With 3:12 left in Super Bowl XLIV, the New Orleans Saints were in trouble. They were up, 24-17, on the Indianapolis Colts, but Peyton Manning(notes) was moving the ball with merciless force. On a drive that began at his own 30, Manning had completed four of six passes for 39 yards, and the Colts were looking to hit the red zone. Manning was riddling the Saints with underneath stuff, he had third-and-5 from the New Orleans 31.
Right before the play, CBS' Phil Simms (showing once again his nonpareil ability to whiff mightily on in-game strategy predictions) said, "If I'm the New Orleans Saints, I would not blitz here – I would put the extra men in coverage."
The Colts went with their favorite formation – three-wide, shotgun, single back, with tight end Dallas Clark(notes) tight on one side of the line. The Saints countered with the kind of wide three-man front they'd been running a lot through the Super Bowl, with limited success. And they didn't seem to hold to Mr. Simms' advice, sending four defenders up the offensive right A- and B-gap, putting pressure on Manning in the one place no quarterback likes it – up the middle and in his face.
The Colts went with an interesting route combination on their left side, sending Austin Collie(notes) (17) in motion from outside to in and running inside Reggie Wayne(notes) (87) as Wayne took the out route. The idea was to literally cross up cornerbacks Tracy Porter(notes) (22) and Malcolm Jenkins(notes) (27), but both young defenders stayed in their areas. Jenkins followed Collie inside in a crossing route, and Porter jumped the little comeback route that Wayne ran at the first-down marker for the interception. From there, it was off to the races, and the 74-yard touchdown that put the game away for the Saints.
After a long time of looking somewhat confused against Manning's greatness, the Saints put it all together with the right kind of pressure and mature, disciplined coverage that any quarterback would find tough to deal with. After the game, Porter told the media what the Saints were looking for on the play. "We knew that on third-and-short they stack, and they like the outside release for the slant," Porter said. "It was great film study by me, a great jump and a great play. When I saw my blockers in front of me and only Peyton [Manning] and the offensive linemen left. I cut back and ran it in."
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams talked about how and why the Saints threw different blitzes at Manning on that drive. "It's kind of a set-up, and that was kind of the thought process of getting it to there. I've talked about the chess game. Anytime you play Peyton, you've got to be two, three, four, five plays down the road. That series of plays, trying to set up the route and hopefully set up the formation that they would call, it kind of fell into our place right there. It's OK if we recognize it. It's not OK if we don't. Tracy Porter did a great job recognizing it, and our three linebackers did a great job of convincing me that the next time we got in that situation to call that pressure. [LB Scott] Shanle, Vilma and [LB Scott' Fujita suggested to me about three or four plays before that to make sure I come back to that pressure on that down and distance again. We were able to do that and Tracy saw that unfolding, he pulled the trigger and made a nice play. Players make plays like that, coaches don't. I made the call, but Tracy made the play."
Saints head coach Sean Payton had this to add about his defense: "In the second half, they played lights-out against a good offense and got the turnover. It was a great team win tonight."
No question about it.
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