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When you have two weeks to break down a single game, you’re going to analyze even the most inane data. Here at VegasInsider.com, however, we do things a little different: we cover what matters on the field. That’s why we’re targeting the most important matchups between the Saints and Colts leading up to kickoff at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
One of the more intriguiging showdowns is taking place down in the trenches. New Orleans’ defensive line has been an unsung unit but has helped the team reach the title round. Meanwhile, Indy’s offensive line gets love in commercials with their quarterback because of being nearly impenetrable. Something has to give on Feb. 7, but which will it be?
New Orleans’ Defensive Line
The Saints’ defensive front four have not received the accolades of other teams that made the playoffs. It’s hard not to understand as to why that is when you look at what they did in a 13-3 regular season. After all, New Orleans ranked 20th in scoring defense (21.3 points per game), 21st against the run (122.2 yards per game) and 26th against the pass (235.6 YPG).
Those stats no doubt helped Bobby McCray, Sedrick Ellis, Remi Ayodele and Will Smith (not to be confused with the Fresh Prince) into being passed up for Pro Bowl selection. Yet Roman Harper and Darren Sharper got an invite to a game that they won’t be attending.
Harper and Sharper were anchors for a defense that was third in the regular season with 26 interceptions and tops with eight defensive touchdowns.
The bottom line is those two safeties wouldn’t be getting all the attention if it weren’t for the work that was done by the d-line.
All New Orleans’ defensive front has done is rack up 125 tackles during the regular season, picking 21 quarterback sacks along the way. They also knocked six passes off of their course during the first 16 games of the year, picking off one pass and forcing three fumbles. Oh yeah, they even scored a touchdown this season with Ayodele.
The Saints have also a quality man to come in for relief with Anthony Hargrove, formerly of the Bills. Hargrove has had his best season in the league since being with the Rams back in 2005 with 42 tackles, five sacks, forced fumble and a score of his own.
What’s even more impressive is that this unit stepped up its game when they faced off against playoff clubs. The Saints faced four playoff qualifiers during the regular season (Eagles, Jets, Patriots and Cowboys). New Orleans’ starting four on the d-line registered 25 tackles, seven sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries in those tests.
As great as the numbers have been for this group, it’s the stats that aren’t tracked where they have shined during the playoffs. The Saints have shown a knack for getting to the quarterback just after getting rid of the ball, but making sure to let them know they were in the neighborhood with a knockdown.
Those little “love taps” were on display on a regular basis during the playoffs. McCray levied a hit on Arizona’s Kurt Warner that knocked him out of the game (and maybe his career) after getting picked off by d-lineman Smith. And the constant barrage of hits that Minnesota’s Brett Favre took in the NFC Championship Game took their toll as the match wore on. Can you blame a guy for throwing a pick to close out regulation after those shots?
Indianapolis’ Offensive Line
If you’re looking for an offensive line that you can put the utmost trust in, it would have to be the Colts’ trench men.
Indianapolis’ o-line of Charlie Johnson, Ryan Lilja, Jeff Saturday, Kyle DeVan and Ryan Diem have shown themselves to be the gold standard when it comes to protecting the quarterback. They held off opposing defenses enough to allow just 13 sacks of Peyton Manning during the regular season, which was the fewest of any team in the NFL.
That kind of protection helped Manning and the Colts to rank second in the league with 287.8 YPG through the air and lead with 34 passing scores. We shouldn’t be too surprised by this because unit has yielded 15 or fewer QB takedowns in four of the last six seasons.
We could mention that Indy ranked dead last in the running game (80.9 YPG on the ground), but this is a team that is wins by throwing the ball.
What is worth discussing is how the line has fared during this run to the Super Bowl. Indy’s offensive line has yielded four sacks in the divisional and conference title rounds, three to the Jets alone. Was this just a fluke or should the Colts be concerned? In a word, yes.
Johnson will most likely be matching up with New Orleans’ Will Smith. All the former Buckeye has done is rank fifth in the NFL with 13 total sacks during the regular season. This could prove to be one of the better matchups to watch as the game progresses.
Who has the edge?
While I know that the Colts have a good offensive line, I have to wonder if their numbers are a little skewed. How are they skewed? Well if you have a quarterback that could be the greatest of all time like Peyton Manning, then they could be altered a little bit.
Manning doesn’t like to dawdle in the pocket, getting rid of the ball in a matter of seconds. You have to wonder if this o-line would not get as many accolades as they do if they had any other QB taking the snaps.
Regardless of that talking point, the advantage in this matchup goes to the Saints. It won’t be apparent at first, but New Orleans will begin its methodical knocks against Manning. Those early hits will take their toll as the game wears on and force Indy’s signal caller into some bad throws.
Edge: New Orleans
You can reach Judd Hall via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org