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Super Scout: Colts O vs. Saints D

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts will meet Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV in Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins. New Orleans won its first 13 games and lost its last three in the regular season. The Colts went one better, starting 14-0 before resting their starters and losing the final two games. In the playoffs, the Saints routed Arizona before edging Minnesota in overtime in the NFC Championship Game. Indianapolis defeated Baltimore and the Jets by a combined 50-20. The all-time series is tied, 5-5. The Giants lost to the Saints in New Orleans on Oct. 18, 48-27. They did not play the Colts this season, but will meet them in the 2010 regular season.

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The New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts will meet Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV in Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins.

Colts offense vs. Saints defense

Indianapolis ranked ninth in the NFL during the regular season, averaging 363.1 yards a game. The Colts were 32nd and last in rushing yards at just 80.9 yards a game. But they were second in the league in passing yards with an average of 282.2 a game. In their playoffs, their rushing yards have dropped to 71.5 a game, but their passing yards have risen to 296.5. Indy was seventh in scoring, averaging 26 points a game.

The Colts will face a New Orleans defense that was ranked 25th in the NFL, allowing 357.8 yards a game. Under first-year coordinator Gregg Williams, the Saints were 21st against the run (122.2) and 26th vs. the pass (235.6). They allowed 341 points, which placed them 20th in the NFL.

Indianapolis' offense is different than most in the league. It is not a power attack, as indicated by the rushing numbers. But it is a sophisticated, precise offense that takes advantage of the talents of Peyton Manning, a terrific group of players at the ball-handling positions and an underrated offensive line.

Manning is widely considered the NFL's finest player. He won his record fourth Most Valuable Player award this season by completing 393 of 571 passes (68.8 percent) for 4,500 yards, 33 touchdowns and 16 interceptions for a passer rating of 99.8. His postseason rating is 104.7. Manning's study habits are legendary. Part of his preparation for the AFC Championship Game against Rex Ryan's Jets was to review the Colts' victory over Baltimore in a divisional playoff game – from the 2006 season, when Indianapolis won the Super Bowl. Manning is prepared for anything on game day. He's a maestro at controlling the tempo of the offense at the line of scrimmage. Manning is extraordinarily patient and he moves around in the pocket until someone breaks free. And he makes deadly accurate passes.

How many skilled receivers does Manning have at his disposal? In the regular season, Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark led the Colts with 100 catches apiece. They each have 11 in Indianapolis' two postseason games. But second-year pro Pierre Garcon (16) and rookie Austin Collie (11) have combined for 27, including three touchdowns. Wayne is one of the NFL's very best receivers, Garcon has blazing speed and Collie is a terrific possession receiver. Clark is a splendid route runner who has been Manning's safety blanket for several seasons. He is a matchup problem for both safeties and linebackers.

But if any secondary in the league matches up well with Indianapolis is the Saints' group of defensive backs. Jabari Greer is one of the steadiest and most dependable cornerbacks in the league. He generally stays on the left side instead of following the opposition's best receiver all over the field – though Green could hold his own against them if they did. Tracy Porter, who had the big interception of Brett Favre at the end of regulation in the NFC Championship Game, is an explosive and dependable player on the right side.

Darren Sharper and Roman Harper form one of the NFL's best safety combos. Sharper tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions and is the league's active leader with 63 – including 11 he's returned for touchdowns, the second-highest total in history. In 2009, he averaged an incredible 41.8 yards a return and scored three times. The Saints signed Sharper in the offseason a caught lightning in a bottle. As his numbers indicate, Sharper has uncanny ball skills and is one of the most instinctive safeties to ever play the game. Harper is an excellent player in his own right who would be the No. 1 safety on most teams.

Joseph Addai led the Colts with 828 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 219 carries. He is not a power runner per se, but can pick up the tough yards on the corners. Rookie Donald Brown is a little bigger and stronger.

Jonathan Vilma is unlike many of the league's middle linebackers because of his athleticism and balls skills. He should have the speed and skill to run with Clark. Strongside linebacker Scott Fujita is tough and instinctive and Scott Shanle is an underrated every-down linebacker on the weak side.

The Colts' offensive line is extremely intelligent, athletic and mobile group that is exceptional at picking up stunts and adjusting to the moves of defenders. But none of them is a real power player and no team has been able to push around New Orleans' defensive front this season.

The leader of the Indianapolis line is center Jeff Saturday – who could pass for Shaun O'Hara's twin brother – a tough and savvy player who can make all the blocks. But Saturday and guards Kyle DeVann and Ryan Lilja will be tested by Saints defensive tackles Sedrick Ellis and Remi Ayodele, as well as reserve Anthony Hargrove. Left tackle Charlie Johnson faces a tough matchup in Will Smith, who led the Saints and was fifth in the NFL with a career-high 13.0 sacks.

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