Saints Looking To Cure Road Woes And Ground Soaring Eagles
With the playoffs starting this weekend, the New Orleans Saints can reflect back on their season and take from it several positives to use as confidence builders as the team prepares to battle the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday night on the road.
The most concrete bright spot was the Saints play at home. The team was an unstoppable force under the roof of the Superdome. New Orleans sported an undefeated record at home, averaging 34 points per game, while their opponents averaged just 15.6. QB Drew Brees had phenomenal statistics at home, throwing for 27 TDs compared to just three INTs. He also registered an impressive completion percentage of 73.6. Unfortunately, due to the team's perilous play on the road, they will not have the luxury of playing a game at home. The Saints will just have to use all their success as motivation in an attempt to kick start their offense on the road.
A noteworthy element to the offense that can provide momentum heading into January was the return to normalcy of WR Marques Colston, who had a resurgent second half of the season after an almost nonexistent performance early on. His breakout game came against the Dalls Cowboys in Week 9 when he recorded seven receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. In Colston's first eight games, he averaged just 43 yards and three catches to go along with one measly score. In his final eight games though, he averaged 75 yards and six receptions per game. More importantly, Colston had four of his five TDs during that stretch. The Saints will need him to continue to be a large factor in the offense if they want to contend for the Super Bowl.
Another offensive component that was clicking all year was the play of RB Pierre Thomas, who stepped in when Darren Sproles went down with an injury. Thomas recorded career highs in receptions and receiving yards, tied a career high in rushing attempts and did an exceptional job as a pass blocker. Thomas is a significant part of the offense and provides a utility role to the team that no other NFL back can provide. That alone gives the Saints a leg up on the competition, regardless of the opponent.
An area in which the Saints were quite efficient that will become more magnified in the playoffs was offensive turnovers, more specifically fumbles by their backs and receivers. They coughed up only one fumble on 391 rushing attempts and sustained just one fumble by a receiver, but that was recovered. Therefore, they lost only one fumble all year. During the playoffs, ball protection is extremely crucial. Change of possession due to a fumble can vastly affect momentum and field positioning and ultimately decide a game.
Along with the offensive accolades the Saints compiled throughout the year were some defensive accomplishments which can used to bolster their esteem come Sunday. Last year, this team was a defensive nightmare and embarrassment to watch collecting dubious honors. This season, under the tutelage of Rob Ryan, the Saints were fourth in yards allowed and total points surrendered. More importantly, they were fourth in sacks thanks to the stellar play of LB Junior Galette and DE Cameron Jordan, who combined for nearly half of the team’s 49 sacks. If those two continue to create havoc on Philly QB Nick Foles, the Saints will find themselves victorious over the Eagles.
Their passing defense also did a complete turnaround from last season. New Orleans was second in the league in total yards allowed and fourth in passing TDs conceded. These numbers speak volumes to the personality this defense has developed. They are an aggressive, tenacious defense which can shutdown top tier signal callers and create mayhem for opposing offenses. With that being said, they do have a tough task ahead of them against red-hot Eagles squad.
Another matchup area that heavily favors the Saints is passing yards. The Eagles were the worst team at guarding against the pass in 2013 while the Saints had the league’s fourth best aerial attack. Brees is chomping at the bit to exploit the Eagles porous secondary and earn New Orleans its first road victory since early October. Dallas, a team extremely vulnerable to the pass like Philly, was obliterated by Brees as he picked up nearly 400 yards through the air, so this matchup should provide Brees with more than enough confidence to lead his team to victory and oust his critics who say he can’t perform at an elite level outdoors.
All the aforementioned superlatives the Saints accomplished during the season should provide the team with the drive to go into Lincoln Financial Field and capture their first ever playoff victory on the road. A heavy dose of Brees to TE Jimmy Graham and/or Colston, sprinkled with 15 to 20 touches for Thomas out of the backfield, should produce a winning formula.