It happens almost every year. A relatively unknown player makes a play in the Super Bowl that turns out to be critical to his team's success. So who has a chance in Super Bowl XLIV to be this year's David Tyree (XLII), Deion Branch (XXXIX) or Dexter Jackson (XXXVII), and provide their team with a game-changing play that leads to victory?
Saints: Cornerback Tracy Porter: It's no coincidence the defense regained its opportunistic prowess with the return of Porter (and CB Jabari Greer) to the lineup. The second-year cover man was quietly enjoying a spectacular season prior to his knee injury, and his presence gives coordinator Gregg Williams the ability to use some of the exotic pressure packages that have been a hallmark of his defenses for years. In this matchup, Porter will be counted on to blanket Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon on the outside. How well he fares in his one-on-one matchups against the Colts' playmakers will determine how often Williams will be able to utilize some of the all-out blitzes that have given opponents problems throughout the postseason.
Colts: Defensive end Raheem Brock: Brock has been a valuable contributor as a situational player for the Colts. However, he could be thrust into the starting lineup if Dwight Freeney can't go. Brock, who had 3.5 sacks in the regular season and who has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback in the past, came up with a critical forced fumble in the divisional-round win over the Ravens. Given the importance of getting pressure on Drew Brees to disrupt his rhythm in the pocket, Brock could be counted on to deliver a spectacular performance as an edge rusher in place of Freeney.
Saints DC Gregg Williams: The brash defensive coordinator may have written a check that his defenders aren't able to cash with his bold statements last week, but don't underestimate Williams' ability to craft a game plan to neutralize the Colts. He 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 OL coach Howard Mudd: Mudd is a living legend in circles for his outstanding work in 36 years of NFL coaching. He has routinely created exceptional lines in Indianapolis 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.
Saints LT Jermon Bushrod: Bushrod stepped in for an injured Pro Bowl player (Jammal Brown) at left tackle and capably manned Brees' blind side. However, Bushrod suffered through some tough times when matched up against elite rushers on the edge. DeMarcus Ware ran past the overmatched Bushrod on the way to tallying two sacks and two forced fumbles in the Cowboys' Week 15 victory in New Orleans. Though Bushrod seemingly held his own in his battle with the Vikings' Jared Allen, he will need to come up with a similar effort against Freeney and/or Robert Mathis in order for the Saints to come up with a victory.
Colts RB Joseph Addai: The Colts' last-ranked run offense doesn't strike fear in most of their opponents, but the unexpected production of Addai could give the team an added dimension. The fourth-year pro rushed for 80 yards (on 16 carries) in the AFC Championship Game, and his ability to grind out positive yardage on the ground alleviated the pressure on Manning in the pocket. Facing a Saints defense that has been vulnerable against the run, Addai could emerge as an unlikely focal point of the Colts' game plan. As a runner or receiver, his ability to move the chains on runs and screens might be the ideal counter to the Saints' aggressive blitz tactics.
Colts MLB Gary Brackett: The Colts' defense has long been viewed as a finesse squad, but Brackett's hard hits are slowly changing that perception. He is the centerpiece of the team's defense, and his ability to blow up ball carriers often sets the tone. The Colts fared well against two physical ground attacks (Ravens and Jets) in the playoffs, and they must find a way to slow down the Saints' better-than-advertised running game. Although the Saints' prolific offense excels at making plays through the air, it is the threat of the running game that often leads to big plays off play-action. Given the difficulty in defending a two-dimensional attack, it is important for Brackett to show up against the run early and often.
Saints DE Will Smith: Williams, the Saints' defensive coordinator, has emphasized the importance of getting hits on the quarterback this week, but the defense can't rely solely on the blitz to rattle Manning. The onus falls on Smith and his cohorts to win their individual battles and create consistent pressure on Manning. Smith, who finished the season with 13 sacks, is the undisputed leader of the crew, and his ability to collapse the pocket off the edge will give Williams the freedom to use some umbrella coverage behind a conventional four-man rush. Given Manning's ability to defeat the blitz, Smith's effectiveness as part of a four-man rush could be the deciding factor in this game.
Saints RB/KR Reggie Bush: The dynamic playmaker showcased his impact potential with his outstanding all-purpose game against the Cardinals. The fourth-year pro took a punt back for a score and averaged 36 yards per return. While he spent most of the season amassing short returns, the fact that Bush has five career punt-return touchdowns should give the Colts' punt coverage unit plenty of worries. With the field position battle looming large in this matchup, Bush's ability to take a punt to the house could emerge as the difference.
Colts PK Matt Stover: The 20-year veteran quietly replaced an injured Adam Vinatieri and has provided the Colts with steady production at the position. Stover connected on 9 of 11 field goal attempts during the regular season, but raised the level of his game during the postseason. He nailed all five of his attempts in the Colts' two playoff games, and his ability to routinely hit from a wide range ensures points for the team whenever it penetrates the opponent's 30-yard line. Given the likelihood of a high-scoring battle in Super Bowl XLIV, Stover's ability to generate points for Manning and Co. could be the deciding factor.