Oct 5, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; A general view of Ford Field (right) and Comerica Park (left) before the game between the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
When the New Orleans Saints are fresh off their bye in Week 7, the team will be rejuvenated and ready to take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. To say the Black and Gold have been disappointing on the road is an understatement, so if they can’t make a statement in the Motor City, time may run out.
If the away play continues at this tempo, Sean Payton and company are looking at an overall record of 8-8 at the best, assuming they win all their games at home, which seems to be a challenge as well. Hopefully Sunday’s contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a wake-up call after almost falling to their division foe in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
While New Orleans should be looking at a 3-2 or 4-1 record heading into the bye week, they’re not, and the schedule only gets tougher from here on out. What we thought was the best team on paper the franchise has ever seen is certainly not performing like it.
With a remaining schedule that includes Detriot, Green Bay, Carolina, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Carolina again, Chicago, Atlanta and Tampa Bay to close out the regular season, the foolish play must banish and the desire to win must surface.
Speaking of musts, and with the Lions next up on the blacklist, let’s take a look at what the Saints must do if they wish to escape Motown with what would be a crucial victory.
Must establish the run early
Through five weeks, the Lions have not been so generous to opposing running backs. In fact, they’ve allowed only 74.4 yards on the ground per game, which ranks third in the NFL. With Khiry Robinson running well, Pierre Thomas emerging back into a big role and the possibility of Mark Ingram returning from his hand injury, the Saints are indeed capable of exceeding those numbers by a wide margin.
Establishing a run early can do wonders for an offense. It allows bigger plays to form, it opens up the opportunity for play action and it keeps the offense on the field longer, which would give the Saints more time to score and the Lions less. A solid run game will also help ease pressure off of Drew Brees, resulting in fewer turnovers, which brings us to our next must.
Must eliminate the turnovers
We can’t single out Brees, but yes, last week’s performance by the All-Pro quarterback against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was without a question, uncharacteristic. He needs to remember how to take a sack rather than just serve up the pigskin to hungry defenses like it’s an all-you-can-eat at Golden Corral.
For Brees, it’s time to do away with the mental errors, but the offensive line will need to show up against a wall of a defensive line in Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones. Relieving pressure and giving Drew enough time to make accurate reads and good decisions will result in bigger plays and less turnovers for an offense that still ranks No. 1 overall in the league.
Must apply pressure on defense
Compared to last season, it’s been quite the opposite when it comes to pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Matthew Stafford has been sacked 17 times already this year, which ranks 31st in the NFL behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Detroit’s O-line is off to an awful start, so the Saints’ front seven has a legitimate shot at bringing up old memories of the 2013 season when the team finished with 49 sacks. Stafford has also been known to force things that shouldn’t be forced.
With the possibility of Calvin Johnson missing some time, Motown’s quarterback may have some trouble finding a consistent target all game long. The absence of Megatron could help New Orleans focus more on other things, like pressuring Stafford and forcing him to chunk the ball up to a less reliable option. The presence of Cam Jordan and Junior Galette in the pass rush will be critical.
Must get off the field on third downs
This is something the Saints have been pretty atrocious at all year long. Poor third-down defense makes it dreadfully difficult to win ball games. It’s time Rob Ryan gets his unit going. Detroit has the talent to pick apart opposing defenses with ease, so limiting the Lions’ time on the field is crucial, especially if Calvin Johnson does happen to play — he’s an easy first down almost every time.
Must win the turnover battle
All of these things go hand in hand. If the Black and Gold can successfully carry out each “must” listed above, winning the turnover battle should be no problem. If not, the Saints could find themselves returning home empty handed and in an even deeper hole.
It’s time for the New Orleans Saints to start playing their brand of football. Again, the remaining schedule is brutal, so the team must play its best football from here on out. Hopefully a well-rested bye week is the medicine they need to get back on the right track to the postseason. We’ll see how it pans out in the Motor City a week and a half from now.