Super Bowl XLIV Preview: 5 Factors the Colts must overcome

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

1. The potential loss of Freeney.
Come kickoff on Sunday, there will be no bigger hurdle for the Colts to overcome than if defensive end Dwight Freeney can’t play, or is limited due to an ankle injury. He’s undoubtedly Indy’s best defender and is a game-changer in every sense of the word. If he can’t play, the Saints don’t have to worry about keeping extra blockers in to protect Drew Brees and can focus most of their attention on slowing down Robert Mathis. Pressure is the key to disrupting any offense and the same can be said for the Saints’ high-powered attack. As it stands now, Freeney wants to play and should dress. But considering he’s a speed rusher and has a tear in his ankle, how effective does anyone think he’ll actually be? Barring the ankle being completely healed, the Colts have a serious problem on their hand.

2. Slowing down Brees.
For all that is said about Drew Brees, he still doesn’t get enough credit for being able to read a defense and deliver timely, accurate passes. What makes him unique is that he has accuracy on all three levels, in that he can complete the short to intermediate route with as much ease as he can the deep pass. Another thing Brees does well is scanning the field and throwing away from the coverage. Over the last half of the season, nine quarterbacks threw for two or more touchdowns against the Colts, who gave up big plays in the AFC Championship Game to the usually offensively challenged Jets. Brees has a plethora of weapons to use at his disposal and Indy doesn’t have the personnel to go toe-to-toe with all the Saints’ receivers. The best way to slow down Brees is to pressure him, but as was noted above, that could be a problem for the Colts if Freeney is limited.

3. Protecting Manning from the Saints’ pressure.
One of the many great things about Peyton Manning is that he acts as his own protection because he gets the ball out of his hand so quickly. There’s a reason why he rarely winds up on his backside and that’s because he’s excellent at recognizing the defense, adjusting to the coverage and delivering the ball in a timely manner. That said, no team has battered the quarterback as much as the Saints have this postseason. They hit Kurt Warner and Brett Favre a combined 11 times, with most of their pressure coming right up the middle, which is the kind that quarterbacks hate most. If the Saints can pressure Manning up the middle, get in his face, disrupt his rhythm and make him frustrated, then New Orleans can dictate the flow of the game. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

4. The potential mismatch vs. Shockey.
If Jeremy Shockey is completely healthy, then he provides a matchup problem that the Colts will have to figure out a way to neutralize. Antonie Bethea and Melvin Bullitt have become valuable pieces for the Colts because of their versatility and strengths against the run. But Bullitt can be stiff in his hips at times and doesn’t always get into a good back pedal at the start, which leads to him overusing his speed to make up ground. Bethea struggles in man coverage, will lose receivers while biting on pump fakes and sometimes looks for the knockout hit instead of wrapping up. These are all things that the Saints can use to their advantage if Shockey is healthy, because he presents matchup problems in one-on-one coverage and can rack up yards after contact. At times this season, the middle of the field has been a weakness for the Colts that opponents can attack. Indianapolis must adjust if Shockey is 100%.

5. Complacency.
This shouldn’t be a problem for a team led by Peyton Manning, but it’s worth noting anyway. The Colts have been here before, and have won. The Saints have not, so there might be a tendency brewing among Indy’s players that they’ll be more prepared for this game than New Orleans will be. However, the advantages for the Colts stop at kickoff on Sunday, because once that time starts winding off the clock it’s all about 60 minutes of football. All the media hype and hoopla fly out the window and any advantage Indy had from their previous Super Bowl is squashed. The Colts can’t get complacent – they still have to execute for four quarters against an outstanding football team in order to achieve greatness.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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