The Indianapolis Colts (and their fans) came back down to earth approximately two months ago when it became evident Peyton Manning would need a third neck surgery and would likely miss the 2011 season in hopes of regenerating nerves and regaining feeling in his right arm. The Saints (and their fans) exited the stratosphere last week when they realized Drew Brees couldn't play defense.
The Sunday night game will feature two teams who are looking for a few answers. The Colts are trying to replace Manning (for a year?) and garner enough consistent offensive output to remove the burden from their defense. Conversely, the Saints are looking for a consistent defensive effort to allow the offense the luxury of not having to score on every possession. At a quick glance, you see weakness versus weakness and strength versus strength on both sides of the ball.
A few questions may be put to rest at the conclusion of this game. First, will the Saints defense allow Curtis Painter to look Manning-esque? This will answer the question of can Painter take advantage of a defense that hasn't really "clicked" yet, or can the Saints keep a below average QB from looking efficient. Next, can the Colts run on the Saints defense? We'll know for certain if the Franklin/Rogers one year try-out is over before it started, and we'll know if the Colts need to go in a different direction at RB in the next draft. Finally, can the Saints rush the ball with success against the Colts inferior interior? This will tell us how committed the Saints are to having a balanced offense and establishing that viable threat of a run game that will come in handy in the future.
Both squads are quarterback-centric: the entire offense and defense revolve around the QB's strengths. A casual look at how either defense is built will confirm that they are built to play with a multi-score lead; the Colts with a dominant pass rush (undersized, speedy DEs waiting for the opponent to become one dimensional so they can pin their ears back), and the Saints with a strong secondary (waiting for the lead so they can send the front seven on a blitz and force a hurried throw/interception).
Neither defense has been particularly successful: the Colts haven't enjoyed much of a lead (except against the Chiefs), and the Saints just plain lack much of a consistent pass rush and/or quality LB performance. The Saints have a much better (and deeper) secondary, while the Colts enjoy a better pass rush duo of defensive ends. By all means, the Saints should have the better group of DT's, and the LB position is a weakness for each team.
What separates the two is obviously the QB position. The Saints have a much better group of ball carriers while the Colts lack confidence with anyone not named Addai. The Colts "bolstered" their offensive line through the most recent draft, while the Saints "bolstered" their defensive line through free agency. The complementary receiving core, complete with a match-up nightmare tight end, is shared by both teams. The difference is that the Saints have Drew Brees AND a semblance of a rushing attack while the Colts have neither.
The last time these two teams played in the Superdome, Peyton Manning threw for 6 touchdowns and embarrassed the Saints in prime time. The last time the two teams played each other was Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, where Tracy Porter embarrassed Peyton Manning. I look to see Curtis Painter exploit the Saints secondary, but not with consistency. The Saints defense will allow this game to be closer than need be, but in the end, Drew Brees will have a chance to throw for 6 TDs and repay a favor. I predict the Saints to score 6 touchdowns, the only question is how many will come on the ground? Saints 45, Colts 20.
2. Saints - 29.5 points per game, 452 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, 56% on 3rd downs, 32:15 time of possession, -7 turnover margin
31. Colts - 17.3 ppg, 285 ypg, 5.0 ypp, 36% 3rd down, 24:50 TOP, -2 turnover margin
2. Saints - 344 ypg, 8.2 yards per attempt, 68.6% completion, 13 TD, 8 INT, (25) 20+ yard pass completions, 11 sacks surrendered, 97.0 QB rating
28. Colts - 201 ypg, 6.4 ypa, 52% completion, 7 TD, 2 INT, (17) 20+ yard pass comp. , 11 sacks, 79.7 QB rating
18. Saints - 108 ypg, 4.2 yards per carry, 5 TD, 2 Fumbles, (4) 20+ yard runs
28. Colts - 84 ypg, 3.8 ypc, 3 TD, 1 FUM, (0) 20+ yard runs
17. Saints - 25.2 ppg, 366 ypg, 5.8 ypp, 39% 3rd down conversions allowed
27. Colts - 27.2 ppg, 393 ypg, 5.7 ypp, 48% 3rd down
18. Colts - 256 ypg, 8.3 ypa, 69.9% completion, 9 TD, 3 INT, (22) 20+ yard passes allowed, 9 sacks, 104.0 opponent QB rating
19. Saints - 256 ypg, 7.1 ypa, 52.8% completion, 12 TD, 3 INT, (19) 20+ yard passes, 14 sacks, 87.4 QB rating
14. Saints - 109 ypg, 5.1 ypc, 4 TD, 1 FUM, (4) 20+ yard runs allowed
30. Colts - 137 ypg, 3.9 ypc, 7 TD, 3 FUM, (5) 20+ yard runs allowed
Overall Statistical Analysis: Pass defense looks to be a wash on the surface, but when you compare the rush defense and the Time of Possession, it is evident that teams are getting a lead on the Colts and running it down their throats. It looks as if the Saints rush defense isn't that great as well, but perhaps teams spend less time exploiting it while trying to keep pace with Drew Brees. The Saints are the most consistent team on third down conversion (offense), while the Colts offense has trouble staying on the field. If the last six weeks show a pattern, it's that the Saints will beat the Colts by multiple scores, though Curtis Painter will be careful with the ball and manage a few big plays on the Saints defense.