Sep 14, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; New Orleans Saints center Jonathan Goodwin (55) against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns defeated the Saints 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Coming off a bye week, the New Orleans Saints have a tough task this Sunday — containing the No. 1 overall defense in the NFL on the road. The Detroit Lions rank first in total defense (270.7 YPG), first in passing yards allowed per game (197) and second in rushing yards allowed per game (73.5).
On top of those commendable numbers, the team that sits atop the NFC North also leads the league in sacks with 20, is tied for fifth with seven interceptions and has allowed the lease amount of points by opposing offenses.
Led by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, it’s safe to say that Motown is home to the top defensive line in professional football at the moment. New Orleans will need to compete at a high level if they wish to take care of business on the road in a hostel environment.
At -8, the Saints are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to turnover ratio. Of course, the lack of takeaways in Rob Ryan‘s unit can be blamed, but the offensive line is not helping Drew Brees‘ case at limiting the mistakes either.
The Black and Gold are still No. 2 in the league in passing and total offense, but the seven interceptions are third-most in the league. Granted, Brees has made some terrible reads and decisions, but that falls on the amount of pressure the offensive line has been allowing on the Pro Bowl quarterback.
Surprisingly, he’s been sacked only five times, but he is still constantly under heavy attack and scrambling around in the backfield, trying to get rid of the ball. If he could get just another second or two to find an open man downfield, the Saints could start planting more points on the board. More scoring will be required if the defense continues to struggle mightily.
During Wednesday’s press conference following practice, Brees made it clear that he knows who he’ll be dealing with on Sunday. “They’re doing a lot of things well. They’re getting pressure on the quarterback, they’re forcing turnovers. Yards per game, they’re number one. It’s just great situational football. They’re gearing it up on third down and getting a lot of sacks. I think they lead the league in sacks on third down,” Drew said. “They lead the league in a lot of categories,” as he chuckled in amazement.
With guys like Suh, Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones on the front lines, it’s time for Brees’ protection to step up and execute to keep their quarterback safe. Zach Strief, Jahri Evans, Jonathan Goodwin, Ben Grubbs and Terron Armstead are all perfectly capable of containing Detroit’s defensive line.
It’s a bit displeasing to see some of these big names have so much trouble, especially Evans, who was criticized heavily after his not-so-all-pro performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Drew’s barrier must hold guard in the Motor City. Blocking for one of the league’s top running games is also a must. The Saints’ running backs can definitely exceed Detroit’s 73.5 YPG allowed on the ground if holes are consistently opened up.
I’m no coach or offensive lineman, so I can’t really give a strategy other than plant down, contain and protect. New Orleans has some big, strong guys securing their backfield, and the Lions have some big, quick, explosive guys who will be after Brees’ head. Either they’re going to do their job, or they’re not, but the battle between these two lines will certainly be brimming with matchups to keep an eye on.
Kicking off 2014 with a slow start, I think the these players know that it’s any given Sunday. If the Black and Gold don’t do their job and make a statement on the road, their season could be in jeopardy. The Saints’ remaining schedule is brutal, so a victory is a must for Coach Sean Payton and company.