Not the air show you probably think
Two elite QBs, yes, but the keys here likely lie in the run game
Every week during the NFL season, Football Outsiders president Aaron Schatz broke down every game using FBO's advanced metrics. Here's the final edition of 2009-10: the Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints analyzed. For more on Football Outsiders' stats, go here.
Some of the statistics in this article come from the Football Outsiders game-charting project, in which a group of volunteers watches every NFL game to track stats like play-action, blitzes, formations and defensive coverage. Please note these numbers are incomplete; roughly 90 percent of the season has been charted so far.
The running game
Most fans expect this game to be a battle between two great quarterbacks, but the Saints run often -- and they run well. New Orleans running backs carried the ball 431 times, tied for fifth in the league, and led all teams in rushing DVOA. If the Saints want to run on the Colts, they'll likely get a lot of steady gains but longer runs will be hard to come by. The Colts were 29th in FO's Adjusted Line Yards stat, but 11th in Open Field Yards allowed per carry (i.e. gains more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage). Our numbers show that the Saints had much better blocking on runs up the middle and to the right, and the Colts were particularly weak against runs around right end.
The Colts' defensive line did have one place where it was strong against the run: short yardage. The Saints converted 67 percent of runs in power situations (seventh in the NFL) but the Colts only allowed opponents to convert 56 percent of the time (sixth in the NFL). (We define these situations as third down, fourth down, or goal line with 1-2 yards to go.)
To see how Football Outsiders breaks down the Super Bowl, looking inside each key matchup and applying its own proprietary metrics, you must be an ESPN Insider. There are lots of previews out there, but this is the only place to find this level of analysis and these statistics.
SUPER BOWL XLIV