INDIANAPOLIS – As Curtis Painter attended Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana, the college coaches began calling.
Painter weighed his options but did not have to look far to see the person he wanted to follow. A few hours north, Purdue quarterback Drew Brees was shattering school records and seemed destined for a long career in the NFL.
After signing his national letter of intent with the Boilermakers, Painter embarked on a college career where he stands next to Brees in virtually every passing record in school history.
"(Brees) and their history of quarterbacks was, obviously, very appealing to a young quarterback coming out of high school. That and their style of offense was very much a factor," Painter said. "He was back a lot of times at Purdue doing different charity events and publicity things, so I got to meet him a few times. We've got a little relationship there."
Brees has been right on form once again in 2011 ranking first in the NFL in attempts (264) and completions (181) and second in yards (2,152). He is fourth in the league in passing touchdowns (13) and second in completion percentage (68.6).
With 383 yards against Tampa Bay last week, Brees became the first player in NFL history with four straight games with 350 yards passing. One of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the NFL, Brees is not afraid to fit the ball into tight windows.
"He's very aggressive, and there's no question about that. He's a guy that loves to light it up, and he's going to try to put as many points on the board as he possibly can," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "I think he does a good job at it. He can wing it, but he's deadly accurate. That's something that you see from him week in and week out. He can put the ball where he wants it and give his guys a chance to make a catch."
Brees has weapons at his disposal on the offensive side of the ball. Running backs Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram all have at least 27 carries in 2011 with Sproles having the fewest as he is used in the receiving game much more than Thomas or Ingram.
As a member of the San Diego Chargers the past six seasons, Sproles gave the Colts problems with five career touchdowns, and he contributes on special teams and offensively.
The Saints' most productive player in the passing game has been tight end Jimmy Graham. The former college basketball player leads all tight ends in receiving yards (620) and receptions (39).
Up front the Saints have one of the most protective offensive lines in the league. The 109 sacks the Saints have allowed since 2006 are the second-fewest in the NFL only behind the Colts (92). The Saints have a pair of Pro Bowl guards in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks with six-time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz in the middle.
Defensively, the Saints are led up front by end Will Smith and tackle Sedrick Ellis.
Heading into a prime-time game in one of the league's toughest places to play, communication along the Colts offensive line will be a key. The Colts have used a different offensive line configuration in each of the last three weeks, but the protection up front has impressed Vice Chairman Bill Polian.
"They're playing very well," Polian said. "(Offensive line coach) Pete (Metzelaars) and (assistant offensive line coach) Ron (Prince) are not happy, they haven't played a flawless game yet. In terms of getting the job done, executing, not making mistakes, helping each other out, they've done a terrific job. Obviously, (the line is) missing two young players (Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana) who we counted upon to be starters and who came in and proved they could be. We've had to ask back-up players to step in the do the job, like Quinn Ojinnaka. He did a great job (against Kansas City). Link (Jeff Linkenbach) did a great job (Sunday at Cincinnati). Mike Pollak's been fine at right guard. Joe Reitz has been fine at left guard. Jeff (Saturday) is having his best year in a long, long time, amazingly. He's injury-free, thank God, and keeps playing very well. His leadership has made a difference for that group. That's a group that's not only played well, they've improved from day one. Curtis has improved from day one. The running backs have gotten better every week. The passing game is pretty good. We're doing some good things."
The secondary is led by Roman Harper and his team-leading 43 tackles and four sacks. Since entering the NFL in 2006, Harper leads all defensive backs with 13 sacks.
One area the Colts will look to take advantage of is the Saints' minus seven turnover margin, which ranks tied for 29th in the NFL.
Facing one of the top NFL offenses and a defense that can make plays will present a challenge for Indianapolis. The Colts have played in tight contests since week two and have had opportunities to win each week. The club hopes to get over the hump.
"You just have to keep grinding, and just keep doing your job, whatever that job is. Defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker, safety, cornerback, wide receiver, quarterback or whatever, it doesn't matter. Just do your job, and we'll worry about the end results (later), like we've always done," defensive end Dwight Freeney. "Obviously, we've come into a bad stretch, a real bad stretch, so we're just going to try to keep our focus on the goal of getting that first win."
