His Honor Clark Judge has pronounced sentence on the New Orleans Saints: they are condemned to hard labor in Sun Life Penitentiary for a term of 10-14 points. In other words: the Colts will "roll over the Saints."
What follows is my brief for an appeal from Judge's ruling.
"This is all you need to know about these two opponents: Manning just threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns against the league's No. 1-ranked pass defense, and the Colts just put up 30 points on the league's No. 1-ranked scoring defense."
Yes, those are pretty impressive numbers. And now we have the tape, and can see how Manning succeeded and the Jets failed. If Clark thinks we're going to fall into the same trap as Rex Ryan, he's a flat-out fool.
"New Orleans, meanwhile, didn't beat Minnesota as much as it survived the Vikings. The Vikings fumbled six times and committed five turnovers, yet still managed to put up 28 points and take New Orleans to overtime -- and that makes me nervous about the Saints' ability to withstand Air Peyton."
Oh, please, not this again. The Saints caused those turnovers. They were what's called takeaways, Clark. And that's why we beat Minnesota, and why New York didn't beat Manning.
"The Saints' secondary is ordinary, and their pass rush won't squeeze Manning into mistakes as it did Brett Favre a week ago because Manning doesn't take sacks."
No, Manning doesn't take many sacks. Neither did Brett Favre against New Orleans. He just made mistakes, and that's what Manning will do. He's not Superman, and his interceptions historically have gone way up in the postseason. He's had an atypically good playoff season, and he's due for a bad game--right at the worst time.
"So Favre didn't take any last week, either. The poor guy was hammered again and again, and the pressure forced two interceptions."
Glad to see we agree, Clark.
"But Manning won't see that pressure. A week ago, he atypically took two sacks on his first two series, with the Jets confident they had unlocked the secret to attacking the Colts' most valuable asset. Only they hadn't. Manning took none the rest of the way and sliced, diced and spliced his opponents in the process -- scoring 24 straight points to produce a comfortable victory."
The Jets made a fundamental error: they assumed that taking Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne out of the game would be enough. But that simply left Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon wide open on most plays. The Saints know this--hell, everyone in the U.S. knows it by now--and they won't make the same mistake.
"But maybe the Saints concede and do what they did against Brady earlier this season -- rush three and drop eight into coverage. Brady was forced to throw underneath the coverage, often short of first downs, and the Saints won easily. They might try that again."
Exactly. And Peyton isn't any better at Brady at finding open receivers against an eight-man secondary.
"Only the Colts can make up chunks with their running backs."
They can try. But you know what? The Colts are...wait, I'll let you say it:
"They ranked last in rushing"
"...but that's not because they can't run -- it's because they choose not to run."
Oh really? Well, Clark, the Colts are not only last in the league in rushing yards...they're also second-to-last in yards per rush. They average only 3.5 per carry. Arizona ranked ahead of them at 4.1, and we beat them, Kurt Warner and all. Minnesota also averaged 4.1, and we beat them, Brett Favre and all. And New England also averaged 4.1, and we beat them, Tom Brady and all. So how exactly is the Indianapolis running game going to succeed where the Cardinals, Vikings, and Patriots failed?
"Which brings me to my second point: People say opponents can run all over the Colts without Bob Sanders and they're not all that solid in the middle. That's not exactly true. Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene are proof. The Ravens and the Jets combined for 173 yards rushing against Indianapolis, an average of 86.5 yards a game and 3.6 per attempt."
And who quarterbacked those teams? Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez. Do you think the Colts might not have been playing the run and daring those quarterbacks to beat them with the pass? Do you think they can afford to try the same strategy against Drew Brees, the top-rated quarterback in the league?
"Here's the kicker: In two playoff games, the Colts have surrendered 20 points, or 10 per contest. I don't care if you have Peyton or Eli Manning, you will win with a defense like that. I don't care if you rank 18th overall or 24th against the run, either. What matters is how many points they surrender, and they're not giving up many."
If you assume they'll hold all their opponents to only 10 points, then of course they'll win every game they play. But nobody has held the Saints to 10 points this year. The Ravens were held under 10 once, and the Jets twice. The Ravens were held to 14 points or less three times, and the Jets four times. Those weren't exactly offensive powerhouses that the Colts faced in the playoffs.
"In fact, they ranked eighth in points allowed this season, and that includes the final two regular-season games, when they surrendered 59 while starters rested. New Orleans, meanwhile, ranked 20th. Worse, the Saints surrendered 30 points and 367 yards passing to Washington's Jason Campbell."
That last is a cheap shot. We played that game with guys called off the street to start in place of our injured corners, and we still won. We also blew out the Patriots, who ranked seventh in points allowed. With those same street players. Our regular starters are back now.
"So tell me again how they stop Peyton Manning. Answer: They don't."
Your answer. My answer: how they stopped Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, and Brett Favre. By forcing him into mistakes. And please don't tell me that Manning doesn't make mistakes in the postseason: his interception rate in the playoffs is almost double over that in the regular season.
"Bottom line: I trust Indianapolis to stop Brees more than I trust New Orleans to stop Manning."
You know how much better the Colts' defense has been over that of the Saints? Two points per game You know how much better the Saints' offense has been over that of the Colts? Nearly six points.
The Saints have averaged 31.8 points per game, while the Colts have given up 19.1. Average those, and you wind up with a Saints score of 25.45. The Colts have averaged 26 points per game, while the Saints have given up 21.3. Average those, and the Colts score 23.65. That's a much closer game than you expect, and the Saints come out on top.
Not only that: in the postseason, the Saints' scoring average has gone up: they've scored 38 points per game. The Colts' has gone down: they've averaged 25 points per game. Not much of a difference, maybe, but still: the direction is the wrong way.
Sorry, Clark. You may wind up being right, Mr. Stopped Clock; but not because your reasoning is sound. Once the game starts, anything can happen. But what ought to happen is this: the Colts score close to their average, but suffer critical turnovers; the Saints score close to their average as well, and wind up winning 34-24. Why? Because the Saints are the better team.