The New Orleans Saints will be traveling to the Midwest to test their football wits against the Indianapolis Colts in Saturday’s Week-3 matchup of the 2014 NFL Preseason. After an ugly win at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as hosts to the Tennessee Titans, Sean Payton and company won’t have it so easy this time. With several areas that are in need of improvement, let’s take a look at five Black and Gold keys to the game for the contest in Indy.
Establish a ground attack
The return of Drew Brees should certainly set a tone through the air, but it’s the consistency of the run game that worries me. The Saints delivered an excellent performance in St. Louis Week 1, but then went on to have a subpar day at home in the dome last Friday. They basically cut their performance in half from the first game.
The Colts are going to be a bit different. With an elite offense and emerging defense, the lack of a ground attack probably won’t fare well for New Orleans. They must move the ball in order to take pressure off of the quarterbacks. Brees can handle it, but it’s Ryan Griffin, Luke McCown and Logan Kilgore who may not be up for the task just yet. It won’t be easy to escape with a victory unless the Saints can get the ball moving on the turf.
Win the turnover battle
If it wasn’t for the +5 turnover ratio in favor of New Orleans, that game against Tennessee could have been uglier than it already was. The Saints have the defense to produce fumbles and interceptions left and right, so winning that battle is crucial. They will certainly be tested when they face QB Andrew Luck and the Colts on Saturday.
Pressure Andrew Luck
This could correlate with winning the turnover battle, but there is more to it. Luck is elite, and by elite I mean top-five quarterback elite. This is the year he sets himself apart from the others, excluding Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. Pressuring the quarterback is always a crucial part of the game.
It will be tough to squeeze errors out of Luck, so the more tension on him, the better. Force him out of bounds when he tries to scramble, force him to get rid of the ball in third-down situations and force him to make a rare bad decision, hopefully resulting in a turnover. The Saints’ defense is capable of creating pressure, which was a big part of their game in 2013. Can they do it against one of the league’s best on Saturday?
Don’t give up the big plays through the air
Former LSU QB Zach Mettenberger had his way with the Saints’ secondary last week, going 20 of 25 for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Jake Locker was not too shabby either, totaling 75 yards and a score on 8 of 11 completions. Big plays were happening left and right, and giving those up is not something you want to be consistent at on defense, especially in third-and-long or close game situations.
New Orleans did force some big turnovers in the secondary, but that won’t be the case in Indy as long as Luck is firing the pigskin. The return of Jairus Byrd will help, but his action will likely be limited. Know who you’re defending, stick to your man and don’t blow the coverage. It will get better when the starters are on the field all game, but the Saints need to know that they have reliable relief on the bench.
Eliminate the mental errors
The Black and Gold had 22 penalties against the Titans. 22. That’s embarrassing and unacceptable, and that will certainly not win you games during the regular season against tougher opponents. Coverage in the secondary, blocking assignments on offense and route-running are all something that could use a bit of improvement on Saturday as well. However, players shouldn’t have to be told to have their heads in the game.
Just like the Saints, the Colts could be marching on to Arizona to play in the Super Bowl come February. This is an elite football team that New Orleans has to face in their house. Yes, it’s preseason, but this is what prepares an organization for the real deal. Following these keys to the game will make things easier, but Sean Payton and company will still need to be firing on all cylinders.