I told you guys. I told you that Atlanta was the game of the year, and that the New Orleans Saints had to play the ‘game of their lives’ in order to salvage their season. I also told you that they had to play nearly perfect football to knock off a superior team. I got a strong feeling about the game heading into Thursday night, and it all came true. Let’s face it, the 31-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons gave fans tremendous hope for the season.
The odds favored Atlanta entering the game. America picked against the Saints at home with 85 percent of fans taking the Falcons. If you didn’t feel it in that game, then maybe the Michael Mauti blocked punt was the turning point for you. The play was reminiscent of Steve Gleason, almost down to the exact frame.
As good as that game made us feel and the lasting impression it will leave on us, it’s time to focus on the task at hand. Enter the Colts. They’re a franchise under the microscope, especially after what many say was the worst play in history after their questionable fake punt play.
Are the Colts as good as everyone thinks they are?
Like the Saints, the Colts find themselves struggling. Sure, a 3-3 record (.500) doesn’t seem so bad. However, when you peel all of the layers back, here’s what you get:
- The Colts have been outscored 147-126 (-21 difference), and are 1-2 at home.
- Their three wins have come against their division, with single digit margins of victory (2, 3, and 7 points).
- The Colts defense is currently 30th in the league, surrendering 401.8 yards per game. The Saints are dead last with 409.7 yards per game allowed.
- As for the Colts offense, they’re 23rd in the league in scoring (21.0 points per game), and average 347.2 yards per game on offense (19th).
- As a team, the Colts have a -6 turnover differential, which places them tied for 30th in the league. They’ve taken the ball away 12 times this season, but have given it away 6 times.
If you take away last year’s playoff victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, the Colts haven’t beat a non-AFC South opponent since Week 14 of last season when they played the Cleveland Browns. They won 25-24 over the Browns on December 7, 2014.
Was the Falcons game a fluke or not?
The major question of this contest lies in whether or not the Saints build upon their momentum. The team that played on Thursday was the team we were expecting all season. Hopefully, the Saints have used the 10 days to really prepare for the Colts. They are receiving some key pieces back in the way of Terron Armstead, Tim Lelito, and Marques Colston. Also, Dannell Ellerbe’s injury was minor, so he’s been deemed probable for Sunday.
No one is suggesting that the Saints will now go on a tear and rattle off 10 straight wins to go to 12-4. Naturally, the mentality defaults to taking things one game at a time. You can honestly look at this game as a big setback if we don’t see a similar performance out of the Saints.
Beating the Colts rests on the defense
What have teams like the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and New England Patriots done to beat the Colts? The simple answer is: Show up on defense. Here’s a look at Andrew Luck‘s performance when blitzed.
Week 1 (Bills): 9-for-23, 118 yards, TD, 2INT, 3 sacks
Week 2 (Jets): 8-for-18, 133 yards, TD, 2INT
Week 6 (Patriots): 2-for-5, 16 yards
When talking about the Patriots game, they didn’t exactly blitz Luck much. However, their defense didn’t have to, as they sacked Luck three times under duress. In his four games played, only the Jets didn’t cause a sack, but in the rest of the contests, Luck has had multi-sack outings. The Colts offensive line has allowed 11 sacks this season, which is good for 17th in the league. However, it’s a different tale in terms of quarterback hits, as they find themselves tied for 4th most in the league with 41.
To win this game, the Saints will have to rely on their defense more so than their offense, which starts with a strong pass rush from their tandem of Hau’oli Kikaha and Cam Jordan. Both are arguably coming off of their best game of the season, combining for 13 tackles, 4 sacks, 7 hurries, and 5 quarterback hits.
Jordan has been stellar this season, in terms of Pro Football Focus grading.
The other part of the equation lie in the secondary, as they’ll be matched up against an extremely talented group of wide receivers. The defense won’t have Keenan Lewis and Damian Swann in the mix, which means Kyle Wilson and Brian Dixon will play more in addition to Delvin Breaux and Brandon Browner. Luck, like Drew Brees, is a very meticulous surgeon when it comes to throwing the football. Safety help over the top and proper reads will spell all the difference in the world.
Expecting a complete shutdown of the Colts offense isn’t realistic, but if the Saints defense can get several key stops and turnovers, it will spell all the difference in the world. After 10 days of preparation and recuperation, we can only hope that the team brings its best football to the table at Lucas Oil Stadium, and keeps winning alive in the Crescent City.