New Orleans gets a chance to get one game away from .500 tonight on Sunday Night Football against Denver. The Saints need to win this game to keep their slim playoff chances alive and the Broncos (contrary to how the national media portrays them) are a beatable team.
Last week the Saints got their second win of the season in a 35-28 victory against Tampa Bay. New Orleans started slowly before quarterback Drew Brees went off in the second quarter against the Buccaneers defense.
Denver was gifted a win on Monday Night Football last week when San Diego Chargers quarterback threw what seemed like 20 interceptions in the second half. The Broncos used those mistakes to rally for a 35-24 win.
The 2-4 Saints can beat the 3-3 Broncos, there is no question about that but New Orleans can't afford turnovers. Denver quarterback, Peyton Manning knows all about mistakes against the Saints.
On offense, New Orleans must block the Broncos pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. Both these players are going to come at Brees for four quarters and limiting their damage will be a major key to a Saints win.
Stopping Dumervil or Miller from making big plays for a full 60 minutes is unrealistic. New Orleans can use the screen game to slow their pass rush (Darren Sproles missed most of practice this week due to family matters) and Sproles and company at running back will need to run the ball to do two things.
Running the ball forces the Broncos pass rushers to respect the run and wears them down by forcing them to fight the offensive line in more physical run blocking. Secondly, running the ball keeps the Denver defense on the field and Manning on the sideline.
Back to the screen game for a bit. Running screens takes the Broncos pass rushers out of the plays or forces them to slow their rush through out the game because of the fear of the screen. Brees is great a manipulating secondary players with his eyes and the screen game will help him manipulate the Denver front seven.
Another plus for the Saints is that they know that Broncos head coach John Fox likes to do on both offense and defense. Fox spent years in Carolina and hasn't changed much on defense. The Broncos are running a more Manning friendly offense but New Orleans has faced Manning before and know what he likes to do.
Denver has a good defense but are giving up an average of 23 points per game. So the Saints should be able to score points against this defense.
New Orleans on defense is another matter. The Saints rank near the bottom of every defensive statistic after six games.
The last two games have seen New Orleans start to figure out their role in Steve Spagnuolo's defensive scheme. New Orleans has made big plays on defense to win the last two games for the Saints.
Tonight, the Saints will face their biggest defensive challenge against Manning. There are two things the New Orleans defense must do tonight.
The Saints must put pressure on Manning with their pass rush. New Orleans can't allow Manning to have a clean pocket and have all day to scan the field. If the Saints can get hits and sacks on Manning would be even better than forcing him to scramble all night long.
But, if New Orleans can't get to Manning on the pass rush, they must get their hands up and tip/bat passes. Other than throwing interceptions, there is nothing more Manning hates than having his pass knocked back into his face.
Denver will try to beat the Saints defense with big play wide receiver Demetrius Thomas. The Saints must keep Thomas in front of them and hit him each time the ball comes his way. Thomas drops the ball a lot and drops the ball even more if he is getting hit.
I feel, that New Orleans will run the ball more in this game than they have done all season. That stable of backs with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Sproles will get a ton of work tonight to keep Manning off the field.
Another reason the Saints might run more is if tight end Jimmy Graham is out of the game. Brees will make sure New Orleans is in the right play on each down and he might check to more runs if the Saints can prove they can move the ball on the ground.
On defense, New Orleans doesn't have to be perfect because they are not but they do have to get stops, turnovers, sacks and pressure on Manning. The Saints are going to give up points tonight but they must limit the damage.
If the Saints can win this game, they face the very beatable Philadelphia Eagles next week at home to get back to being a .500 football team. New Orleans should be going for a winning record against the Atlanta Falcons at home in the first meeting of the two teams.
The Saints have gotten better each week on defense and I think the defense makes another big play tonight to win this game. Brees has protected the ball and will do so again tonight.
New Orleans 38 Denver 27