Five New Orleans Saints who must ‘Catch Fire’ down the stretch
By John Hendrix
Nov 9, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) prepares to throw the ball as San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite (57) tackles in the third quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers won 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Had you said at the beginning of the 2014 NFL Season that the New Orleans Saints would be going into the last several weeks of the season staring at a sub par .500 record of 4-6 and trailing the Atlanta Falcons for the division, you might have been subject to much criticism with your claims of blasphemy and lunacy.
In order for the Saints to help salvage their season (and believe me it’s still salvageable), they need to win games, which means they need their absolute best from several key players on the team. Keenan Lewis, Mark Ingram, Junior Galette, Jimmy Graham, and Curtis Lofton are just a handful of players that have played consistently well overall for the black and gold, so they aren’t on my list for those reasons.
For the players that are on my list, they will be integral parts in the Saints’ success or failures.
After a very sluggish start, Cam Jordan is playing more like the Pro Bowler from a year ago who tallied 12.5 sacks. Jordan has may only have five sacks on the season, but four of those have come in three of the last four games. Jordan, along with edge rusher Junior Galette (six sacks), must continue generating pressure and surge on opposing quarterbacks to negate a reeling secondary from seeing its fair share of action. Teams have done a good job at accounting for the Saints pass rushers through double teams, and quarterbacks have been smart enough to not hold onto the ball for a long period of time. When given the opportunity (and there’s been more than a few times), the opposing quarterbacks must be wrapped up. It also wouldn’t hurt if we see Akiem Hicks get it going, as he’s been fairly M.I.A. this season.
Patrick Robinson is lining up in the slot more these days, which yields way for Corey White to start opposite of Keenan Lewis. Of course, Lewis has been hobbled by a knee injury, so it’s made White and Robinson have to take most of the cover corner duties, much to the dismay of Saints fans. Robinson, as many can agree, is best suited for the slot duties. One would assume that Keenan Lewis (if healthy) is going to take all remaining top receiver threats for the rest of the season, and on White’s plate for the rest of the way figures to be: Steve Smith (Ravens), Markus Wheaton (Steelers), Jerricho Cotchery (Panthers), Alshon Jeffery (Bears), Roddy White (Falcons), and Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson (Bucs). To suggest that these respective wide receivers can really rip apart the Saints in the secondary is a bit of an understatement. Rookie Brian Dixon figures to be in the mix as well, but White will get the bulk of the action.
If there’s one player on the defense that has seen a tremendous ‘fall from grace’, it’s Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro’s first season with the Saints received nothing but praise from many, but now it’s the exact opposite. Vaccaro has taken much criticism from his aggressive nature, and even found himself ranked dead last among safeties on Pro Football Focus. Without Rafael Bush, Vaccaro will have to pair with a mixture of Marcus Ball and Pierre Warren. Vaccaro may have to abandon his aggressive style to help bail out his comrades in the secondary. It’s time we see Vaccaro force some turnovers, something that has been severely lacking on the Saints defense this season.
Marques Colston figures to be the largest benefactor from the injured Brandin Cooks. Teams will focus most on Jimmy Graham as they always do, which means Drew will go to a familiar face in the passing game. Colston has had a bit of a down season, but what you can feel encouraged about is that the drops aren’t nearly as bad as many make it out to be. Colston’s four drops (which have been crucial) on 59 targets is only 39th among all wide receivers. You can feel encouraged by that, or feel a bit of relief that it’s not as bad as you may have thought. Colston, along with the rest of the Saints’ wide receiving corp of Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, and Robert Meachem must find success in the receiving game. Colston caught fire down the stretch last season, and he needs to do it again.
The long ball has been relatively absent in the past two losses for Drew Brees. Brees has only averaged 6.2 yards per completion on 61 passes over the past two games. The absence of Brandin Cooks will sting, but as Drew has pointed out, it’s a matter of the ‘next man up’ mentality. He has a great deal of trust and respect with his receiving corp, which also includes tight ends Ben Watson and Josh Hill. Brees must continue to take care of the ball, and play at an elite level that we’ve witness in the past several years. He’s the single most important piece of the Saints puzzle at the moment. We’ve lived through lackluster defenses, and we don’t need the defense to be elite. We just need them to stop some teams from ripping them apart, and in turn, we need the offense to start scoring.
I don’t have to sit here and convince you of the importance of winning the Monday Night Football matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Each respective player on the Saints’ 53-man roster is vital to the team’s successes. Players like Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson will provide a huge jolt for the team when they come back to the lineup healthy.
The rest of the season will be dictated primarily by the play of these particular players, as they seem to have the largest responsibilities at the moment. One thing is certain, a loss to the Ravens (third straight at home) could virtually end the New Orleans Saints 2014 season.
Who do you believe needs to ‘catch fire’ most for the Saints down the stretch? Is it someone we didn’t list? Sound off below!