Saints 31, Colts 17 – February 7, 2010
With the Colts returning to the site of their Super Bowl XLI victory, it was the Saints who would hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the night. Things started off well for the Colts with the defense forcing a three-and-out followed by Matt Stover's 38-yard field goal to start the scoring. After the Saints pinned the Colts back on their own four-yard line on the next drive, running back Joseph Addai (three carries for 53 yards) spearheaded a 96-yard touchdown drive finished off by wide receiver Pierre Garcon's 19-yard touchdown reception. The Saints answered with a pair of second-quarter field goals, including one at the halftime gun to cut the lead to 10-6. New Orleans executed an onside kick to open the second half, and the Saints drove 58 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Drew Bees hit running back Pierre Thomas on a 16-yard scoring reception. Indianapolis responded with a 10-play, 76-yard drive as Addai gave the Colts a 17-13 lead when he scored on a four-yard touchdown run with 6:15 remaining in the third quarter. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley kicked his third field goal of the night on the ensuing drive, cutting the Colts' lead to 17-16 heading into the fourth quarter. After Stover missed a 51-yard field goal, the Saints' eventual game-winning touchdown drive went 59 yards and was capped off by tight end Jeremy Shockey's two-yard touchdown catch. New Orleans followed with a two-point conversion. Saints cornerback Tracy Porter produced the game's final score with a 74-yard interception return with 3:12 remaining.
*Saints running back Darren Sproles against the Colts defense and special teams: *Indianapolis must defend one of most versatile players in the NFL – Darren Sproles. Sproles is active in the offense and in the return game and stands as one of the league's most versatile players. Sproles has five career touchdowns against the Colts and is the only player in the NFL with a rushing, receiving and kick return for a touchdown in 2011. The Colts must know where he is on the field at all times. Sproles has caught at least five passes out of the backfield in every game this season and leads the NFL with 925 all-purpose yards. Sproles' 9,185 all-purpose yards since 2007 are 700 yards more than any player in the NFL.
Colts quarterback Curtis Painter against the Saints defense: In what could be the most hostile environment he has seen in his four NFL starts, Curtis Painter also will oppose another legendary Purdue quarterback in Drew Brees. Painter has been very solid in his first few starts and the last two weeks the Colts offense is a perfect four-for-four in producing touchdowns in the red zone. One area some quarterbacks struggle with is turning the football over, however Painter's only interception in four games this season came in desperation time last week against Cincinnati. The Saints have given up 12 touchdown passes in six games this season.
-Colts are 6-3 against the NFC under Jim Caldwell.
-Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon ranks third in the AFC in receiving yards with 472.
-The Colts are third in the NFL with eight forced fumbles.
-Colts linebackers Pat Angerer (72) and Kavell Conner (58) rank among the NFL leaders in tackles.
-Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is 1.5 sacks away from 100 in his career.
-Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive tackle Drake Nevis all grew up around the New Orleans area.
-Saints quarterback Drew Brees (Purdue) and cornerback Tracy Porter (Indiana) both played college football in Indiana.
-Saints wide receiver Courtney Roby attended North Central High School in Indianapolis.
-Saints defensive end Jeff Charleston played with the Colts in 2007.
-Saints quarterback Drew Brees has 350 yards passing in four straight games which is an NFL record. He also has thrown for 20 completions in an NFL-record 26 straight games.
-Saints running back Darren Sproles is the only player in the NFL with a touchdown via return, receiving and rushing in 2011.
-Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the second tight end since the 1970 NFL Merger with 100 receiving yards in four straight games.
