The game of football can often be about the smallest intangibles ultimately making the biggest difference. In a league where there is apparently more parity than ever before, often these contests come down to the simplest nuances of the game in determining the outcome. Penalties, turnovers, and hidden yardage.
Such was the case Sunday when the Saints visited Arrowhead. As many teams find out, Drew Brees just keeps going. And for all the struggles on the defensive side of the ball, this team, in their four losses, has been one possession away from winning in three.
That’s just the dynamic the a Drew Brees brings to the table. But woulda, shoulda, coulda…
Unfortunately, the only thin that matters at this level is winning. Not how close it was, not how pretty or ugly it was; only wins count in the final outcome.
The Seahawks, up until a week ago, certainly appeared to be “business as usual” in this 2016 season. But then came that Sunday night matchup in the desert vs Arizona. A suddenly-anemic offense struggled to a 6-6 tie with division rival Arizona, in what was a bizarre game to say the least. So does this suddenly give rise to hope that the Saints could maybe upset the Seahawks?
Let’s pump the brakes a bit and think about this…
I believe it is worth reminding everyone that while the ‘Hawks offense may have struggled mightily vs ARI, that Cards D did have a little bit to say about that. And let’s face facts: there’s a great degree of separation from that Cardinals D to the Saints D. Does that mean that this could be an impossible task? Not at all.
A week ago, facing the Chiefs, my pregame analysis was first and foremost, there can be no room for error in the execution of this game plan. And sure enough, from penalties, to turnovers, the Saints lost what could have been a winnable game in Kansas City.
Yet and still, there the Saints were, up until the last two minutes, still hanging around in a three-point ballgame.
Despite what the presiding opinion may be, much like John Lynch said during the Saints-Chiefs broadcast on Sunday, there are signs of improvement,however small they may be. Although injuries have ravaged this defensive unit, they have found a way to stay in games. Holes in that? Certainly.
Until this defensive front can generate a pass rush to get some pressure on the opposing QB, they’re unlikely to get to “serviceable”, much less good. And make no mistake-a consistent pass rush is absolutely the best friend that that injury-plagued secondary can hope for right now.
On offense, it’s been “All Systems Go” thus far, as Brees continues his assault on the NFL Record books, finding a way to seemingly break new records every week as he takes the field, as the second-oldest QB in the league. The Saints have not only one of the youngest receiving corps in the league, but also one of the most lethal.
Conventional wisdom is that Seattle’s “Legion Of Boom” secondary is the yardstick by which all others are measured in the NFL. Although Richard Sherman gets the lion’s share of the media attention as one of the most vocal players around, he absolutely backs it up with his play. But the heartbeat of that unit is by far Earl Thomas at safety.
The matchup is intriguing to say the least. Most of the time Brees and the Saints have been able to overwhelm opposing defenses by sheer numbers; for every matchup you can get on his receivers, he simply has another one to go to. But Seattle has a very special defense. One that can match up with you at every point of attack. So, that makes the preparation by the 37-year-old quarterback, in his 16th season, the center of what has to happen for the Saints to get the win. And no one prepares like Drew Brees.
Here are my three keys to this game:
1). MARGIN FOR ERROR At the risk of sounding like a broken record, again this week this team simply cannot beat itself out of another game. One dynamic that will be different will be that this game will be contested in the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But the mental breakdowns, such as the avoidable penalties, simply cannot stand.
The Saints face a difficult schedule, which now has been magnified by the won-loss record they have amassed. And playing against some of the best teams in this league-the Chiefs, the Seahawks, the Broncos-this team simply cannot beat itself.
2). EXPLOIT THAT OFFENSIVE LINE For all that Russell Wilson brings to the table, the simple fact of the matter is that not only is he hurt, but he is playing behind an offensive line that is struggling mightily at this point. If there was ever a game for Cam Jordan and that front 7 to stand up and interject themselves into determining the outcome of a contest, this is the one. They must find a way.
3). DON’T LET JIMMY HAVE A GOOD HOMECOMING For all the fantastic things that Jimmy Graham accomplished as a New Orleans Saint, his random tweets since leaving lead one to believe that there’s nothing he would absolutely revel in more than coming back to New Orleans and being the focal point in a Seahawks win over his former team. This cannot be allowed to happen.
For an offense that struggled so on Sunday night, Graham was the lone point of emphasis during an overtime drive that took the ‘Hawks straight down the field, and with an injured QB in Wilson, quick daggers to a mismatched Graham could be useful. The Saints MUST find a way to prevent that.
This could be a springboard game for the 2-4 Saints from which to try to challenge the Falcons in the under-achieving NFC South division thus far in 2016. They have proven that can play with these teams. But it’s time for this team to just find a way to win. Do the little things. After all, winning is all that matters at this level.