Super Bowl XLIV Preview: 5 Factors the Saints must overcome

As part of our ongoing coverage leading up to Super Bowl XLIV, here are five factors the Saints must overcome to beat the Colts.

1. First time jitters.
Since the berth of the Super Bowl in 1966, only seven teams have won in their first appearance: the Packers, Jets, Steelers, 49ers, Bears, Giants and Buccaneers. The remaining 18 teams appearing in their first Super Bowl all lost, meaning 30% of first-timers fall in the NFL title game. Trends like these mean nothing when it comes to the actual game, but it’s worth noting that this will be Drew Brees’ first Super Bowl, compared to Peyton Manning, who will be appearing in his second in four years. The fact that the Colts have already played once in Miami is an advantage for them as well.

2. Peyton Manning’s quick-release.
Perhaps no team has done a better job this postseason at battering the quarterback than the Saints. But Manning doesn’t make it easy for teams to get to him because he excels at reading the defense at the line of scrimmage, diagnosing the coverage and getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible. He also makes adjustments better than any QB in the game, as evidence of how quickly the tide turned in the AFC Championship Game towards the end of the first half. Gregg Williams can boast all he wants about getting to Manning, but his players still have to execute. And that’s easier said than done when it comes to pressuring Peyton.

3. The Colts’ pass rush.
Let’s assume for the moment that Dwight Freeney’s ankle will be fine by Sunday and he’ll play. The Saints’ No. 1 job on offense then becomes protecting Drew Brees at all costs. In their loss to the Cowboys in Week 15, DeMarcus Ware abused the Saints’ offensive line and Sean Payton and Drew Brees never made the proper adjustments. It’s one thing to trust that your line will do its job, but now isn’t the time to take chances; New Orleans needs to keep extra blockers in to stop Freeney and Robert Mathis so that Brees has ample time to throw. The nice thing about the Saints is that they have a multitude of offensive weapons, but those weapons do Brees no good if he’s constantly on his backside.

4. Dallas Clark’s impact.
In of the NFC Championship Game, Vikings’ tight end Visanthe Shiancoe caught four passes for 83 yards and racked up a YPC average of 20.8. He did most of his damage on Minnesota’s first possession of the second half when he caught three passes for 67 yards to help set up a 1-yard Adrian Peterson touchdown run. If Shiancoe can have that much of an impact on one possession, imagine what Clark could accomplish given four quarters. The Jets did a great job shutting down Reggie Wayne and limiting Clark’s impact in the AFC title game, until late in the fourth quarter when the Indy tight end caught a touchdown and put a dagger in New York’s hopes of winning. While stopping Wayne is important, the Saints can’t allow Clark to own the middle of the field and work the seams. Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon wound up beating the Jets, but if New York had more offense that day they may have won anyway. New Orleans can’t allow Clark to set the table for Manning and the Colts, much like Shiancoe did for the Vikings in the NFC title game.

5. Don’t buy into the hype.
One thing that teams sometimes fall victim of is that they start believing their own hype. A lot of people are talking about destiny when it comes to the Saints and how this is “their year.” But the Colts didn’t stumble into the Super Bowl by accident: They earned their right to be here by playing better than any team in the NFL – including the Saints. I’m sure Sean Payton and his coaching staff is keeping their players grounded in the week leading up to the Super Bowl, but they really need to hammer home the fact that they haven’t won anything yet. Whether destiny exists or not, the Saints still have to play 60 minutes of football against the best team in the league on Sunday.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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