Part of the beauty of watching playoff football is observing the high-stakes chess match between opposing coaches.
Savvy play-callers spend countless hours crafting creative game plans in order to effectively maneuver pieces around the board, and their ability to successfully exploit the weakness of the opposition often determines the fate of their squad.
From scripting the game's first dozen plays to making subtle adjustments on the sideline, staying one step ahead of the curve is often an overlooked aspect in big games.
With Super Bowl XLIV featuring a battle of wits between some of the finest minds in football, let's take a look at the coaches who could emerge as X-factors in this game:
Saints: Gregg Williams, defensive coordinator
The brash coordinator may have written a check that his defenders aren't able to cash with his bold coach speak last week, but don't underestimate Williams' ability to craft a game plan to neutralize the Colts. The veteran coach is a creative blitz designer who loves to bring pressure from all angles. His radical defensive approach frequently exposes his corners to one-on-one coverage, but the aggressive style can result in a pummeling of the quarterback when the secondary holds up.
Given Peyton Manning's talent for deciphering coverage, Williams must come up with a clever scheme that masks the defense's intentions prior to the snap, but generates an enormous amount of pressure in the pocket. Coordinators have tried various pressure tactics to disrupt Manning's rhythm, but few have been able to successfully rattle the four-time MVP. Williams' ability to do so will ultimately determine if the Saints are able to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
Colts: Howard Mudd, senior offensive line coach
Mudd is a living legend in circles for his outstanding work in 36 years of NFL coaching. He has routinely created exceptional lines in Indy with a hodgepodge of low-round picks and undrafted free agents, and this year is no exception (Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson were drafted in the fourth- and sixth-rounds respectively, while Jeff Saturday, Ryan Lilja and Kyle DeVan were undrafted free agents).
Despite so many lightly regarded players manning key roles, Mudd created an airtight protection scheme that resulted in the Colts surrendering the fewest sacks in the league (13). Facing a challenging exotic blitz package from the Saints, Mudd will have to concoct a plan that keeps Manning upright and allows him to take advantage of the favorable matchups that the Colts enjoy on the outside. Generating big plays is the key to Indy's success, and it all starts with Mudd's blueprint for winning the battle upfront.