MIAMI // Jeff Fisher, the Tennessee Titans' head coach, has always been a firm believer that there is always a way to beat your opponent - until now. Twice a year his team have faced the four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning for longer than Fisher cares to remember, and after all those confrontations Fisher has finally come to a conclusion about him.
In his opinion, there is only one man who can beat the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback - and that is Manning himself. That is the dilemma the New Orleans Saints face in Super Bowl XLIV. The Saints have the leading offence in professional football. They are first in scoring, first in total offence and about as balanced as you can get, finishing fourth in passing and sixth in rushing. They are a formidable challenge for a Colts' defence who are in the bottom half of the league in every major statistic apart from scoring defence, in which they finished a respectable eighth.
Offensively, the Colts are as one dimensional as you can get, finishing last in the league in rushing with an 80.9 yards per game average. Everyone who faces them knows what to expect. The Colts come to throw, but most of all they come to beat you with Manning. "I don't really know if you can contain him,'' the Saints safety Roman Harper said of Manning, who threw for 4,500 yards this season with 33 touchdown passes and a 68.8 completion percentage despite working with a revamped set of receivers that included the rookie Austin Collie and the untested Pierre Garcon.
As things turned out, it did not matter who he was throwing to because Manning always seemed to know where to go with the ball for maximum damage. "You really can't stop the guy,'' Harper continued. "He is going to make plays and we understand that. "Hopefully we can try to confuse him a little bit and rattle him to throw off his timing. Maybe we can affect him by hitting him and knocking him down.''
That is the aim of the Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who takes an aggressive approach that was underscored this week when he said he wanted his defence to put "Remember Me shots" on Manning every time they had the chance. The Saints will certaqinly be aggressive in defence, yet even Williams knows that in this game ggression can become your undoing. "You could say he's the ultimate challenge because I truly believe he is one of the best quarterbacks not only of my generation but maybe of all time,'' Harper said.
"You play a cat-and-mouse game with Peyton. You don't want to do just one thing against a guy like Peyton Manning because he'll figure you out and come the third, fourth quarter he's killing you. Our philosophy is he can't kill you if he's on his back.'' And he cannot do it if he is sitting on the sidelines, which is where the Saints' quarterback, Drew Brees, and the New Orleans' three-man rushing attack come in.
The best thing to do against Manning is to keep the ball away from him and keep him out of the action because not even he can hurt you if he is not on the field. Brees not only understands that but is someone who runs the kind of offence that can execute the plan. Brees passed for 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns himself this season and was the most accurate passer in the league with a 70.6 completion percentage.
Unlike Manning, he is also supported by a rushing attack led by the speedy Pierre Thomas (793 yards at 5.4 a carry), the powerful Mike Bell (654 yards) and the explosive Reggie Bush (5.6 yards per carry). In short, the Saints have the weapons to control the ball and the game's tempo. But will that be enough to win? The Miami Dolphins did exactly that, holding the ball for 45 of the game's 60 minutes and Manning still beat them, 27-23.
"You can't be one-dimensional against those guys,'' Brees said. "If you can possess the ball, convert third downs, keep them off the field, and eat up the time of possession, that's the key for success. "The trap I'm not going to fall into is trying to keep up with Peyton. "I know Peyton is going to make plays. He's going to be Peyton. That just means I need to be me. This is a game that very well could be back and forth or one team could get a lead and then all of a sudden the other team closes the gap.
"We've both shown the ability to come back from big deficits. The game is always within reach no matter what the situation. Against a team like that your mistakes get magnified. Execution becomes critical.'' That is true for everyone at Sun Life Stadium today, but none more so than Manning because regardless of what Brees does or how the Saints' defence goes after him, one way or another Manning will decide the outcome.
"In one game against us he threw three touchdown passes in six plays,'' Williams recalled. "Bam! Bam! Bam! It was over with. That's how fast he can do damage. We cannot take a play off. We cannot take one play off.'' email@example.com New Orleans v Indianapolis. Coverage from 3am Monday (game starts 3.25am), Showsports 4, Fox Sports and ESPN