-Since 2006, Saints safety Roman Harper has 13 sacks, the most by any defensive back.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on the Saints defense):
"Their defense (has) multiple (looks), their defense is aggressive and they certainly work well together. I think eight of those guys were on the team when we played them in the Super Bowl. There are at least eight. They are a talented group, and they are big up front. Their guys can rush the passer on the outside, and (Shaun) Rogers takes up a lot of space on the inside. They have a good linebacking corps that is led by (Jonathan) Vilma, who is one of the better linebackers in the league. (Roman) Harper at safety and (Malcom) Jenkins are guys that can run. Jenkins used to be a cornerback and he's playing safety, so you know he can move on the run. The guys on the outside, (Tracy) Porter is a very good player, and (Jabari) Greer is a very good player. Maybe even the best one of the bunch is (Patrick) Robinson, who comes in and he can make some things happen. Overall, it's a talented defense. It's a defense that gives you multiple looks with multiple packages and they pressure you. They give you just a little bit of everything."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on Saints running back Darren Sproles):
"(He brings) quite a few things, because he's just so dangerous in so many areas once he gets the ball in his hands. They do a good job of getting it to him and getting him touches, obviously in the return game, but also getting him out in space. That's where he's really dangerous, because he's a very tough guy to handle in the open field. He's got speed and quickness. Oftentimes, you may find a guy that's very quick, but maybe doesn't have the breakaway speed. This guy has them both. He also runs the ball out of the backfield, but the problem there is that sometimes he's a little difficult to see until he squirts out through one of those gaps, and then you have a problem on your hands. He's multi-talented and certainly a guy that has unbelievable athleticism."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell(on the noise level at the Superdome and compared to other stadiums around the league):
"This one would rank right up there near the top. It is a noisy, noisy place. For the most part with us over the years, it's always been a situation where teams, fans and everyone else has been really geared up to beat us. Oftentimes we've run into some very, very noisy and hostile crowds, but this one is as noisy as they get."
Colts quarterback Curtis Painter(on starting against another former Purdue quarterback this week):
"That will be a lot of fun. I've admired Drew (Brees) for many years while I was at Purdue, and even at the level he's at now. I got to see him my rookie year at the Super Bowl, so it will certainly be fun to go out there and play against him."
Colts center Jeff Saturday(on facing the New Orleans Saints):
"It's not getting any easier. We've played good teams this year, and we've given ourselves an opportunity to win. That's what we've got to go do again down there. We need to play well, we need to find ways to fix the errors we're making and not shoot ourselves in the foot. I think a lot of the things that we're doing are self-inflicted. I think guys are trying and giving 100 percent and then some. We've got to go back to the drawing board, start again and go put forth a good effort."
Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach Joe Vitt(on how preparation for this week has changed with injury to Head Coach Sean Payton):
"We've tried to maintain as normal a work week as we can. We start on preparation with the Colts, probably about 3:30 or 3:45 on Monday afternoon. We worked into the night on Monday, and then all night Tuesday night. Sean (Payton) got out of the hospital today, and he's in his home resting right now. So preparation to this point, Sean has had input on the game plan. He had a computer at the hospital with him, and he sent the plays in that he wanted in. We practiced those today, and as the week goes on we're going to exactly what his involvement's going to be on a daily basis and what his involvement's going to be on game day. We're kind of seeing exactly how he feels and what he can take and what he can't take."
Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach Joe Vitt(on the addition of running backs Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram to the offense):
"Both are different types of backs, both are extremely productive and both have a great, great feel for the game. Sproles' quickness, elusiveness and suddenness are really unbelievable. We played against him back in 2008 in London, and we got a glimpse of it there. But to see him every day, you really marvel at it. Ingram is a tough, hard-nosed running back with quick feet, great balance and he really has a good feel for the game as a rookie. He's getting better every practice. So you're talking about really two good players, and on any given Sunday can be great players."
Saints Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach Joe Vitt(on the New Orleans fans):
"It's just like the fans in Indianapolis, our fans are special here. They really live and die with the Saints. There is a strong bond between our football team and our community. We haven't been home in three weeks, so it's kind of like a little bit of a homecoming. We're going to need a friendly crowd to help us win this game. We're going against a good football team."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees(on how the season's gone for the offense)
"In some regards you look at yardage, you look at third downs, you look at points scored and you look at the way we're spreading the ball around, and I think we've been pretty efficient. I'd say the areas where we need to improve the most are red zone efficiency and our run game. I thought we were doing a pretty good job of taking care of the football until last week. We had four turnovers, so that needs to improve. We've played very well at times, but there's plenty more that we can improve upon."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees(on facing a young Colts secondary):
"As you're watching film we come up with a run game list, and we come up with what we want to do in the passing game, every facet from drop back to play-action and everything. We go into every game wanting to be as balanced as possible, and understanding that at certain points in the game maybe we're going to be running it a little bit more and other points in the game we're going to be throwing it a little bit more. In the end we approach every game as, 'Hey, we want to be as balanced as possible.' We just want to do all of the little things well. We want to convert third downs, stay on the field, get in the red zone, score touchdowns and all the things that every offense looks at each week and says, 'This is what we want to do.' "