Saints vs. Colts: the pulled pork of pigskin

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 03, 2010



Our final real and spectacular pick comes to you from the road to Miami. That’s right … we're going to the Super Bowl! Well, a couple of us, anyway.
 
The Chief Troll decided to drive. Yup. Driving from Boston to Miami. There’s a good reason for it, but you don’t care. What it means for you, though, is that this real and spectacular Super Bowl pick comes to you from lovely Kingsland, Georgia, just outside Jacksonville.
 
The Pigskin Ford pick-up was covered in six inches of snow in Washington D.C. Wednesday morning. Ten hours and 700 miles later … it’s sunshine and palmettos.
 
The road provided us plenty of time to ponder our disappointing 4-6 mark ATS here in the 2009 playoffs (7-3 straight up); and plenty of time to think about our lovely muse of analysis, the real and spectacular Ms. Teri Hatcher. And then, after the truck started to shimmy and weave all over the road, the thoughts quickly turned back to the big game.
 
Super Bowl XLIV presents a gorgeous dichotomy, at least for those of us who consider the creations like Carolina-style pulled pork that we picked up at roadside barbecue stands the perfect dichotomy: the smoky, savory and tactile sensation of tender pork, doused with the acidic splash of vinegary sauce.
 
It’s a perfect clash, two great tastes that taste great together. Kind of like Super Bowl XLIV.
 
On one side we have the meaty reality of the well-lubed victory-machine of the Colts, who went 14-2 and firted with un undefeated season, despite humble stats in many ways. On the other side we have the dazzling splash of the Saints, who dominated statistically in 2009, highlighted by a league-best 510 points and a record-setting season by quarterback drew Brees.
 
(By the way, did you ever think you'd see the time when the Colts were perceived as the rock-solid, workmanlike team, and their opponents were the splashy and sexy team?)
 
The contrast sets up some obvious questions: Which team would you rather be? And, of course, which team is going to win?
 
First, let’s look at each team side by side, when measured by our Quality stats.
 

New Orleans

Indicator

Indianapolis

16.79 (9th)

Bendability

17.68 (5th)

12.67 (1st)

Scoreability

13.96 (6th)

7.69 (2nd)

Passing YPA

7.35 (4th)

68.58 (3rd)

Def. Passer Rating

80.64 (12th)

37.44 (1st)

Pass Rating Differential

14.80 (5th)

5.3 (1st)

Offensive Hog Index

11.0 (8th)

15.7 (15th)

Defensive Hog Index

25.0 (30th)

4.6

AVG

10

 
The Saints are better in every indicator but one. And, of course, they topped the league in three different indicators. The Colts were essentially solid across the board, while the No. 30 spot in DHI obviously skews down the average. But Indy was spectacular in no area. 
 
The numbers tell us much of what the eye test tells us about both teams: the Saints were dominant for much of the year. The Colts won because they’re a team with few real weaknesses (third-down defense was their biggest flaw); they won because they were well coached; and they won because they gutted out wins in tight situations.
 
It adds up to two every formidable teams.
 
At the end of the day, though, we believe success in the NFL revolves around one major factor: success in the passing game.
 
And in this area, one team clearly has the advantage. Let’s look at several key elements of the passing game:
 
The clash of quarterbacks
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning won NFL MVP honors in 2009. Saints quarterback Drew Brees had the better season. (In fact, it was the second straight year that Manning was handed the MVP honors when others clearly had better seasons … we talk about another case of pedigree trumping production more here on WEEI.com this week.)
 
Brees was better than Manning in every major indicator of success:
  • He threw more touchdowns (league-best 34 to 33)
  • He threw fewer INTs (11 to 16)
  • He produced a much higher average per attempt (8.5 to 7.9)
  • He produced a much higher passer rating (league-best 109.6 to 99.9)
  • Brees set the single-season record for passing accuracy, completing 70.62 percent of his passes (Manning completed 68.8 percent).
Given a choice between the production of one quarterback over the other this year, Brees is the obvious choice.
 
