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UCLA's quarterback clearly has the talent to succeed as an NFL starter. The question is whether or not he can avoid enough mistakes to become a superstar.

07 Feb 2010

Super Bowl Pre-Audibles Special

HEY! The Super Bowl in-game discussion thread is right here! Everybody enjoy the game.

Audibles compiled by Doug Farrar

Each weekend, the FO staff sends around e-mails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can). On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

In this case, a pre-Super Bowl conversation was launched by the exhaustive game preview that Aaron and Bill put together, and we thought we'd share it with you. Of course, we'll be back Monday morning with the regular Super Bowl Audibles. This is just our version of the pregame show.

Ned Macey: Rationally, I agree with the Super Bowl preview that it is odd that everybody seems to think the Colts are going to win. Emotionally, as a Colts fan, however, I share the consensus opinion and am not particularly worried about this game.

One explanation, which admittedly is a massive cherry-pick, is that the Colts simply haven't lost to this type of opponent in a long time. Since 2004, the only time a healthy Peyton Manning lost to a 4-3 team from outside his division was Week 8 of the 2004 season against Kansas City. I can't remember who was running 3-4 or 4-3 each year back to 2004, but it is roughly 25-30 straight wins.

That's obviously not fair because they've lost five divisional games to 4-3 teams in that time, and it throws out their four losses to 4-3 teams while Manning's knee healed up last year (two were division opponents, so seven total 4-3 losses since Week 8 of 2004).

Still, the point is that the Colts have simply not lost this sort of game in a long time, so it is hard for me to create a feeling for how it will happen. For instance I would have been very concerned against San Diego in the AFC Championship or against Dallas (beat up on IND in 2006) in the SB. The best I can do to get myself back to normal is remember the Chargers game in 2007 without Dwight Freeney, when Philip Rivers and Billy F'ing Volek moved the ball at will.

Tim Gerheim: I would think this would be like any other Colts game, where all you have to do to make yourself feel 100% confident is to say "peytonmanningpeytonmanningpeytonmanning" to yourself.

Aaron Schatz: I really do think a lot depends on Freeney's condition, but I feel very confident in saying that either team can win.

Sean McCormick: I feel pretty confident that the Colts are going to win easily. Maybe it's just because I remember the last time they played (the Saints! the Colts! should be two great offenses!...and then it was 41-10), or the Saints were stuttering and wheezing for the last six weeks minus the Arizona game. Mostly it's because I think Peyton Manning at this point is pretty much invincible and will put so much pressure on the other team's offense that they'll eventually crack, even when they're a good offense. I know our numbers like the Saints by a bit, but then again, the Bears had the better DVOA when they went up against Indy, too...

David Gardner: As a Gators fan, let me please warn you not to underestimate the impact of losing your starting right defensive end.

Sean McCormick: I don't think you need to be a Gators fan. Colts fans remember their hobbled defensive line giving Billy Volek of all people the time he needed to knock them out of the playoffs. In this instance, though, I think the Colts still have more than enough.

Tim Gerheim: Nobody needs to be a Gators fan.

Mike Kurtz: Some part of me thinks that DVOA doesn't fully account for how much better the AFC is than the NFC.


I think the stuttering and wheezing has a lot to do with defensive back injuries, especially Greer. That secondary being healthy means a lot. I think the Colts win because Manning will pick apart Randall Gay and Jonathan Vilma.

Doug Farrar: The Saints aren't a strict 4-3 team per se -- not in the way that the Vikings or Colts are. They'll run some three-man fronts with nickel and dime sets, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them put some 5-2-4 out there with the outside linebackers reading all the way. I think Gregg Williams will treat Manning more like he treated Warner than how he went after Favre -- there were lots of fake blitzes against Warner. More exploding sliders than fastballs.

One thing I noticed the Saints doing in the NFC Championship was the six-man front thing with Zach Strief as the extra tackle. It was a nice formation change-up for Payton. The two-play sequence that led to New Orleans' second touchdown was particularly intruiging. First-and-10 from the Minnesota 21, Strief went in motion left to right, Saints ran a zone slide right, and everyone bit on it. Pierre Thomas cut back to the left for 12. First-and-goal from the 9, Strief stayed on the right side in no-huddle. Brees went boot action right, and the defense bit hard on the run action left. Deep safety and all. Brees rolled out, hit Devery Henderson on the post corner, and Benny Sapp was one-on-one with him because the safety was out of the picture. If there's one thing I think people (in general, not us) are underestimating, it's Payton's ability to spot mismatches and exploit them with scripts and motion and formations. Yes, the Colts' defense is ridiculously fast, but there are answers for that.

