Freeney misses practice, listed as questionable

Injured Colts’ defensive end Dwight Freeney was hoping to test his injured ankle on Friday during practice, but it didn’t happen as he was unable to hit the field. He didn’t practice once during the last two weeks and is listed as questionable on the Colts’ injury report for Super Bowl XLIV.

On Tuesday, Freeney told the media that the pain in his ankle was subsiding and that it felt better each day. Although he hasn’t practiced, it doesn’t mean that he won’t suit up on Super Bowl Sunday and he still has two more nights to treat the ankle so you never know how he’ll feel in two days.

That said, I highly doubt that he’ll play in Indy’s base defense and will likely be limited throughout the game. The best case for him and the Colts is if he’s able to play in obvious passing situations and provide a decent rush on Drew Brees but even then, it’s doubtful that Freeney will be that effective given that he’s a speed rusher and his ankle won’t be 100%.

As I’ve written all week, if Freeney is limited the Saints have a huge advantage because they can concentrate on slowing down Robert Mathis and won’t have to worry about keeping an extra blocker in. They can use their full complement of offensive weapons, which is dangerous considering how explosive their offense can be. Brees might have a field day on Sunday if the Colts can’t figure out a way to drum up some pressure without Freeney.

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Super Bowl XLIV Preview: Breaking down the Saints’ pressure

It’s an understatement to say that the Saints have battered opposing quarterbacks this postseason. In fact, reports that in two games, New Orleans put 11 hits on Kurt Warner and Brett Favre in its wins over the Cardinals and Vikings over the past two weeks.

Per the report, six of the hits came through the middle of the line, with the other five coming around the ends. Five of the hits were from unblocked defenders, three were from defenders beating blocks and three were coverage sacks where the quarterback held the ball for over five seconds.

What’s interesting is that seven of the 11 hits came when the Saints had five or more defensive backs on the field, meaning Gregg Williams isn’t necessarily putting his cornerbacks on islands when he sends pressure. Also, five of the 11 hits came in the first quarter, but just two hits came in the fourth, which obviously suggests that Williams is willing to take more gambles earlier in the game but not in crunch time when scores are vital.

In last weekend’s AFC Championship, the Jets pressured Peyton Manning with some success early in the game, but the Colts neutralized New York’s aggressiveness towards the end of the first half when they switched to the no-huddle. Manning is highly skilled at getting the ball out of his hand early and putting the ball in the air before his receivers are out of their breaks. That’s part of what makes him so effective and how he burns opponents with the passing game.

By looking at the stats, it appears that Williams is aggressive but isn’t reckless with his pressure. He’ll send multiple defenders at the opposing quarterback, but will blanket coverage over the top so that his defensive backs won’t get beat deep. No quarterback likes defenders in his face, so if the Saints can drum up pressure up the middle they might have success against Manning early on. But the key is whether or not they can produce stops in the second half when Williams isn’t as aggressive. The Jets couldn’t and that’s why they’ll be at home next Sunday instead of in Miami.

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Super Bowl XLIV Preview: If healthy, Shockey could play key role for Saints

In safeties Antonie Bethea and Melvin Bullitt, the Colts have two players in their defensive backfield that are steady, underrated and are strong against the run.

But the takeaway from the above sentence is “strong against the run.” That doesn’t mean that Bethea and Bullitt are key factors in pass coverage and in fact, they’re not. They’re adequate against the pass at best, which is why some teams have had success attacking the seams of the Colts’ defense with their tight ends.

The Saints have a playmaker at tight end in Jeremy Shockey, a player that, when healthy, is a mismatch in coverage because of his size, speed and pass-catching ability. He would definitely be a mismatch in coverage against Bethea and Bullitt, especially considering that the two safeties also have to defend the run and the rest of the weapons that New Orleans has in its arsenal.

But the problem is that Shockey can never stay healthy and at least for the moment, he isn’t healthy now. Over the past month, he’s battled toe and knee injuries and hasn’t been 100%. In fact, head coach Sean Payton said that Shockey was on a limited snap count in last Sunday’s NFC Championship Game and that’s why the tight end caught just one pass for nine yards.

