John Czarnecki talks with FOX NFL Sunday analyst Jimmy Johnson, previewing Super Bowl XLIV between the Colts and Saints.
1. Can the Saints get to Peyton Manning like they did Brett Favre?
I'm not too sure anybody can knock Manning around. Not at least before the whistle blows. (laughs)
The Saints can take a few shots at Manning (10 sacks during the season) after the whistle blows, but he gets rid of the football so quickly it is going to be difficult to put him on the ground.
Now, this tactic did work against Brett Favre in the NFC title game against Minnesota. The number of hits Favre took really knocked him off balance and he wasn't as sharp as he normally was during the season -- although I thought he still had a big game.
I think what the Saints did is if there was any indecision on the defender's part it was to take a shot rather than pull off. What I mean, I don't think the Saints were taking shots deliberately after the whistle. I think if there's any indecision they took the shot and tried to be legal.
2. Well, can the Saints force turnovers against the Colts like they did against the Vikings?
As good as they are at teaching stripping the ball, and as good as they are with their ball skills in the secondary for interceptions, you can't always count on turnovers. I mean, when they don't get the turnovers they struggle defensively.
But Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has done a great job teaching how to force turnovers and strip the ball. I'm always really disappointed when I hear coaches say, 'Well, we couldn't control the turnovers. We didn't want them to throw interceptions. We didn't want them to fumble.'
But some coaches are very good at emphasizing the take-aways while also emphasizing protecting the ball. You look at this over the years and certain coaches excelled at this. Marty Schottenheimer was very good at teaching this. His Kansas City teams lived by it. Lovie Smith and the Tampa teams with Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin, certain coaches really excel at teaching the takeaways.
And obviously Gregg Williams will sacrifice being a good tackling team at times so they can get the strip. So, some of the statistics with them can be misleading, because they do give up some yardage at times because they are also going for the strip. They are always going for the ball rather that wrapping up on the tackle.
But those takeaways are often the difference between winning and losing. During the season, Manning did throw 16 interceptions. But the Saints have to worry about so many good receivers like Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne.
And these young receivers, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, have really excelled, which is really interesting to me because they run such a complicated offense. Peyton made a couple of great throws in the second half against the Jets and you can pretty much expect that from him, too, in the Super Bowl.
3. Do you give the Saints any chance?
On the surface, you would say this is Manning's game to win or lose. You would say that Indianapolis has got the edge.
But this Saints' team does have something about them. I mean, they have so such determination. It's just part of their make-up and character. They have that underdog mentality.
I don't know where they get it from, maybe it's their connection with the city and what has happened there since Katrina. Maybe they feel like they are a team of destiny. They have such a belief, in themselves, something you just can't underestimate.
4. To win, what do the Saints need to do on offense?
The best thing they do on offense is that they spread the ball around. They do a lot of things extremely well. Drew Brees is very smart and he always seems to know where to go with the football.
They weren't as efficient offensively against Minnesota and part of that was because Brees was getting rid of the ball so quickly, fearing Minnesota's pass rush. Their plan was not to take a bunch of sacks against the Vikings. They weren't able to hold the ball long enough for some of their deeper routes to come open. They had a lot of screens and draws and runs to try to keep Minnesota's rush off-balance.
Now, this was effective for them. It cut down on their yardage and their big plays, but it allowed them to stay in the game and ultimately win the game.
I don't think the Colts have as good a pass rush as the Vikings. A couple of individuals do, like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but overall their pass rush is not as effective because they don't have the push up the middle like Minnesota does.
I think New Orleans can do some things scheme-wise to help protect Brees in this game against Freeney and Mathis. It's always easier when there are only a couple of guys to focus on for an offensive line. Minnesota's front four, without any blitz, can be so dominant, especially with those guys in the middle, that it helps Jared Allen and Ray Edwards. So, I think with Indianapolis they will have to scheme to put some pressure on Brees.
Now, I do believe the Saints will be able to run a little on the Colts. But the Colts defense is so underrated. New Orleans' style of play will allow them to run the ball some.
But don't underrate the quality of the Indianapolis defense. They are very quick; they offset their lack of size with their speed. And their secondary supports the run extremely well.
5. Who has the advantage with the extra week to prepare?
Well, one thing is that everyone knows what Indianapolis is going to do on both sides of the ball. The thing about New Orleans is that Gregg Williams understands he has to blitz and he has to do some things differently to be productive against Manning. I really think having two weeks to prepare will really help New Orleans more so than it does Indianapolis.
What could be a wild card in this thing, and even I have been saying it, is that everybody is expecting New Orleans to do a lot of blitzing to put pressure on Manning. But the Saints might very well go back to their game plan that they used so effectively against New England in Week 12 when Tom Brady was throwing the ball all over the field. I mean, defend the pass rather than blitz a lot and use a three-man line at times. That look really gave Brady problems.
I talk to Howie (Long) all the time about the general thinking is that you defend the great passer and you rush the poor passer. Obviously you also have to change it up and you can't be doing the same thing all the time.
But if you're not going to get to Manning, you are really hurting your team if you do too much blitzing. I believe you have to do some to break Manning's rhythm. But if you are blitzing and not getting to him, then you really open up a lot of holes in your coverage.
The smart thing to do against Manning; particularly if you are not hitting him and forcing him to rush his throws is to maximum defend with eight defensive backs.
BONUS PREDICTION: OK, who do you like to win?
I like Indianapolis because when they have played all their players in games this season they have been the more consistent team. As great as New Orleans was during the season, they still had three or four games where they put themselves in a poor position but they were able to pull it out because they got turnovers. That saving factor probably won't happen with Manning and the Colts.