I also think the Saints will run fairly often, and effectively, which will set up the aerial playbook in the way that Payton wants it. They wouldn't win the TOP battle and still lose the game like the Dolphins did, because the Saints can pretty much score at will just like the Colts. I guess I'll go against the grain and pick the Saints by 4. I was feeling the Colts winning it earlier in the week, but the more I look at things, the more I think the Saints will pull this thing out in the end.

Vince Verhei: It does seem to me that the perception of Peyton Manning in the past two weeks has gone from "best quarterback in the league, perhaps best quarterback ever" to "God in a blue jersey." People asking how Drew Brees and the Saints can keep up with him ... Brees has more touchdowns in EACH of the past two years than Manning! He's also very, very good! Maybe, right now, even better!

And it's funniest of all to me because it's not like this was Peyton's best year. Yes, he set a personal high for passing yards, but his rate stats are right in line with his career averages. He was fifth in passing DVOA -- his lowest ranking since 2002. If anything, he had an off year.

Aaron Schatz: Agreed. To me the issue is not, "If you think the Saints have a good chance, you are underestimating Peyton Manning." The issue is, "If you DON'T think the Saints have a good chance, you are underestimating Drew Brees and Sean Payton." I don't think ANYBODY imagines a scenario in which the Saints win by shutting down Manning. They win by outscoring Manning, and perhaps getting what the Pats got in the snow in the 2004 AFC title game -- a good game from Manning where he did nothing wrong but his RECEIVERS couldn't hold onto the ball.

Vince Verhei: I like the Colts to win, but just barely -- if this was best-of-seven like the World Series, I'd be stunned if it didn't go six or seven games. The money line has the Saints at +160 and the Colts at -180. That's ridiculous.

Mike Tanier: That is a very enticing money line. If I am not snowed in, maybe I will run to Delaware...

Robert Weintraub: This buildup reminds me of the preamble to the 1997 (calendar-wise, 1998) game in San Diego, Packers-Broncos. Brett Favre was an unstoppable throwing machine, seeking his second title, and were solid favorites to take out John Elway Elway, who of course always lost the big one. It's not a precise analogy, the Saints never won, period, not just the big game. But after the Pack spanked the 49ers (at Candlestick, if I'm not mistaken), no one thought the team from the AFC could win, even though the year before the Broncos were 13-3 and the #1 seed.

Of course, the Broncos beat the Packers in an entertaining, wide-open affair (I was lucky enough to be on the field). I would hardly be shocked if the Saints won in similar fashion. One note--all week the analysis has scoffed at the idea of the Colts turning it over. I seem to recall Manning throwing two picks to Ed Reed in the division round (one was overturned by penalty, one fumbled back on the runback), and Joseph Addai fumbling against the Jets. Is it really so difficult to conjure the Saints taking it away once or twice?

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 07 Feb 2010

29 comments, Last at 08 Feb 2010, 2:38pm by tgt2


by les steckel (not verified) :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 3:09pm

Broncs were actually a 4 seed in 97, were 1 seed the year before when they were upset by Jacksonville

by Agamemnon :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 3:25pm

Why does no one remember similar games where the underdog didn't win? Two weeks ago, everyone was invoking SB III with the Jets and the Colts, but then the Colts won, so that killed that analogy.

Does the Colts-Saints matchup remind anyone of a game where the favorite won?

by lester bangs (not verified) :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 4:13pm

I hear you. It's called "selection bias."

by jsa (not verified) :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 4:08pm

I think the last paragraph hits on the most under-analyzed aspect of the game.

The Saints are among the best in forcing turnovers, particularly interceptions. As amazing as Peyton Manning is, he threw 16 interceptions in the regular season, one against the Ravens (and one that was called back due to penalty), and the Colts had the 28th best INT/drive rate this season.

I would not be surprised if the Saints force a couple turnovers, go +2 in turnovers, and win the game.

by Furious Nick (not verified) :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 5:45pm

I agree completely, if the Saints win it will have to be with points off of turnovers making the difference.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 1:55am

The thread winner. Nicely done.

by Bobman :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 12:38am

Well, I have to say THAT was well-done. I know the muffed on-side KO is not techincally a TO, but might as well be one. Those two plays essentially provided the 14 pt winning margin.

by Joseph :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 4:10pm

I agree with Aaron's comment--really, either team can win.

If Caldwell settles for FG's like he did at the first of the AFC CG, the Saints will end up winning. You cannot settle for FG's against the Saints.

Indy will need to limit the Saints running game to win. As a Saints fan, I can tell you that Brees is not NEARLY as effective if he HAS TO pass the ball to win. Doesn't mean he can't--just that I don't see the Saints coming back from 14 points down to win against Indy.

