Super Bowl 44  

 

Skill players might lack star power but make up for it with balance

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Defense might win championships, but it's offense that got New Orleans and Indianapolis to Super Bowl XLIV.

Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have led the Colts and Saints here, in a game that has the potential to approach 100 combined points. What's interesting is that outside of the quarterbacks, there is relatively marginal star power for the two pyrotechnic teams.

Yes, there are the Reggies (Wayne for the Colts, Bush for the Saints), but a pair of Pierres -- the Colts' Garcon and the Saints' Thomas -- have been the post-season catalysts. The Colts receiver named after the Texas capital (Austin Collie) has just as many catches and 80 more yards in two playoff games than his Pro Bowl teammate with the name of the bigger Texas city (Dallas Clark).

The Colts and Saints don't need a multitude of big names, because they each have quarterbacks that make other players better, running backs who play their roles perfectly and receivers who make plays in systems where there really is no go-to guy.

"For quite some time, I wasn't playing to my natural ability," Collie said. "I was worried about what I was doing, and I think all rookies go through that. I think it took me a little more time, especially with the extent of our offense and with the adjustments of changing everything every week or even every day. Recently, though, I've started to feel more comfortable with what I'm doing, and it has allowed me to play to my natural abilities."

While Collie hit his stride as a rookie, Saints wide receivers Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem have taken years to figure things out. But they've figured them out. Henderson has eight post-season catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns for the Saints, who are averaging 38 points in the playoffs.

Henderson's good but unspectacular totals reflect the diversity of a Saints offense that has had each of its players take turns starring at different points of the season. Early on, Mike Bell was the workhorse running back. The hard-charging, downhill runner has barely played in the playoffs, but he could be a factor against the Colts.

Meachem has been slowed by an ankle injury in the playoffs, but he was one of five Saints players to have at least 45 receptions in the regular season. Like Bell, he is someone who could emerge as an unexpected and highly capable contributor in the Super Bowl.

Wide receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey are the two most accomplished pass-catchers with the Saints; they combined for 1,643 yards in the regular season. During the playoffs, though, a knee injury has limited Shockey and New Orleans has been getting nearly as much from backup tight end David Thomas. Colston, meanwhile, has been covered more aggressively, allowing Henderson, Bush and Pierre Thomas to get free on passing routes.

"It is a blessing to have that much talent around you," said Colston, who led the Saints with 1,074 receiving yards in the regular season and has eight catches for 105 yards in the playoffs. "The thing for us is we are generally happy and excited for one another. That atmosphere alone makes it so easy to share the ball."

That is why both of these teams are here.

Wayne, for years, had to live in the shadow of prolific wideout Marvin Harrison. He lived in that shadow quietly and effectively, racking up yards. Still, Harrison, Wayne, Clark and Manning -- that was star power.

Now, with Garcon and Collie emerging, Wayne gets a different view of how this works. That view shows the value of shared success.

Sharing is what the Saints have done well in their offensive backfield. Thomas led the Saints with 793 yards rushing in the regular season and he has 113 yards on 27 carries in the playoffs, keeping him in line with Colts running back Joseph Addai (103 yards on 27 carries in the postseason; 828 rushing yards in the regular season). Bell delivered 654 yards rushing in the regular season, while Bush managed just 390 yards on the ground.

Now, Bush has had a more sizable role, although Thomas is still the main guy. Addai has also seen rookie Donald Brown get more work in the playoffs. The variety of these backs and their differing strengths provide just as much effectiveness, if not more, than the powerhouse bell-cow back that has fallen out of vogue around the league, except in places like Minnesota and St. Louis.

Teams have always spread the wealth, but sharing the ball used to happen between Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and Dwight Clark or Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek or Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Things have changed. The quarterbacks are the stars and everything else revolves around balanced parts. There have not been many recent Super Bowl participants that have been thoroughly stacked at every skill position. If they were strong at wide receiver, they lacked a great running back. If there was a strong running game, the receiving corps was ho-hum.

Most of those teams had strong defenses to balance out any shortcomings.

This game is different. There are two dynamic offenses meeting with two defenses that can be exploited. The scales are pretty balanced, too. What's interesting is that a Pierre could be the MVP and a Reggie could be the goat.

The stars, like Clark and Wayne and Colston, could showcase themselves -- as complements to the quarterbacks. Then again, with these teams boasting so much depth and versatility, stars don't need to shine as brightly as they once did.

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