good luck beating him as the officials mark of 15 yards a pop...that's if the Colts O line even lets them touch him at all.
Bring it on Gregg Williams.
You are already beaten, and you don't even know it yet.
This is important, so it goes on the front page...
Everyone who thinks we whine about injuries too much, take note. Indy is 2nd in Adjusted Games Lost this season. AGL measures games lost due to injury as well as the overall effect of nagging injuries that players play through.
Speaking of the Colts, it's pretty clear that the Polian Era consistently results in injury rates higher than the league average, likely owing to the team's strategy of fielding an undersized, quicker defense. Fortunately for Indy fans, the Polian Era also has given them a team that drafts better than virtually anyone else in football, so there's not the dropoff that often comes for other teams with injuries. Since 2000, the only time the Colts have had an AGL figure better than league-average is 2005, when they went 14-2 and had the best point differential of the Polian Era.
No team has to consistently deal with the quantity and quality of injuries that the Colts face every year.
Indianapolis topped the defensive injury charts for the second time in three years, with five defensive backs, three linebackers, and both defensive ends missing at least two games.
Yesterday, we looked at how the Colts and Saints offenses fared against common opponents. Today we will examine how the defenses played against the Jets, Dolphins, Cardinals, Patriots and Rams.
It's tough to reach too many conclusions here. The Colts did allow fewer points in several games, but the Saints forced far more turnovers and allowed fewer yards. Other than Marc Bulger, none of the common quarterbacks had good games against the Saints. What this really shows is how important it is for the Colts to protect the football in the Super Bowl. If the Saints don't force turnovers and get non-offensive touchdowns, the Colts should be able to dictate action and win the game. The Saints offense has to be relishing the chance to go up against the Colts run defense, but then again, that's been tried by other teams with little success.