To those who bring up the game a couple of years back (Indy 41, Saints 10)--Jabari Greer is at least a 1 TD upgrade over Jason David; Darren Sharper is a 1 TD upgrade over whoever was (not) playing FS in that game; and Brees' familiarity with the system, the running game, and Shockey over Johnson at TE is another TD upgrade. This will NOT BE anything like that game.

by Vincent Verhei :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 4:47pm

As a Saints fan, I can tell you that Brees is not NEARLY as effective if he HAS TO pass the ball to win. Doesn't mean he can't--just that I don't see the Saints coming back from 14 points down to win against Indy.

Saints' offense, second overall in DVOA, drops to tenth when losing big (eight or more points), so you're on to something here.

by neil (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 12:16am

Would this not be true for most (or maybe all) quarterbacks?

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 1:57am

I always wonder when people condition stats on the outcome of a game. If I dualize Vince's stats, they mean that the Saints are far more likely to be down 8 points or more if the QB play is off.

by John Doe (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 2:11am

If you take a list of 32 teams ranked by DVOA overall, then ranks those same teams by DVOA when losing by 8+ points it isn't possible for all 32 teams to drop in the rankings. Their individual rates probably do decrease across the board, but their rankings can't. The Saints offense is 9 rankings worse when losing by 8+ points, which would suggest they struggle more than other teams when losing by 8+ points.

by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 2:21am

For example, the 49ers were 23rd overall in offense, but eighth when losing big -- because when they fell behind, they would go to the shotgun, and Alex Smith was much better from the shotgun than under center.

by lester bangs (not verified) :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 4:12pm

The Elway/TD overlay was also based on the misguided idea that the NFC would win every Super Bowl until the end of time. The Broncos were a double-digit favorite in that game. Let's just say 1998 was a fun year for me and my peeps discovering offshore this and that,

by Special J :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 4:35pm

It's amazing how precariously based this whole "Manning has become an unstoppable machine" trope is. What's particularly funny about it that it's actually come about in part because of a slight downturn in the Colts' offense's production. If the Colts were blowing away the bad teams on their schedule the way they used to, it'd be the same old story. But because their offense wasn't quite as spectacular, there were more "guts" than "stomps," and more improbably comebacks.

When something improbable keeps happening, our minds naturally come up with a reason for it. When the Colts kept coming out on the fun side of those 2, 3, and 4 point games, we can't help but see significance in a pattern where there is none. The Colts keep winning close games, so Manning must somehow be willing this to happen. He must have developed a steely-eyed, cold-blooded, assassin mentality. Heck, he probably was possessed by the "clutch" spirit that abandoned Tom Brady mid 2007 when he started throwing too many touchdowns.

by CheerioChaps (not verified) :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 5:15pm

After Peyton has won this game, anybody feel free to say he's invincible.

Since - I give the Colts a big edge though I'd love to see the Saints win - he has not done this yet, calling Manning the biggest clutch guy in the league IS bullshit. Maybe even Eli has a better ratio in "games that matter". Peyton has won one game that matters (2006 AFC Champ game), and lost a number of others (Pats, Steelers, Chargers).

Sure he is great, and I am starting to like him, but he simply has not delivered what all the experts are sayin. What, oh what, if the Colts lose?

Colts 35 Saints 19. Though I don;t like the Colts.

by Jeff Fogle :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 5:15pm

Last six meaningful games:
Indy: 1 win by 4 or less, 4 wins by double digits
NO: 3 wins by a FG (plus an OT loss), 1 win by double digits (coming after a bye week against a tired opponent)

Full season guts and stomps suggest the Colts were catching breaks in close games. In terms of recent form, Indianapolis is stomping people and NO is 3-1 in the gut games.

It is possible to see Indy as the right side in a guts/stomps framework if you're focusing on recent form. Indy is 6-0 its last six meaningful games, with four blowouts. New Orleans is 4-2 its last six meaningful games, winning three by a field goal (two of the three in OT).

by Sisyphus :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 6:16pm

"And it's funniest of all to me because it's not like this was Peyton's best year. Yes, he set a personal high for passing yards, but his rate stats are right in line with his career averages. He was fifth in passing DVOA -- his lowest ranking since 2002. If anything, he had an off year." (Vince Verhei)

I am a bit bemused at this thought, that this is even somewhat an off year for Manning seems ludicrous. The idea of breaking in two new receivers, losing long time security blanket Marvin Harrison, and having virtually no fall off is not at least somewhat remarkable? Beyond the statistics has been the amazing accuracy that he has; throwing the ball into incredibly small windows. This may be his finest year not so much because of the level of his game but how he has raised the games of others on that offense. Do you think that Carcon and Collie produce like this on any other team in the NFL? This is one of those situations where merely looking at the individual statistics does not give you a good view of the actual impact of the player.

by Bobman :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 12:41am

Plus, whether by choice or necessity, no run game.

by Theo :: Sun, 02/07/2010 - 11:50pm

Wow. Those Saints came to South Florida with a game plan.

