"On paper, today’s game against the (1-6) San Francisco 49ers should be an easy victory for the New Orleans Saints."
However, to borrow a catch phrase from ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso: “Not so fast, my friend”.
As we all know, games aren’t played on paper.
The Saints are still very much a work in progress, improving on defense every week, an already potent offense refining new weapons, and even some of their injured starters returning to the lineup.
Part of the progression of a young team, is avoiding the so-called “trap” game–playing well for multiple weeks, looking forward to a big opponent, and getting caught unprepared by a lower opponent in between.
It’s exactly where the (3-4) Saints find themselves today.
New Orleans has won 3 of their last 4 games, with two of those opponents having played in the post-season a year ago.
Oct 30, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) leaps over the line for a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
With the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos looming as next week’s home opponent, many people have looked at that game as the toughest part of the schedule.
It is at this precise moment when a young team, still evolving, needs to be most prepared to avoid a letdown against a team such as San Francisco — losers of 6 straight.
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The Saints are also getting healthy at the right time. Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins should see his first action of the season, and cornerback Delvin Breaux could possibly see snaps for the first time since week one (Breaux is listed as questionable coming into the game).
These two players in the lineup should give a HUGE boost to a defense that is continuing to get better each and every week.
Breaux is the sort of player that can take the opposition’s best receiver and control him without much assistance. That will allow the young Saints secondary much more versatility in their coverage packages.
The addition of Rankins into the lineup could not come at a better time. Cam Jordan, Nick Fairley, and Tyeler Davison in particular have played pretty well in recent weeks.
Last week’s game against the Seahawks may have been the line’s best performance to date, getting good pressure on the pocket and even containing the Seattle running game.
Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert, neworleanssaints.com)
Rankins was a number 1 draft pick for a reason, and the sooner he gets up to “game speed” from his absence due to injury, along with Breaux, Saints fans will hopefully get to see the defense that prompted so much excitement during training camp.
The athletic ability of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, along with the big play ability of his receivers such as speedster Torrey Smith, are certainly going to be problematic; if the defense cannot pressure the erratic QB into mistakes throwing the football.
Oct 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at Levi
It’s equally important to note also that San Francisco has a talented running back in Carlos Hyde. Hyde may or may not play in this contest because of a shoulder injury, but New Orleans cannot afford to let the 49er offense control the game.
The New Orleans offense should be able to score at will against a porous San Francisco defense. Last week’s benching of running back Mark Ingram, and subsequent strong performance from Tim Hightower will probably lead to an equal split of backfield snaps this week.
The 49ers do have some talent in the secondary, but nothing that should be able to cope with Drew Brees’ talented group of Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas, Coby Fleener, and company. This receiving corps is quickly becoming one of the deepest in the NFL.
Although the offensive line has played better than expected this season so far, the Niners still have a nice group of pass rushers, so keep an eye on this match up.
The Saints simply have to much talent on this side of the ball for the 49ers to keep pace. The equalizer, of course, are turnovers. If Brees and company turn the ball over, they will be in great danger of losing a very winnable game.
The Saints have shown already that they are capable of playing toe to toe with anybody in the National Football League.
Oct 30, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) runs from Seattle Seahawks cornerback DeShawn Shead (35) during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Seahawks 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Good teams win the games they are “supposed to”, and this is a game that New Orleans SHOULD win, if they expect to be mentioned among the league’s good teams.
Yet, as we’ve all seen, Sean Payton’s group cannot make anything easy on themselves, so it would not be surprising if this ended up being yet another “down to the wire” game.
But at the same time: I firmly believe that the Saints know that this game today with the 49’ers won’t just be an “easy W”.
The guess here is that the Saints end the first half of their season on a high note, and they take another step forward in doing something that good teams do when they face a lower tiered opponent…….