January 26, 2010
Every day up to Super Sunday, we'll be featuring a different player or position group important to a Super Bowl victory for either the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints. We start with three under-the-radar Saints whose performances will go a long way to deciding whether New Orleans will host the Lombardi Trophy over the next year.
Left tackle Jermon Bushrod(notes): A fourth-round pick out of Towson University in 2007, Bushrod is one of several small-school players wisely selected by the Saints' excellent and underrated front office. He was thrown into the spotlight protecting Drew Brees'(notes) blind side in September after a hip injury sidelined starting left tackle Jammal Brown(notes) for the season. He's been in over his head at times, but he's also held his own against some pretty solid-edge-rushers. The Saints finished the 2009 regular season ranked second on Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards stat, and fourth in Adjusted Sack Rate. However, they also finished 24th in ALY in running plays marked to left end, and 14th to left tackle, while putting up much higher numbers in the middle and right side. Bushrod will have a major challenge on his hands in Colts end Dwight Freeney(notes), and he'll need to use a wide base and excellent pad level to keep Brees safe.
Right guard Jahri Evans(notes) (pictured above): Another small-school Saint made good, Evans was taken in the fourth round a year earlier than Bushrod, and he's developed into one of the best right guards in the NFL. He was named to his first Pro Bowl this season, and he's a primary reason the Saints are so effective in running plays marked as "Mid/Guard" -- only the Packers had a better ALY total in the A-gaps, and the Saints also ranked fourth in runs headed further out to the right. Evans isn't just powerful; he also has the flexibility to pull to the left or outside right, which makes him a perfect pointman in a Sean Payton-designed offense that befuddles opposing defenses with multiple formations.
Cornerback Jabari Greer(notes): In weeks 1 through 9 of the 2009 season, the Saints ranked third in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings against the pass. In weeks 10 through 17, they plummeted to 20th. It's no coincidence that Greer, the former Buffalo cornerback signed by the Saints as a free agent in the offseason, missed weeks 10 through 16 with a groin injury after playing spectacularly in the season's first half. Some cornerbacks struggle with man coverage fater playing a lot of zone in prior seasons -- the Saints found this out the hard way when they signed ex-Colt Jason David(notes) after the 2006 season, a disastrous move for all involved. Greer has been just the opposite, ranking second behind only Darrelle Revis(notes) in FO's metrics for NFL cornerbacks (albeit in half a season). Greer will be targeted heavily, as he'll most likely draw the unenviable assignment of covering Reggie Wayne(notes) in the Super Bowl.
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