Sit back at the start, shorten the game. Gamble. Get aggressive when Manning had to go for it... just wow.

by Bobman :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 12:46am

And somehow convince Caldwell to attempt a 50+ FG with a kicker OLDER THAN FAVRE!

Most rational Colts fans assumed that Stover was very good from 40 and in, maybe up to 45, but anything beyond that was 4-down territory or a pooch punt if the situation called for it.

Caldwell needs to read more NFL blogs. That was super-obviously wrong.

And who put Hank "I will soon be unemployed" Baskett on the front line for a KO?

I don't want to take away from the great game called by and the execution of the Saints. But some of the Colts coaching was detrimental. Saints made better adjustments as the game went on and won as a result.

Congrats to saints fans.

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 12:56am

Was it me or did the Colts just not throw it downfield? (Full disclosure I turned it on with 10 minutes left in the 2nd and they were up 10-3).
Brees was on fire since that time too, I don't think he missed much other than a couple of passes his receivers dropped.
I really didn't see that Manning interception coming either... I couldn't tell what he was seeing when he threw that, other than maybe he forced it in.
I like the throw he had to Garcon.
I was mild rooting for the Colts but as a neutral observer there weren't many reasons to be for or against any other team... I suppose folks who might harbor a grudge against Manning.
This was a good clean game both offensive lines did a great job keeping pressure off and giving their QBs time to throw.

I'm going to be having nightmares about the Green Police tonight...

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 2:01am

That was something I thought after the game. Why, when you have a receiver of the caliber of Reggie Wayne, do you not just let him fly? I didn't see the Colts really go for that possibility.

Of course, I felt the same way after the Pats were thrashed by the Saints - why didn't they let Moss fly? Apparently it's not as easy as it seems.

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 12:58am

I was kind've rooting for Manning since it seems like the TV production always wants to make him a heel and show the "manning face" or make it seem like he's a jerk to his team-mates... but its really hard not to have some good feelings towards New Orleans, especially Brees who has been just as good as Peytom Branning for the past 4 years.

by Theo :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 1:13am

I was only rooting for Manning because I think he's the best QB ever. So another Super Bowl wouldn't hurt his case.
That was about it though. We really didn't care.
Then the 4th and goal from the one came and the Saints went for it. A move I would've made and shouted for.
Then the onside kick. Great stuff.

And the NFC winning the coin toss was 1/2 but 13 times in a row is:

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 2:00am

I actually thought Manning was terrific except the pick six. Not quite an 'other than that, how was the play Mrs Lincoln?', but close enough. The Saints won because of Payton's aggressiveness.

by RickD :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 2:06am

Agree completely. But yeah, that was a huge mistake. The Saints didn't make any mistakes of that level of importance.

What's worse is that was exactly the kind of mistake Manning used to make fairly often. Tracey Porter read Manning in exactly the way Ty Law used to do. I'd thought that Manning had improved a lot since then - and he has. But he still made a bad decision on that pass.

We have to give credit to the Saints. In three playoff games they've beaten Warner, Favre, and Manning. That's probably three Hall of Famers there, all of whom own their own Super Bowl rings. I'm hard-pressed to think of another team that has pulled that off.

by t.d. :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 3:16am

It was a remarkably well played game on both sides. The only big mistakes I saw from either side in the game were Manning's pick, Hank Baskett trying to field an eight yard onside kick, and Caldwell sending 84 year old Matt Stover out for a 50 yard field goal (which gave the Saints a short field for the go-ahead touchdown). I thought the replay reversal on the two point conversion was both vital and incorrect (or the Raiders got screwed in that early season game against San Diego which started the whole 'scoring plays have different rules of possession than in field plays controversy), but, though it didn't seem one-sided watching the game, the Saints outscored the Colts 31-7 after the first quarter. The Saints had a strategy of keep away, and it worked well enough for them to seize the initiative. Judging by the eyeball test, the Saints were consistantly the best team all season, and they're obviously a deserving champion.

by tgt2 (not verified) :: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 2:38pm

The onside kick was touched 13 years downfield, not 8.

Phil Simms is an idiot in his description of why the 2-pointer was overturned, but the overturn was proper. He went to the ground untouched with possession. That ended the play. If it had been in the field, it would have been the same call. The hit of the already on the ground receiver would have caused him to be down before the ball came out.

The official originally called it incomplete due to the bobble, but Moore was able to secure the ball post bobble and pre-touch.