Superbowl Week - Thoughts on the Big Game, and Around the League

Ryan PopilchakCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 16:  Dwight Freeney #93 of the Indianapolis Colts gets set against the Houston Texans during the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 17, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

I don’t always like the week leading up to Superbowl. Everybody seems to be searching for a story angle and we tend to beat small stories to death. It reminds me of seeing someone on a hot blackjack table and everyone else clamors to get a seat.

That said, one part I really like, is that we tend to hear some other stories from around the league, because players and coaches who aren’t playing tend to be more open and less guarded with the media.

Below are a few storylines I like that could have a big effect on the title game, and a few others that made me listen.

Key stories for the Big Game

We’ve all heard the story about Dwight Freeney’s ankle ad nauseum. As someone who has watched almost every Colts snap this season, this story can’t be overstated. Freeney is a difference-maker on defense. Other teams have to gameplan for him. Protection schemes are designed to stop him. According to Football Outsiders, Freeney was 4th in the league in QB Hurries (Mathis is 8th). What I do like, however, is that the Colts aren’t trying to hide the injury. This forces the Saints to have two gameplans; one to compensate for Freeney, and one when he’s not in the game.

The key to the matchup between the Colts defense and the Saints offense are safeties Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt. The Colts will be trying to take away the Saints deep passing offense, and they do it quite well. If Bethea and Bullitt can maintain coverage over the top, then Brees will be forced to be patient with underneath throws and the running game. Also, my assessment of Bob Sanders future with the Colts will be validated.

I can’t shake the memory of Joseph Addai in his rookie season making a monstrous contribution to the Colts’ Superbowl run. He and Dominic Rhodes were the perfect complement to Indy’s passing game, adding some offensive punch when opposing defenses played too deep. This year, the unsung hero could be Donald Brown. If the Saints continually drop 7 or 8 into coverage, Manning could just audible to run after run. The Saints aren’t very formidable versus the run. You get the picture.

Last time the Colts were in the Superbowl, the question surrounding their quarterback was “Can Peyton finally win a big game?” This time around the questions seems to be “Can anyone stop Peyton Manning?” It’s amazing how far his career has come in 4 years.

Other interesting notes from around the league

John Madden had a very interesting take on injuries in the NFL (KCBS radio from SF/Oakland/San Jose). He believes that players are wearing less padding now than they did when he was coaching. Players don’t wear knee pads or elbow pads and many positions play with smaller shoulder pads. Because of the lesser padding, he believes that defenders lead with their helmet more often. For starters, I’d never thought of that causal relationship, but it makes a lot of sense. Secondly, I think that we’ve forgotten how knowledgeable Madden can be, despite the fact that he slipped so dramatically as an announcer.

On the NFL Network, there was an interview with Chris Cooley, talking about his take on having Mike Shanahan as a coach. He was obviously quite excited to have an NFL coach with exceptional experience and pedigree, but he also mentioned the effect it could have on his role in the offense. Shanahan has an incredible knack for getting the tight end the ball, especially in the red zone. Not only that, but his new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, was the man who oversaw Owen Daniels rise to the top of the NFL TE pass-catching list this year. Chalk up Chris Cooley as a high TE pick in your fantasy draft next year.