The clash of pass defenses
As you know, we consider Defensive Passer Rating the most effective indicator of pass-defense success, and the Saints clearly have the advantage here.
 
New Orleans was No. 3 in the league this year in Defensive Passer Rating (68.6). Indianapolis was No. 12 (80.6).
 
That success has only continued here in the playoffs.
 
New Orleans faced Kurt Warner and Brett Favre, two prolific veterans, two former champions and two future Hall of Famers. Indianapolis faced second-year man Joe Flacco and rookie Mark Sanchez.

Here’s how the two teams have fared on pass defense in two playoff games.

Saints: 52 of 82, 63.4 percent, 576 yards, 7.02 YPA, 1 TD, 3 INT, 73.0 passer rating
Colts: 38 of 66, 57.6 percent, 491 yards, 7.44 YPA, 2 TD, 3 INT, 72.2 passer rating.
 
It’s something of a statistical dead heat, until you consider the quality of the quarterbacks each team has faced.
 
Bottom line: the numbers throughout the year tell us that the Saints are better equipped than the Colts to stop a great quarterback.
 
Interceptions
As you know, interceptions are the single-most important play in any game, especially in the postseason. We chronicled the impact of INTs in our world-famous Interception Ladder. The 2009 postseason has only reaffirmed the importance of picks: offenses that throw fewer INTs (or defenses that haul in more) are a perfect 10-0 here in the playoffs.
 
It’s another indicator that appears to favor the Saints on both sides fo the ball.
 
Defensively, the Saints finished third in the NFL with 26 picks, led by future Hall of Famer Darren Sharper. He tied for the league lead with nine picks, while returning three for touchdowns and setting an NFL record with 376 return yards.
 
The Colts produced 16 picks, about the average for an NFL team.
 
Both defenses have intercepted three passes in the playoffs. (Though, to Indy’s advantage, they didn’t get to face BrettFavre, so they didn’t have one of their defensive picks pre-ordained by the Gridiron Gods).
 
Offensively, Brees was intercepted fewer times (11 to 16), and less often if we look at it as a percentage of pass attempts (2.1% to 2.8%).
 
The larger trend
There are two larger trends that appear to be in the favor of Brees. 
 
After his two playoff performances this year, Brees is now the least intercepted passer in postseason history (min. 150 attempts). He’s thrown just two picks (against 11 TDs) in 186 attempts. That’s a rate of 1.08 percent – and even better than the number produced by the former leader, Bart Starr (1.41 percent).
 
And, as our own John Dudley highlighted this week, Brees is now third on the all-time postseason passer rating list
(100.6), behind only recent retiree Kurt Warner (102.8) and the greatest quarterback of all time, Starr (104.8).
 
The Colts will be pushed over by no team. They've proven that time and again this year. Coach Jim Caldwell's well-oiled victory machine is a thing of beauty to behold.
 
But, in the end, we're going to roll the dice with the team that's looked better in the key stats that we find so near and dear.
 
Back to the road: next stop, Miami!
 
Our real and spectacular score: New Orleans 33, Indianapolis 28
 
***
 
Randoms on the Super Bowl:
 
As we approach the biggest football game of the year, there is going to be an awful lot of talk surrounding the Super Bowl odds and who is going to win the big game with the points. Through the years, we have seen some very uncompetitive Super Bowl matchups, and when it came down to the line maker’s decision, that has been reflected. In fourteen of the 43 epic games contested so far, the Super Bowl spread has been one of double digits or more. In those games, the favorite has covered seven times, with six wins for the underdog, and one push.
 
The Super Bowl spread has been a field goal or less on only eight occasions, which would seem highly unusual when you figure that, theoretically anyway, the best two teams are meeting in the game. In those games with the tight lines, the favorite and underdog have each covered four times in the spread.
 
The first four times the biggest game in America has been played, the spread was twelve points or more. In the last seven seasons, however, there has only been one Superbowl spread of ten points or more, and that was when the Patriots, a 12-point favorite, were beaten by the Giants straight-up. So you never really know what to expect.

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