Oct 5, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) makes a catch in front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Dane Fletcher (50) in the first quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
When we last left the New Orleans Saints, they were on the verge of a 1-4 start heading into the bye week. They were able to overcome a 31-20 deficit in the fourth quarter, and needed overtime to pull out a 37-31 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They’ve had a week off, and a chance to refocus their minds on the task at hand: winning football games. The Saints travel to take on the Detroit Lions this weekend, in a game which could rapidly dictate the rest of the reason.
Impact players are those who have an influence or effect on the outcome of a game, both positively or negatively. For the Saints, I have selected five impact players who can rapidly dictate how the team fares.
Even with the extreme possibility that Jimmy Graham could play in this game, the New Orleans Saints will need to get production elsewhere. It will be a tough task for any receiver to find success against the Lions on Sunday, as they haven’t allowed a single 100-yard receiving game to any player this season. The closest? Sammy Watkins of the Bills (7 catches, 87 yards). Marques Colston remains an active target of Drew Brees, and ever since his ‘nil’ performance in Week 2 against the Browns, he’s had 22 targets through three games (7/average). As a whole, the Saints receivers have struggled heavily, dropping balls and not finding success in getting open. Colston will see his fair share of reps against the Lions, and must simply be the player that we all know him as: ‘Mr. Reliable’.
I’ve already talked about Drew Brees’ road performance at length. The Lions defense leads the NFL in sacks with 20 currently (yes, I know the Jets tied them last night). The big thing for Drew Brees is not holding onto the ball for too long, and taking care of the football – for God’s sake, take the sack. With the surge of the Lions front four, you shouldn’t expect much on the deep ball (unless Brees can get outside of the pocket to extend the play), which the Saints could use to their advantage. How you might ask? Have Brees look for Brandin Cooks on short routes, and feed Pierre Thomas on screens and short routes out of the backfield. Brees is one of the smartest quarterbacks to ever play the game, and he will need to recognize what the Lions defense will throw at him, and ultimately not make the mistakes that have been so characteristic with the Saints’ road woes.
He’s pegged as this week’s X-Factor from my colleague, Barry Hirstius. I can’t help but agree. The Saints have to have to the utmost respect for the Lions defense, and should not abandon the run. Remember the Dallas game? The Saints found themselves in a huge hole, and stopped running the ball, forcing Drew Brees to go into ‘gunslinger’ mode. Against the Bucs, the Saints opted to pass the ball 57 times as opposed to 29 runs. The runs produced nearly 5 yards/carry (4.8 actual) and 140 rushing yards. Mark Ingram, along with Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, are an excellent hydra to attack the Lions. They exhibit different running styles, but Ingram’s is all about ‘smash mouth’ and ‘in your face’. Give him a chance, as he’s very hungry.
You can take this to the bank: without the services of Calvin Johnson, the Lions will focus on a one-two punch of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. In my opinion, Curtis Lofton has been the most consistent player on the New Orleans Saints defense. He leads the Saints defense (yet again) with 40 tackles this season. We can all talk about Rob Ryan going from beloved hero to hated villain, but some of this can fall on Lofton as well. After all, Lofton is the ‘captain’ of the Saints defense. He has to be able to read what Stafford and the Lions offense is planning to throw at them.
The pass rush and overall defensive line play looked much better with John Jenkins in the mix. Were they perfect? No. However, Jenkins commands a great deal of respect in the middle of the Saints’ defense. With him out of the picture in the first several weeks (minus the Vikings game), teams simply ran over the Saints, averaging over 100 yards/game on the ground. I’ve been a huge advocate of saying how much Jenkins’ presence will help the pass rush, as he’ll command more double teams, which in turn could help Akiem Hicks, Cam Jordan, and Junior Galette find one-on-one blocks. MatthMatthew Stafford has been sacked 21 times this season, you’d honestly think that the Saints could get a couple at least, right?
Who do you think is poised to be an impact player on Sunday? Sound off below!