Ground And Pound Leads Saints To First Road Playoff Victory
QB Drew Brees his New Orleans Saints took care of business on the road this past Saturday night, albeit in a fashion uncharacteristic of the team. All Saints fans can now breathe a sigh of relief, as their team wound up on the winning end of a road game for the first time in three months. In addition, the Saints captured their first road playoff win in franchise history.
Going into the game, it was presumed that Brees would be able to exploit the porous secondary of the Philadelphia Eagles, but that was not the case. The aerial attack was pedestrian and there were only a handful of big plays downfield, the longest being a 40-yard reception by Robert Meachem. The rushing attack, believe it or not, was the deciding factor in the game and the one constant for New Orleans all night. Surprisingly, the Saints ran the ball more times than they threw it, registering 36 rushes against just 30 passes. This marked the first time all year the Saints favored the run.
With RB Pierre Thomas sidelined with an injury, the prospect of the Saints putting up a consistent running attack seemed bleak. New Orleans came into the postseason averaging 92 yards rushing per game. They doubled that mark on Saturday, posting 185 yards. With Thomas out, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson were the featured backs. Ingram ran for 97 yards on 18 attempts to go along with a touchdown while Robinson ran for 45 yards on eight carries. Both backs put up over five yards per carry, something that hampered all Saints running backs during the regular season. Darren Sproles also put up over seven yards per carry on his four rushes.
Even Brees became a component of the rushing attack, converting three third-and-ones. Head coach Sean Payton enlisted confidence in Brees’ legs and he did not disappoint. Earlier in the year, Payton was criticized for getting too fancy on third-and-short scenarios, so maybe that influenced his play calling or maybe he saw the struggles the Eagles were having at the line of scrimmage at providing any push back.
The Saints did an exceptional job on third downs, converting seven of 13. This in turn allowed the Saints to sustain long, methodical drives that eliminated crowd noise, and more importantly, control time of possession and keep Philadelphia's up tempo offense off the field. The decreased crowd noise assailed communication problems with Brees and his offense, something that had inconvenienced them on the road all season.
A bright spot for the Saints aerial game came on the first two drives of the second half, when Brees was able to stretch the field by converting a 24-yard touchdown pass to WR Lance Moore, a 14-yard strike to WR Kenny Stills on third down and a 24-yard hookup with TE Benjamin Watson. These two drives provided the Saints a two score lead. The ground and pound opened up the field in the second half and Brees was flawless.
Something that may go unnoticed is the play of rookie LT Terron Armstead. In just his third career start, he was able to subdue the disruptive Trent Cole. Leading the Eagles in sacks during the year, Cole was ineffective Saturday, sacking Brees only once. In fact, the entire Saints offensive line did a phenomenal job at protecting their QB, who was sacked just twice and hit three times.
Not only was this an exhale for the Saints because they finally won a road playoff game, it was also an exhale because the team proved that it could win a game with a strong rushing attack. It was a style of offense that had been missing all season long, and one that is needed to win on the road in the playoffs. This gritty performance should go a long way to providing the Saints a confidence boost heading into a rematch with the Seattle Seahawks next week.