NFC Championship: Saints troubles in the trenches

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Ahead of the NFC Championship Game, the Saints have had more than their share of trouble in the trenches, the offensive and defensive lines.

For the Saints, like most NFL teams, everything begins in the trenches. Tough times just got tougher with injuries on both the Saints lines with the NFC Championship Game this Sunday, Jan. 20, in the Superdome.

The New Orleans Saints offensive line has been a source of pride for most of the years of the Sean Payton era. The team has prided itself on putting together a solid front that is tasked with keeping QB Drew Brees clean and upright. Even in the years where we were lean on the defensive side of the ball, offensively we had a solid front.

This offensive line is no different and might possibly be the best front we’ve had overall. When healthy, this offensive line is among the best in the game. Unfortunately, good health has been elusive, particularly in the second half of the season.

The Saints have had every single lineman on the injury report at some point this season. Even today, as of Friday’s report, the Saints have three linemen on that list. In reality, every lineman is currently dealing with some health issues.

Not on the list are Larry Warford, who missed Week 17 against Carolina with a knee injury, and Terron Armstead who has missed a lot of time this season with a torn pectoral muscle. Trust me, Armstead is playing with pain; a torn pec muscle is normally a three to four month heal time. Armstead is playing with it three weeks after it was reaggravated in the Pittsburgh game, and only about two and a half months after the initial injury.

On the injury report are also Max Unger who’s dealing with a knee injury, and Ryan Ramczyk who’s been dealing with a shoulder injury for a good portion of the season. But the biggest injury on the line currently is Andrus Peat. Peat suffered a broken hand in Week 17. He had surgery on that hand in the bye week. That was not a misprint. Peat had surgery on his broken hand less than two weeks before suiting it up in the divisional round game.

Andrus Peat did not turn out to be the outside guy we expected. We thought Peat would be the heir to Zach Strief’s right tackle spot. But early on in his grooming, he struggled. He was moved around a good bit but found a home at left guard. For a guy who was a first round draft pick, he wasn’t a “stud”. But he’s taken his talent and maximized it. He’s now one of the more versatile guys on the line and can play four of the five line spots.

So, while Peat’s performance in the Philadelphia game left something to be desired, when put in the context of him playing really with one hand, it’s understandable. Not only that, but he was lined up against Fletcher Cox for much of the game.

Cox is one of the best defensive tackles in the game. That Peat stood up as much as he did considering the pain he was in was big. He’s a warrior. The road gets no easier for him this week though, as he’ll line up across from the best defensive tackle in football, maybe the best since Cortez Kennedy, Aaron Donald. Injury aside, Peat will have to step up huge this week.