This Sunday's Super Bowl will pit two of the NFL's most explosive offenses against each other, in a game most expect will produce 50 or more points. Which team will win? The one that plays the best defense.
That's the opinion of Jaguars Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker.
"Big plays, that's the key; eliminating the explosive gains and making the offense go the long way and drive it through the red zone and make them execute 10, 12-play drives instead of giving it to them in one or two plays," Tucker said.
The New Orleans Saints have the league's number one offense. The Indianapolis Colts have Peyton Manning and the second-ranked pass-offense in the league.
"Manning's good against the blitz. The Saints are going to have to pick their spots," Tucker said. "They're going to have to do a great job with disguising it. The Colts do a great job of adjusting. You saw that with the Jets. If the Saints do get pressure, I think they'll get it early."
A year ago, Gregg Williams was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator. Now he's the Saints' defensive coordinator and this Sunday his plans and schemes will be put to the test against a quarterback who always seems to know what to do, against any strategy.
"He knows where to go with the ball. He gets them into the right plays. He's extremely accurate and they can score a lot of points in a hurry," Tucker said of Manning and the Colts.
"Indianapolis plays complementary football. They try to get an early lead and force the opponent to throw the ball to catch up, and then they overwhelm you with their pass-rush, which is tops in the league. They are able to get outstanding pressure when offenses are one-dimensional and in catch-up mode," Tucker added.
Therein lies the hidden element in this game, as it pertains to the health of the Colts' star pass-rusher Dwight Freeney, whose status for Sunday is in doubt due to an ankle injury. What if Freeney is unable to play or is at much less than full strength?
"I think that could be a factor in terms of their pass-rush. He's a definite presence. You have to account for him and he's hard to block one-on-one," Tucker said of Freeney.
Freeney gets the bulk of the pass-rush attention. The tight end is often used to help the left tackle block Freeney and a blocking back will be held in the backfield for extra attention. What that does, of course, is decrease the number of receivers in the passing lanes.
The player who benefits most from the attention to Freeney is left defensive end Robert Mathis, who is usually left one-on-one against the right tackle. If Freeney is unable to play on Sunday, Mathis might see extra attention and the combination might neutralize the Colts' pass-rush.
Williams is an attack-type strategist. He unleashed a fierce rush on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the Saints' NFL title game victory. Will Williams do the same against Manning? Williams has already suggested he will, but that could be a smokescreen.
"New Orleans is scheme, confusion, a game-plan-of-the-week type of defense. (Williams) is going to try to create confusion, disrupt the timing, use multiple personnel groupings," Tucker said. "If you can get (Manning) to move off the spot, his accuracy is decreased.
"The other thing that's going to be crucial is tackling. Both teams spread you out defensively and yards after the catch are a big part of their offense. Defensive backs in space have to do a great job of tackling."
The Saints have a more balanced offense. They're sixth in rushing and fourth in passing. The Colts have the league's worst rush-offense.
"It goes to defensively who's going to do the best job. When you have teams like this, they're going to move the ball. You're not going to shut them down. You have to play well in the red zone and hold them to field goals. The team that wins will have the defense that eliminates the big play, does a great job of tackling and ends up on the plus side of the turnover margin," Tucker said.