Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl preview: New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints: 15-3

How they got here: The Saints, along with the Colts, got the NFL talking about the possibility of another 16-0 season. New Orleans got to 13-0 before losing to the Dallas Cowbys. The Saints lost their last two games of the season also, but still easily won the NFC South division.

In the playoffs, the Saints cruised past the Arizona Cardinals before locking horns with the formidable Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game. New Orleans capitalized on five Viking turnovers, forced overtime and Garrett Hartley’s XX-yard field goal sent the Saints to the franchise’s first Super Bowl.

All season, the Saints enjoyed a high-powered offense, which ranked first in both points scored (31.9 per game) and yards (403.8 per game). The majority of the offense was generated by the arm of all-pro quarterback Drew Brees. New Orleans averaged 272.2 passing yards per game – ranking the squad fourth in the NFL. Running back Pierre Thomas complimented Brees’ ability and the Saints ranked sixth in rushing yards during the 2009 season.

When the team got to playoffs, Brees continued to make it rain on the field, completing 63.5 percent of his passes and ringing up six touch downs and zero interceptions.

Five players to watch:

Drew Brees – If the Saints hope to win Super Bowl XLIV, they’re going to need their leader to continue to perform at the high level he has all year. Brees is both an on-field and off-field leader and they will certainly look to him for guidance as the franchise embarks on a new experience – the Super Bowl. Brees is certainly a top-tier quarterback and, if he falters, the Saints will also.

Darren Sharper – The only offense that can match New Orleans is Indianapolis. Luckily for fans, they will be able to see the two go head-to-head. Like Brees, Peyton Manning is not prone to mistakes. In order for the Saints to win, they will need to force turnovers. They would not be in the Super Bowl this Sunday had Minnesota secured the ball. Sharper anchors the New Orleans secondary and has a nose for the ball. New Orleans ranked 26th in pass defense during the year, but will have to step up and try to slow the Colts’ offense the best they can. Sharper is probably the best candidate on the Saints D to come up with a big play. If so, momentum and the score could shift in favor of New Orleans.

Reggie Bush – With two powerful offenses and vulnerable defenses on the field, special teams could play a gigantic role in this year’s Super Bowl. Bush has proven his value as a punt returner throughout the year and took a punt return to the house during the Arizona playoff game. When the Saints are able to stop the Colts’ attack, field position will be a hot commodity. Bush could put New Orleans in a position to get an easy score, whether it be a field goal or a touchdown. Look for special team – Indy’s or the Saints’ – to be the difference.

Garrett Hartley – The young kicker proved he won’t be easily rattled, when he lined up in OT in the NFC championship game and put the game-winner right down the middle of the uprights. It is unlikely the Saints will run away with the contest, so Hartley will need to be prepared to possibly kick another high-pressure field goal in the waning seconds – this time with the Lombardi Trophy on the line. For the same reason Bush’s efforts on special teams may be crucial, New Orleans may need to rely on the inexperienced kicker. He has a strong leg, he just needs to stay accurate.

Pierre Thomas – Perhaps the biggest question mark for both teams is the running game. So far this post season, the Colts and Saints main rushing threats have performed more or less equally. Thomas has rushed for 113 yards in the team’s playoff games, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He’s scored one touchdown. On the other side, Joseph Addai has carried 27 times (the same total as Thomas) for 103 yards, an average of 3.8 yards a carry. He has not scored a rushing TD and fumbled once. The Saints best defense could be their rushing attack. If Thomas can find success on the ground and take time off the clock, it would significantly handicap the Colts’ chances of winning. Thomas needs to step up and take some of the load of Brees and at the same time keep the defense honest. If he makes the defense respect the run, more passing lanes will open for Brees. Also, if Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney cannot recover from an ankle injury in time to play, the Saints could take advantage of his absence on the line.

The Saints will win the Super Bowl if …

Quite simply, everything goes right. New Orleans is a five-point underdog for a reason. The Colts are a better team. If the Saints can keep Manning off the field, force a turn over or two, run the ball successfully and not make mistakes, they will win the game (it’s that simple). Again special teams could play a huge roll and if the Saints start with better field position than the Colts it will make the aforementioned tasks easier to perform.

The Saints will lose the Super Bowl if …

They cannot stop Manning. The defensive staff and players have talked about “remember me” hits and look to deliver a few on the Indy all-pro. If Manning isn’t pressured he will pick apart the New Orleans secondary and utilize speedy Pierre Garcon, reliable Reggie Wayne and the most underrated player in the league Dallas Clark. Manning will win the game if he is not pressured.

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