NFL Wire News

Saints desperate again heading into Thursday night game

on

The Sports Xchange

METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints have been very good at playing on only four days of rest, posting a 5-2 mark in such games since their first Thursday night game back in 1992.

But Thursday night’s matchup with the undefeated and NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome presents a different set of problems for the struggling Saints.

The Saints know they have to improve in a hurry, or the season will get away from them before they get near the midway point of the schedule. Dropping a 39-17 decision to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday when they had an opportunity to climb back to 2-3 wasn’t what they hoped to see.

But the one thing the Saints have at this point, they say, is a will to win despite the daunting task they face going into what is another critical game — much like the one against the Dallas Cowboys just 1 1/2 weeks ago.

The Saints were winless in three games that night and they fought their way to a 26-20 overtime win to temporarily keep them afloat — until Sunday’s clunker against the Eagles when they were outscored 29-0 in the second half until a touchdown on the final play of the game.

“We’ve got to get fixed whatever we need to get fixed, I don’t know,” strong safety Kenny Vaccaro said after the Eagles debacle. “I think we have got the players, though. And we have to stay healthy.

“We have to get our guys out here to make plays … and us coming together becoming a unit instead of something just pieced together. We just need to get to the point where everybody’s healthy, everybody’s good, everybody’s in the game and we’re doing what we do. Like in 2013.”

That’s a long way from happening, especially when you consider that team won 11 games and added a victory in the playoffs. But that team had a steady offense and a salty defense, two things the current Saints are lacking.

But they aren’t throwing in the towel, not by any stretch of the imagination.

“We feel like we have the right pieces in place,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “It hasn’t come together yet, but it will.”

While some players might not be ready to get right back on the field after such a poor outing and play a game on a short week of preparation, the Saints are embracing it.

“We’re fortunate to play Thursday,” Saints running back Mark Ingram said on Monday. “If it was a Sunday game, you would still kind of take that 24-hour rule.”

“You just focus strictly on the game ahead,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “That’s something that’s proven to help us (in the past) and I’m hoping to do the same this year. I’m surely glad we have a chance to redeem ourselves come Thursday against an in-division opponent.”

SERIES HISTORY: 92nd regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 48-43. The series has been defined by close, hard-fought games between the longtime division rivals with 27 of the contests since 1991 being decided by seven points or less. Seven games have needed an overtime period with the Saints winning three of them. Since Sean Payton became the Saints head coach in 2006, the Saints are 13-5 despite a sweep of the home-and-home series by the Falcons last season. The teams also met in an NFC wild-card game in 1991 with the Falcons winning that one 27-20 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

GAME PLAN

–The Saints have to find a way to become more consistent on offense after sputtering badly in Sunday’s 39-17 setback to the Philadelphia Eagles. The once-feared offense has scored more than 21 points just twice in five games, mainly because the Saints are having a lot of trouble protecting Drew Brees. Compounding the problem is the lack of a dependable running game, which means teams are starting to tee off on Brees — resulting in 14 sacks in just five games. There is good news and bad for Thursday night’s game with Atlanta: The Falcons have only six sacks, but they lead the NFL in rushing defense in allowing just 78.4 yards per game. If the Saints’ running game doesn’t produce at least a little, they may be able to do some business against the Falcons’ 29th-ranked pass defense.

Defensively, the Saints rank 30th against the run and 23rd against the pass, which is a bad combination against the Falcons. The Falcons rank ninth in the league in rushing with 126.0 yards per game and are eighth in passing at 280.2 yards per outing. While Matt Ryan has been sacked nine times, the Saints have only seven sacks in their five games. Generating some kind of a pass rush will be paramount for the Saints, especially if wide receiver Julio Jones is able to play despite a bad hamstring.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Saints QB Drew Brees vs. Falcons secondary.

With the exception of his team’s performance in an overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys, Brees hasn’t been very happy this season with the offense’s play. Brees usually does some of his best work when the Saints’ back is to the wall and he’ll probably be determined to get things on track if he can get enough time to get the ball to his receivers down the field.

–Saints front seven vs. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman.

Freeman ranks second in the NFL with 405 rushing yards and has already scored eight touchdowns, so the Saints will have to key on him to make sure he doesn’t get off to a quick start. The Philadelphia Eagles got their struggling running game going with 186 yards against the Saints last week, which is sure to give Freeman and the Falcons a lot of confidence going into this one.


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business