It's like this: The heroic Brett Favre, battling valiantly through a terrible injury caused by unfair hits, had the game won, but then made a stupid mistake. It was a lucky break for the Saints, who don't deserve to be in the Superbowl and who will lose to the Colts.
And maybe they're right. Maybe the Saints will get clobbered in two weeks.
1. The Minnesota defense was one of the top 5 defenses in the league and the Saints still managed to score 31 points on them. 28 in regulation. This included ample running yards against one of the best run defenses in the league. The Colts defense...is not elite.
2. These points came despite a Drew Brees that clearly was not himself. He had two unforced drops, himself, plus some wobbly passes. If you look closely at the drops, you can see that they weren't simply jitters, but a difficulty gripping the ball. My guess is that he had a hand injury in the 2nd Quarter (prior to which, he looked like his usual phenomenal self), and will be recovered in two weeks.
3. The Minnesota pass rush was supposed to be among the best in football. Sean Payton clearly committed resources to doubling their star pass-rushers and gave Brees protection all night. This limited other offensive options. Add the injury to Shockey and this explains why the offense scored "only" 31 points instead of its usual 41. FYI: The Colts pass-rush? Not so much.
4. But what about the Colts' offense, you ask. Look what they did to the Jets! What they did to the Jets was switch from a 2-receiver set to a 3 receiver-set and the over-rated Rex Ryan inexplicably did not respond with an adjustment of his own. Until the Colts made the switch, the Jets were doing quite well. In many ways, the Jets were an over-hyped product of the New York-centered media and Rex Ryan's gaseous pronouncements. Best defense in football? Who did they play? Roughly 1/8th of the teams they played were NOT ACTUALLY TRYING TO WIN!
5. But the Saints' defense is porous, right? Especially against the run? Okay, maybe so. But the Colts don't have much of a running game.
6. The Saints' are 20th in the league in total defense, though! The Colts passing attack will carve up their secondary. That stat accounts for the whole regular season, but the Saints lost their starting secondary to injuries a few games into the season and just got them back for the playoffs. Remember all of those dominant performances early in the year, when the Saints' defense was top 5 or 10? That was when the Saints had these guys. Remember the Cardinals game? Again: these guys.
7. "Those guys" were there last night and Favre threw all over them. Well, not really. The Vikes are a team with a hall of fame QB at the helm; a team that ran up the score on the vaunted Cowboys defense until the poor things actually complained about it! The "merely average" Saints defense somehow managed, even with one of their corners out with a hamstring injury.
8. But come on. The Vikings earned so many yards on the Saints. Yards, not points. In football, they use a strange system to determine the winner. What they count are points. I know, right?
9. But the Vikings would have scored more if not for all those unlucky turnovers. Ah. And here we get to the crux of the issue and the thing those TV suited sausages don't understand. This is the reason Gregg Williams is a coach and those guys aren't and a secret about football today: Turnovers aren't a matter of luck; they are a matter of design.
Your idea intrigues me. Please explain.
Certainly, Gorgias. The Saints are at or near the top of the league in takeaways not because Jesus loves them (though he does), but because that's how Gregg Williams designed it.
The Saints D tends focus more on attacking the football during a tackle than actually wrapping up a player. Sometimes, they focus more on getting the interception than on being in a position to make the tackle after a reception. Or they focus more on the blitz than on covering receivers. This means there is always a danger of giving up the big run or the big gain after a relatively short pass. There is always the danger of getting burned on a blitz. But Williams is gambling on the SPEED of his defense to be able to get in a position to make a play. They drive to the quarterback. They attack the ball, not the runner. When they lose the gamble, they give up big yards. When they win, they cause fumbles, sacks, and interceptions.
This explains why, despite being middling in terms of yards allowed, the Saints are among the best RED ZONE defenses in the league. There's less ground to cover inside the 20 with that speed, and less chance of getting burned.
Williams gambles on the speed and aggression of his defense. It's a gamble that has nearly always paid off, even if the result is often a heart-stopper of a ball game.
Like on Sunday?
Like on Sunday. Nearly every one of those fumbles was a FORCED fumble. And those interceptions were the result of a hurrying and harrying of the quarterback. It almost started to seem like a broken record: The Saints would stop them on first down, stop them on second down, then blitz them on third down. Favre would pick up the blitz with a good throw for a first down and the Saints would knock him to the ground for his troubles. This happened over and over. While the Saints protected Brees at all costs, sacrificing total offensive yards in the bargain, the Vikes racked up yards on 3rd down passes, but at the expense of their quarterback's hindparts.
The more it happened, the worse Favre got. But, at the same time, the more it happened, the more yards the Vikings gained. With an offense like the Saints', Williams took the gamble that he could keep blitzing and hitting, and that Favre would run out of sense before the Saints ran out of points to spare. And he was right. Just barely.
10. But that plan won't work against Peyton Manning. It won't? Oh no! I guess Williams have to come up with a DIFFERENT PLAN for the Colts than the one he devised for the FUMBLE PRONE Peterson and the INT PRONE Favre. And he will. He's no Rex Ryan. The plan will rely on his smart, speedy defense and excellent secondary, but who knows what cover schemes or blitz packages he will use. It won't be the same as last week, that's for sure.
11. But the Colts are winners. They haven't lost a game this year that they've tried to win. They've been to the Superbowl before, while the Saints have, well, not. The Saints are likely to have first-timer jitters due to the pressure. Pressure? I don't expect you to understand, O Straw Man Alter-Ego, because there's no basis for comparison. This is unprecedented territory. This isn't like it would be if we were talking about Romo and the Cowboys and the pressure of trying to live up to the tradition of past teams. The Saints are in the Superbowl. They have already gone where no Saint has gone before. They are beloved by their city and by their fans. They are heroes today. What pressure? They're playing with house money. The only pressure they have is their desire to achieve. They get to go to Miami and enjoy playing in the biggest pro sports event in the world. They can have a good time and be loose, not like that tight-assed bunch up in Indy.
12. I saved this one for 12 because it was appropriate. It's very clear that the 12th Player, the Superdome Crowd, was a game-changing factor in the Vikings game. The Saints would not have won that game without the Dome. True. But there's one more x factor here and it's this: The Saints field one of the most aged teams in Pro Football. The media fall all over Favre because he's older than...well, he's my age, dammit. But the Saints' lineup is full of older players who were plucked from the edge of retirement through unrestricted free agency. And, well, older people need their rest. Payton knew what he was doing when he rested his starters. Look at the two games the Saints have played after a little bit of rest: The Patriots and the Cardinals. Both were blowouts. When the Saints are rested, that defense swarms. That could be the factor that lifts the Saints over the top against the Colts.