A Super Bowl showdown for the ages 

3 keys to a Saints victory

1. Find an early balance: What makes the Saints’ offense so dangerous is that opposing defenses don’t know who the ball is going to go to. Quarterback Drew Brees is the ideal trigger man for Sean Payton’s quick-strike scheme. Brees spreads the ball around to a number of different receivers, tight ends and backs, releasing the ball well before defenses can close in on him. If the Saints can keep the Colts guessing, they’ll have a distinct advantage. And while New Orleans is clearly a pass-first team, establishing the running game early behind the trio of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Mike Bell could go a long way in helping limit opportunities for the explosive Colts offense.

2. Find a way to get Reggie Bush involved: While Reggie Bush clearly hasn’t lived up to the hype he entered the league with as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft, he is still a big-play threat who is capable of going the distance every time he touches the ball. The rare dynamic Bush brings to the table makes the rest of the offense that much better. Whether it’s returning a punt, catching a screen pass or running a draw play, the Saints need to get Bush in the open field. In the divisional round versus the Cardinals, Bush turned in arguably the best game of his career as he ran with a purpose. New Orleans needs more of that Sunday.

3. Keep the pressure on Peyton: Under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the usually pitiful New Orleans defense has looked like an entirely different unit this season. The defense finished third in the league in interceptions and, led by Will Smith’s 13 sacks, in the top half of the league in dragging the QB to the ground. The trend carried over into the postseason, as the Saints did a number on opposing quarterbacks in the first two rounds, leaving Kurt Warner and Brett Favre battered. Cranking up the heat on Peyton Manning will be key for the Saints to slow down the potent Colts’ offense.


Saints' impact player

Darren Sharper

Position: Safety
Regular-season stats: 71 tackles, nine interceptions, three defensive touchdowns
About him: All-Pro ballhawk who tied for league lead with nine INTs, returning three for scores ... Set NFL record with 376 yards on his interception runbacks, one for 99 yards ... Also solid in run support and will match up with another All-Pro in Dallas Clark ... Had 93 tackles this season ... One guy Peyton Manning must watch out for, as the Saints’ secondary seems to feed off his energy and playmaking ability.


Coaching corner

Sean Payton, Saints

Career record: In four years with the Saints, Payton has compiled a 38-26 record. Payton has only one losing season during his tenure and has turned the Saints into one of the league’s most dangerous teams.
Playoffs: 3-1 in the postseason, including two trips to the NFC championship game.
Quotable: “I’m just proud to be a part of it, to be part of something that is so special for this city and well deserved.”


3 keys to a Colts victory

1. Start out with a bang: When you have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, it’s no surprise throwing the ball will be your top priority. The Colts were the NFL’s worst rushing offense this season, but their No. 2-ranked passing game, led by QB Peyton Manning, more than made up for it. If Manning can hook up with Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark or any of his other talented targets early for a couple big plays, it could force the Saints into panic mode. The Colts have the experience edge and jumping out to an early lead behind Manning will only help their cause.

2. Filling Freeney’s shoes: Outside of Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney is arguably the Colts’ most important player. The defensive end has 84 sacks since the 2002 season, second-most in the NFL. The Colts don’t have another player who can match his speed coming off the edge, and if the ankle injury Freeney is battling keeps him out or limits his play, other players will need to step up. Raheem Brock and Robert Mathis will likely see bigger roles.

3. Bend, but don’t break: While the Colts’ defensive numbers don’t jump off the page at you, the group has been consistent all season. Opponents only scored an average of 19.2 points per game this season. In the Super Bowl, the pressure will be on the secondary to limit the damage done by Drew Brees and his multitude of deep-threat receivers. Safety Antoine Bethea, who had four picks during the regular season, and crew will need to keep the Saints in front of them and not give up the big play. If the Colts can force the Saints into third-and-long situations, they’ll be in good shape.


Colts' impact player

Reggie Wayne

Position: Wide receiver
Regular-season stats: 100 catches, 1,264 yards, 10 touchdowns
About him: Consistent threat who had sixth straight 1,000-yard season, Wayne has been Peyton Manning’s go-to receiver for years. ... Can run every pattern and will beat you deep ... Didn’t do much in AFC title game against Darrelle Revis, but Saints have no cover guys like Revis ... In 2007 Super Bowl, had 53-yard TD against Bears ... Born in New Orleans.


Coaching corner

Jim Caldwell, Colts

Career record: In his first year at the helm, Tony Dungy’s apprentice proved he belongs in the NFL, compiling a 14-2 record after flirting with a perfect season.
Playoffs: 2-0, with a chance to become just the third rookie coach to win a Super Bowl.
Quotable: “It’s not inspiration by exhortation. I’m not an individual that’s given to golden-throated oratory. So we try to keep it simple, straight forward and I think our team responds to that.”


Super Bowl by numbers

0 Saints’ previous trips to the Super Bowl

3 Colts’ previous trips to the Super Bowl

5-5 All-time series record between Saints-Colts

9 Previous Super Bowls held in Miami

3,347,608 People who have attended Super Bowl to date

$500 Face value of cheapest Super Bowl ticket


Super Bowl prediction

With two of the top gunslingers in the NFL — Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — leading their respective teams, a shootout could break out at any moment. But both clubs have underrated defenses that should keep the game close. Both teams may need some time to shake off the rust of the two-week break, but the action should heat up in the second half. At the end of the day, look for Manning and the Colts to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Miami ... Colts 30, Saints 24.

About The Author

Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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