If Shockey can get healthy over the next two weeks, he could be the kind of X-factor that the Saints will need to beat the Colts. David Thomas is a fine replacement at tight end of Shockey is limited again, but he’s not the type of game-changer that Shockey is when he’s playing at full strength. If he’s at 100%, Drew Brees might have success attacking the middle of Indy’s defense with Shockey being the main weapon in the Saints’ passing game.

But if he resembles the one-legged man again like he did last week, then the Colts will catch a break and will likely turn their attention to stopping Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and the rest of New Orleans’ outside pass threats.

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How will Freeney’s injury affect the Super Bowl?

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Colts’ defensive end Dwight Freeney has a torn ligament in his injured right ankle, which means he could wind up missing Super Bowl XLIV.

This is the biggest game of the year and the Colts could be without their top pass rusher. This is devastating news for Indy to say the least and even if he does tough it out and play, he probably won’t be at 100%.

Freeney led the Colts with 13.5 sacks and along with Robert Mathis, gave the team a fierce pass rush – one that is supposed to keep Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees on edge. The best way to disrupt an opposing team’s offensive game plan is to get in the quarterback’s face and make him throw the ball sooner than he intends. That same notion can be applied to Brees and the Saints, who looked like a completely different offense in a Week 14 loss to the Cowboys, thanks to DeMarcus Ware and Dallas’ explosive pass rush.

If Freeney is limited on Sunday or misses the game entirely, then Brees should be more comfortable in the pocket, which is a scary thought for the Colts. In Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and Jeremy Shockey, the Saints have a plethora of weapons for Brees to use to attack Indy’s secondary. And if he has all day to throw, then Brees should be able to strike for big plays and keep the Colts on their heels the entire game.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if Freeney can’t play, then the Saints won’t have to keep extra blockers in to keep protect Brees. With Freeney and Mathis both on the field, teams usually have to keep an extra blocker in (usually a running back) to help keep their quarterback upright. But with just Mathis to worry about, the Saints can roll their backs into the flats or over the middle, and we all know what Reggie Bush can do in open space. Obviously the Saints are at an advantage when Bush is on the field, compared to a blocking back like Pierre Thomas or Mike Bell.

Granted, it’s a ridiculous notion to suggest that one player (outside of the quarterback) can change the course of an entire game, but it would be a mistake to dismiss how vital Freeney is to the Colts’ defense. He’s a game-changer who relies on his speed to disrupt the flow of an opponent’s offense and if he can’t play, Indy will be limited in what it can do in its game plan come Sunday. Obviously this injury has no affect on Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offense, but given how explosive the Saints are, Freeney is the one player Indy can’t afford to lose.

The best-case scenario for the Colts would be if Freeney doesn’t practice all week and his ankle feels better by Sunday. But if he does have a tear, then it’s going to take longer than six days for the injury to heel. He has already admitted that the injury hasn’t improved over the last week and he has yet to practice.

With that in mind, I’m sure the Colts are already preparing for the inevitable: That they might be without their best defensive player for Super Bowl Sunday.

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Saints’ injury report lengthy

After going through their first real practice on Thursday in preparation for the Colts and Super Bowl XLIV, they released a pretty lengthy injury report with several key names on it.

Starters Jeremy Shockey (knee), Darren Sharper (knee), Jonathan Vilma (knee) and Will Smith (groin) were all on Thursday’s injury report, as well as cornerbacks Randall Gay and Malcolm Jenkins, running back Lynell Hamilton, kick returner Courtney Roby and offensive lineman Zach Streif.

Head coach Sean Payton indicated that Shockey received good news from his visit with the acclaimed Dr. James Andrews earlier this week and that there hasn’t been a setback with the tight end’s knee. Shockey said on Thursday that he’s prepared to play with pain and that he’ll do everything he can, “even if that requires hurting myself.”

The injuries to Sharper, Vilma, Smith and the rest of the Saints appear to be minor and as of right now, there is no threat to them missing the Super Bowl. At least, Payton and the rest of New Orleans better hope so.

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