(programming note: DZ will appear on Sports Show Live tonight at 8:30 to talk about the Super Bowl)
Generally speaking, coordinators are overrated. Players win games in the NFL much more than schemes do. A good coordinator can make the difference between a win and a loss once or twice a season, but for the most part they are all slaves to the talent they have.
Larry Coyer has a unique task this week. The book on the Saints since the start of the 2007 season has been to play cover-2 against them. Ironically, after a year of receiving praise for moving the Colts past the ‘bland Tampa-2’ of Tony Dungy, it turns out that now Indy is playing a team that you have to beat by playing…a bland Tampa 2. On top of everything else, he has to design a defense knowing that Dwight Freeney will most likely be limited. It isn’t an enviable task.
Somehow, lost in all the hoopla about Peyton Manning, everyone has lost sight of the fact that the Saints have a much more dominant offense than the Colts, and it’s not even close. The Saints average 32 points a game, though if you take out special teams and defensive touchdowns, that number does drop to 27.5. For some reason, the Vikings game has convinced everyone that the Saints aren’t likely to score a lot of points, and I’ve seen predictions that peg the Saints around 21 points. What is amazing to me is that people consider the Saints offense (which scored under 24 points twice this year, and under 30 just six times in 17 games) more suspect than the Colts. Indianapolis didn’t score 30 points 8 times in 16 games.
Let me be clear, there is no way Indianapolis is holding the Saints under 30 points without a healthy Dwight Freeney. They simply do not have the talent to do that. Raheem Brock is a nice player, but has not posted more than 3.5 sacks in a season since 2005. He’s posted more than 1 sack in a game four times in his career, and three of those games were against abjectly awful teams. Drew Brees is one of the great quarterbacks playing today. He is not Joe Flacco or Mark Sanchez. He won’t be rattled by a random linebacker blitz. Brees was so good this season, that I felt like he had a legitimate claim on the MVP award. I couldn’t argue with anyone casting a vote for Brees over Manning this year. Indy has an advantage at the quarterback position, but it is a slight advantage, not a gaping one.
So it falls to Larry Coyer to come up with some miraculous way to contain the Saints. In addition to Freeney being hobbled, we still have no idea about the health of Jerraud Powers. Can you imagine Brees targeting Tim Jennings 20 times on Sunday? I certainly can. I’m stating it now: Larry Coyer is not capable of doing anything that will stop the Saints. Granted, Coyer had great success against Brees in Denver. In five games, he limited Brees to less than 200 yards passing in every game, with one TD and 3 picks. The 2009 Saints are not the 2003 Chargers, however. There just isn’t any reason to think that a Freeney-less Colts team will shut down the Saints. It’s much more likely that we’ll see a repeat of the first half of the Texans game (in which Freeney did not play), where Indy blitzed repeatedly with little to no effect, and the Texans shoved the ball right down the Colts throats, passing and running with ease. Unlike the Matt Schaub, Drew Brees isn’t going to implode by throwing indefensible interceptions in the second half.
Given that the Colts are 7-26 in the Manning era in games in which the defense gives up at least 30 points (2-1 in the playoffs, though!), I consider the Colts to be underdogs. The Saints ARE scoring 30. The Colts will have to play flawlessly to get there. The Saints are the better running team (by a wide margin), so they should be able to dictate the tempo. If they want to hurry up, they can. If they feel the need to slow the game down, they can. This was never a great matchup for Indy, but without Freeney, it’s virtually an unmanageable one. The best case for the Colts would look like the 2003 playoff game against the Chiefs.
Larry Coyer had better work some magic, or the Colts will lose on Sunday night.
Personally, I wish it was Dungy who was putting together this game plan.