Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt breaks down Colts-Saints matchup
Cardinals played both the Colts and Saints, losing to each of them
Whisenhunt: For the Colts to win, they've got to handle the Saints' blitz
Whisenhunt: Reggie Bush is the X factor for the Saints in this game
Last year at this time, Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt was guiding his NFC champion Cardinals through their first Super Bowl week in franchise history. This season Whisenhunt's team was one of six to face both the Colts and the Saints -- he went 0-2, including a divisional-round playoff loss at New Orleans -- and he agreed to share his observations of the Super Bowl XLIV matchup with SI.com's Don Banks:
"If the Colts are to win, obviously the No. 1 thing they've got to handle is the Saints blitz, because New Orleans caused a lot of problems for both us and the Vikings. But some of those problems came because of the Saints having an advantage in their dome with the noise, and being able to get the quick break off the snap. I would expect some of their advantage is going to be equalized by the neutral field.
"In the Colts favor is the fact their offensive line does a great job with identifying and picking up the blitz, and nobody in the NFL does a better job than Peyton Manning of communicating to his offensive line and getting the protection shifted toward wherever he reads the pressure coming from. I see Peyton, as usual, being able to get the ball out before the rush reaches him, and the Saints won't have as much success getting to him as they had in the first two games of the playoffs against Kurt Warner and Brett Favre.
"What New Orleans has been able to do so far is bring that one extra guy -- either a linebacker or a safety -- and really create havoc with their pass rush. It's going to come down to the Colts being able to hold that extra guy off long enough to get the pass off, and let Manning hurt them for bringing the blitz. But that's exactly what he's done so well against both the Ravens and the Jets, two teams that play the same type of blitzing, aggressive defense as the Saints.
"I also think Indy can run on New Orleans, especially when the Colts go to their three-receiver sets or when they flex tight end Dallas Clark out wide like they like to do. That's going to spread the Saints defense out, and that's going to put the onus on the New Orleans run defense, which isn't real good. It's going to be a challenge for the Saints to stop the Colts from running the ball if Indy spreads them out.
"Indy's defense will struggle at times against Drew Brees. I'm not sure where the Colts pass defense ranks, but defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are not going to get the quick get-off on a grass field, especially if it rains at all, that they usually do at home on turf. That's going to neutralize some of the Colts' pass rush, and help the Saints passing game. Brees is one of the best at getting the ball out quick, and the Saints' receivers do a nice job of catching the ball in tight coverage. The Colts' secondary has to have the ability to stay in coverage on those quick throws that Brees likes, and make the plays on those back-shoulder throws he's so good at. Indy has to at least play it tight after the catch, and limit the Saints' YAC.
"For the Saints to win, they've got to really maximize every scoring opportunity they get. Indy is going to move the ball and score some points against New Orleans. That's a given. What New Orleans has to do is contain the Colts' offense enough to keep themselves in the game, and score points almost every time they have the chance to. They can't leave a lot of points on the field against the Colts.
"What it's really going to come down to is if Indy's defense can put together the same type of effort the Vikings' defense did in the NFC title game. If they do, the Saints will struggle. The same type of effort as New Orleans' offense had against Minnesota won't get it done. I know the Saints can score against Colts, but I'm not sure they'll score enough to match points with Indy for four quarters.
"The Saints' offense likes to start with those swing passes and the shorter stuff, and then take their shots with the vertical passing game after the shorter passes open things up. New Orleans likes to take its regular people [starting skill players] and get creative with them in order to create difficult matchups for you. They move Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey out wide, and they can win a lot of matchups that way. If Shockey's knee is healthy, he can be a matchup problem for the Colts. But it's not as much of an advantage if he's still playing on one leg, like he was against us.
"I think Bush is real X factor for the Saints in this game. He has to show up if they're going to hang with the Colts. He makes big plays in space for them, like he did against us, whether it's on those swing passes or on punt returns. If he can make a few of those happen against the Colts, New Orleans has a chance.
"But I expect the Colts to do the same things they always do. They run their stuff and they run it really well. I think we're looking at a game where they really score quite a bit, and it's a just a matter of whether the Saints can hang in there with them and match them point for point. I'm not sure they can.''
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