The Super Bowl was everything a fan could ask for with three lead changes and an exciting finish that was the most-watched program in U.S. television history.
Blueprint to beat Colts
After watching the New Orleans Saints defense settle down following the Indianapolis Colts scoring 10 first-quarter points, it became clear coordinator Gregg Williams had a plan and he stuck with it. The Colts only scored seven points the rest of the way.
Pat Kirwan covered it all in his live chat Tuesday, including his biggest play of the game, Sean Payton's gutsy calls, the Saints' brilliant defensive scheme and much more.
When the New England Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, they built a defense that became the blueprint for playing "Greatest Show on Turf" in the years to come. The same thing may have happened Sunday when Williams went to a 3-3-5 defense (three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs).
After talking with Saints linebacker Scott Fujita on Monday, I better understand the flexibility the package offers, such as good pressure calls and lots of opportunities to drop eight defenders into coverage. The Saints were fine with the Colts running the ball and bet on the idea that Indianapolis wouldn't stick with the run. With 19 rushes to 45 passes, New Orleans showed it was right.
Even though the Colts ran 42 times in their Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears, the Saints didn't waiver in playing the pass all game long. Defensive coordinators around the league will study this game tape all offseason and the Colts will see this package a lot more in 2010.
Talk about leverage
Granted, Drew Brees has two years left on his current deal, but it might have been good business to get an extension done before the Super Bowl, because he made a significant amount of money after winning the big game. He had a Super Bowl record-tying 32 completions and was the game's MVP.
The franchise tag for quarterbacks (the average of the top-five salaries at the position) was recently released at $16.4 million for the 2010 season. A contract extension for the Colts' Peyton Manning and the Patriots' Tom Brady are on the horizon and that has to impact Brees. Brees stands to make something in the neighborhood of $100 million over the next six years and he's worth every penny.
Got to keep No. 25
While Saints running back Reggie Bush will have a base salary of $8 million in 2010 and some consider him a role player, it would be a mistake not to keep the versatile threat.
Still, I've heard others say the Saints don't need Bush with Pierre Thomas on the roster. Although Bush touched the ball just 10 times, including one punt return, for a total of 67 yards in the Super Bowl, his presence put pressure on the Colts and they really never had a matchup that worked. In three playoff games, Bush had 32 touches for 325 yards and three touchdowns.
Beware the underdog
Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher took his team to the Super Bowl twice, once as a favorite and once as an underdog. He suggested there has to be a different mindset in each scenario. The underdog coach has to take chances and shouldn't consider a "close to the vest" plan.
Saints coach Sean Payton must have been listening because the Saints were anything but conservative. New Orleans skipped a field goal opportunity from the 1-yard line, recovered a surprise onside kick, blitzed Manning when they wanted to and even tried a reverse.
Passing the test
There were 85 pass attempts in a close Super Bowl. With the pass-happy style, neither team attempted to run the ball 20 times, and the Saints only averaged 2.8 yards per carry.
Both teams predominantly used the 11 personnel grouping (one tight end, one running back and three receivers) throughout the game. Each expected and got receiving production from their running backs, flexed their tight ends into receiver alignments and lived by the short pass. The Saints' longest completion was 27 yards and they only averaged 9.0 yards per completion.
Mix it up
During my time in the NFL, I quickly learned that breaking down an opponent offensively could be very revealing if the same play-caller remained for several years. If the play-caller was the quarterback and he managed the things from the line of scrimmage, there were habits if you had enough games to plug into the computer. Of course, you still had to stop him but it didn't hurt to have solid tips.
Two Saints told me they had a "great" feel for what the Colts were doing on offense. They felt comfortable playing the "cat and mouse" game before the snap with Manning and understood when they showed inside pressure looks he might check to the "smoke screen" outside. New Orleans made a number of solid tackles on the outside play because the defense believed it knew when it was coming.
The Colts are a great team and Manning, their leader, will break every passing record and probably win another Super Bowl before his career is over. However, it might also be time to mix up the play-calling.
Build the back end
The story behind the story for the Saints is the great job general manager Mickey Loomis did putting together the back end of his roster. New Orleans' injured reserve list was in the double digits, but the team still managed to succeed.
Key players such as left tackle Jammal Brown, defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, defensive end Charles Grant and fullback Heath Evans had to be replaced during the season and other core special teamers and quality reserves also went down.
Most teams that lose four starters, especially when three of them play with their hand on the ground, don't get to a Super Bowl, let alone win it.