What was the best day in New Orleans Saints franchise history was the worst day for many Indianapolis Colts fans.
With Super Bowl XLIV, which the Saints won 31-17 after recovering an onside kick at the beginning of the second half and then returning a Peyton Manning interception for a touchdown, now far in the rear-view mirror, these two teams meet again, albeit with much different looks.
What kind of chance will the Colts (0-6) have at avenging their Super Bowl loss tonight at 8:20 p.m. at the Louisiana Superdome — without Manning?
At first glance, it would seem Indy’s chances at pulling off a win tonight would be slim-to-none. New Orleans (4-2) still deploys an explosive, high-scoring offense led by Drew Brees, who earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XLIV. Given the Colts’ defensive woes of late — particularly all its struggles in the secondary with the likes of Jacob Lacey and Terrence Johnson — it appears daunting having to keep weapons Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Jimmy Graham (a rapidly emerging tight end) at bay.
One glimmer of hope for the Colts at cornerback is de facto rookie Kevin Thomas, who will play his first regular-season game after missing the entire 2010 season with a knee injury. It’s unknown whether Thomas will start, but he figures to get some playing time, especially in nickel and other multiple-back packages the Colts surely will enlist against the Saints.
Can Indy slow New Orleans’ ground attack, though? The Saints are averaging slightly under 108 rushing yards per game, and running backs Pierre Thomas and rookie Mark Ingram are pure downhill runners that traditionally have given the Colts’ run defense fits. And did I mention the Saints also now have Darren Sproles, who has caused way more than his fair share of trouble for Indy over the years? Sproles has made everyone in the bayou forget about Reggie Bush, providing the same multiple threats out of the backfield and in the return game that got him established in San Diego — particularly in playoff matchups with Indy.
It figures to be a tough go for the Colts defense, which will miss Drake Nevis for the third consecutive week. The Colts might have to deploy multiple defensive backs regularly and hope Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can penetrate that terrific Saints offensive line so the secondary can press more effectively. Tampa 2 might not be enough given how accurate Brees is.
It will be interesting, though, to see whether Saints coach Sean Payton’s location in the press box — he had to undergo knee surgery after Graham fell into him during last week’s game — will change the dynamic of New Orleans’ offense.
Offensively, the Colts can hold their own. Painter has been gaining confidence with each start, and he’ll be able to move the ball against a defense that is not as formidable and opportunistic as it was during its Super Bowl season. The return of Joseph Addai, who missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, will be huge for Indy.
It’s a tall order, but not as tall as most might think.
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