The League

Joe Baker
Colts Blogger

Joe Baker

Joe Baker writes for the Indianapolis Colts blog 18-to-88.

Colts by a nose

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In a vacuum it's very possible that the Saints are the better team, but placing them head to head the Colts hold a matchup advantage. The Saints have opened 11-0 thanks in large part to a explosive offense and excellent coverage from their back 7. These are great attributes to have, but ones that are much less effective than usual against the Colts.

The Saints explosive offense sits at the very top of the league in passing plays of 20+ yards and has the 3rd most rushing plays of 20+ yards. The Saints make their living on the big play. On the opposite side is the Colts defense runs the Tampa-2 scheme that is built to prevent big plays. It is living up to the schemes ideal, thus far, allowing both the fewest passes of over 20 yards in the league and the fewest runs for 20+ in the league (including holding big play specialist Chris Johnson to 34 yards with a longest run of 8 yards in the Colts and Titans first meeting this year). The deep drop and long pass that the Saints have abused defenses with all year plays into the hands of a Colts D that will pursue the deep drop with elite edge rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and sits 2 safeties deep waiting on a long ball. The big run is also rare against a team that loves speed in the front 7 and places a premium on a DB's tackling skills. The numbers bear out the schemes' intent as the Colts have rarely allowed a team to move the ball in large chunks.

Flipping to the other side of the ball the Saints have made the most dramatic improvement from last year in their pass coverage. A secondary unit that was once a laughingstock, is now best in the league in opponent's passer rating and DVOA's defensive pass rating. The Saints D is 2nd in passing yards per attempt allowed. This has all been done with a pass rush that hasn't been especially effective in taking down the quarterback. The Saints rank 10th in the league in sacks, and fall to 14th in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate since the Saints opponents are forced to throw more often than usual because they are often trailing the Saints quick strike offense, skewing the sack total upwards. Only four teams have had more passes thrown against them than the Saints. Playing very good coverage might be enough to stop most of the leagues' QBs, but Peyton Manning is just too accurate and aware to be beaten without a pass rush applying serious pressure. Applying that pressure to Manning is no easy task either. Despite the 3rd most pass attempts in the league, the Colts have allowed the league's fewest sacks.

The Saints could be the leagues best team, but the Colts are very well suited to beat their style of play.

By Joe Baker  |  December 4, 2009; 10:34 AM ET  | Category:  Indianapolis Colts , New Orleans Saints Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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