New Orleans Saints: 2014 Quick Takes

Quick Take: Saints at Seahawks

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
Three things to know about the New Orleans Saints’ matchup at the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday in the NFC divisional round at CenturyLink Field:

1. Ugly memory: This is a rematch of a game played just five weeks ago -- and it was by far the Saints’ ugliest performance of the season, a 34-7 loss on “Monday Night Football.” The Saints' normally potent offense gained just 188 yards, and an early sack-fumble set the tone. The defense was just as ugly. It sold out to stop running back Marshawn Lynch, but got burned by play-action fakes and Russell Wilson’s arm and legs.

Obviously it’s safe to expect a much better performance from the Saints this time. But will it be good enough? The Saints showed reason for optimism with the way they won their first playoff game Saturday in chilly Philadelphia -- relying on their run game, defense and special teams as much as they relied on Drew Brees. Now they’ll never be labeled as a team that can’t win a big game on the road again, right?

2. Battered secondary: The Saints had the No. 2-ranked pass defense in the NFL this season (behind the No. 1-ranked Seahawks). But they keep losing their best defensive backs to injuries. Cornerback Jabari Greer suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, then safety Kenny Vaccaro suffered a season-ending ankle injury in December. Now top cornerback Keenan Lewis will be questionable after leaving Saturday’s playoff win with a concussion. Judging by the way he was pleading to stay in the game, it’s possible the concussion wasn’t too serious. But those types of injuries are impossible to predict. The Saints are extremely thin behind Lewis -- as the Eagles proved by attacking deep after Lewis left.

3. Saints can run: Seattle’s top-ranked pass defense obviously caused problems for Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham & Co. in that first meeting. But the Saints proved at Philly that they can trust their run game if needed. They ran for 185 yards on 36 carries, led by a huge effort from resurgent running back Mark Ingram (18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown). Whether or not running back Pierre Thomas is able to return from a back injury, the Saints obviously have multiple options they can feature.

Quick Take: Saints at Eagles

December, 30, 2013
Three things to know about next Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles:

1. Road woes: The Saints (11-5) have to reverse a trend that has gotten uglier as the season has progressed. They finished 3-5 on the road, including three straight road losses in December (at Seattle, St. Louis and Carolina). There’s no great explanation for why the Saints have been such a different team away from home. They’ve struggled to score points and hit on deep passing plays. They’ve turned the ball over too often early in games. And they’ve had trouble stopping the run. All of those things are curable, in theory. But the Saints need to prove it on the field; they came close at Carolina in Week 16 but still managed only 13 points. Weather could be a factor, but early forecasts seem somewhat manageable (temperatures in the 20s or 30s, with no precipitation).

2. Eagles on fire: The opponent might even be scarier than the location. The Eagles (10-6) are one of the NFL’s hottest teams, having won six of their last seven. Nick Foles has been a revelation since taking over as the starting quarterback, with 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. And Philadelphia has by far the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL, led by dangerous running back LeSean McCoy. The Saints will need their safeties to step up and be sure tacklers -- a bigger challenge now that rookie Kenny Vaccaro is out for the season. Increasing the degree of difficulty is the fact the Eagles are an unfamiliar foe for the Saints, led by rookie coach Chip Kelly and his unconventional offense.

3. Saints on fire: Of course, the Saints are no slouches themselves on offense. Although they’ve struggled to bring their show on the road, it’s still some of the most dazzling theater in the NFL at times. Drew Brees just threw for another 381 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday’s 42-17 win over Tampa Bay (three of the TDs for 40 yards or more). And he just wrapped his fourth 5,000-yard passing season, with 39 touchdowns to boot. That will put a scare into the Eagles’ defense, which ranks in the bottom five in the NFL. The Saints finished the season ranked No. 4 on offense and No. 4 on defense. Despite their low seeding, they have one of the highest ceilings of any playoff team.