Saints defense is ankle deep in trouble
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Still no relief in sight on the issue of Dwight Freeney's ankle, and that's not a medical opinion so much as a measure of media temperature. Worse, the blessed arrival of game time for Super Bowl 44 sometime in the six o'clock hour tonight does not necessarily mean people will stop talking about that one particular body part among all the parts of the 92 bodies in uniform.
Ankle talk could sustain itself through the game, right through the postgame, right through spring and summer potentially. Too bad so many credentialed journalists spent most of this week focused on the bottom of the top defender on the wrong defense.
Freeney's ankle, which he described as the size of a softball after he stepped on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in the AFC title game last Sunday, had shrunk to the size of a baseball by midweek, and the great Colts defensive end was hoping for a steady reduction to tennis ball-sized, racquet ball-sized, golf ball-sized, ping pong ball-sized, to somewhere closer to blueberry-sized for kickoff.
But whatever its ultimate circumference, Freeney's ankle is not going to lose the Lombardi Trophy for Indianapolis, because the decisive issue in this matchup is the general capability of the New Orleans' Saints defense. No unit faces a more compelling challenge and no unit looks anywhere near as collapsible.
"I've been telling people all week, this Colts offense is like a machine," Saints linebacker Scott Fujita was saying here Thursday. "They've been doing the same thing for a very long time. I think you're always concerned anytime you face this offense because they are so dangerous at so many positions. They are so good at what they do. They knocked me out of the playoffs in '03 when I was with the Chiefs. That loss stung me a lot. They really got after us.
"We didn't force one punt in that game."
And then he said this:
"I feel good about what we're doing on defense."
No one had the heart to ask why.
Last seen, this Saints defense was getting boiled to gumbo by a Minnesota Vikings offense led by a 40-year-old jeans salesman. Before the Saints sent Bourbon Street into full riot stage with the overtime field goal that ended a 43-year wait for their first Super Bowl, the Vikings slashed them for 31 first downs and 475 yards of offense. Imagine the damage had they not turned the ball over five times.
Minnesota locked up the football for nearly 37 minutes without touching it once in the overtime.
"What's very important is disrupting the passing lanes," said Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, whose late interception of Brett Favre saved us from a week of full-blown Brett worship. "It's very important because Peyton Manning can not only block you with his offensive line, but he can also block you with his quick release. It will be very important for our guys in coverage on the receivers and the tight ends to disrupt them and have tight coverage and make Peyton hold the ball. That will allow our front line to get there."
Everyone agrees the Saints have to pressure Manning, just as everyone agrees it's next to impossible. Manning doesn't hold the ball long enough to be pressured. The Steelers rattled him good in January of 2006, but a lot of maturity and the further sophistication of Tom Moore's offense have occupied the four-year interim. On 83 passes in this postseason, he has been sacked four times. On 571 pass plays in the regular season, someone took him to the floor once every 57 times he intended to throw. Most games don't have 57 Colts pass plays.
This is perhaps why Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has spent most of the week describing an endless series of body blows to The Great 18 that will take just enough of a toll for New Orleans to win. Williams loves to talk about the "burp count," the number of times someone falls on the quarterback and hears the air rush out of him, and of the need for a defense to be feared.
Apprised of this, Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd came up with perhaps the best line of the week: "Well, we don't have to block Gregg Williams."
All they've got to do is block the NFL's 25th ranked defense, the one that allowed at least 20 points 13 times this year, block it just enough to allow what Mudd call's the metronome in Manning's head to cue the right sight adjustments. You know, the ones that will make Peyton Manning, somewhere on this side of Canton, the best quarterback ever.
As the weekend arrived and Saints coach Sean Payton finished his last obligatory media session, he revealed some breakfast chatter.
"We were talking about this at breakfast, that he's done it over time," Payton said of Peyton. "His staying power and his consistency, and his approach, is unique. That's why it's talked about so much. We've got a lot of respect for his abilities and for what they've done offensively over there. It will be a tremendous challenge for us."
Too much of one, in fact.
Colts 31, Saints 10.
Oh wait, Freeney has an ankle injury? Really?
Colts 31, Saints 13.
First Published February 7, 2010 12:00 am