Stats & Info: New Orleans Saints

Top stats to know: Saints at Bears

December, 15, 2014

Getty ImagesQuarterbacks Drew Brees, left, and Jay Cutler face off in Chicago on "Monday Night Football."
The New Orleans Saints travel to Soldier Field on Monday to take on the Chicago Bears (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Saints control their own destiny in the NFC South, but they face a Bears team that has won five straight home games on "Monday Night Football." Here are the top stats to know about Monday’s matchup:

Brees near 4,000-yard mark
Saints quarterback Drew Brees enters the game just 17 passing yards shy of 4,000 this season. He has thrown for at least 4,000 yards each season since he signed with New Orleans in 2006, already the longest streak in NFL history.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is the only other quarterback to reach the 4,000-yard mark in at least five consecutive seasons.

Bears defense struggling
The Bears have allowed an NFL-high 29.1 points per game in 2014, on pace to be the second-most points allowed by Chicago in a single season. The only season with more? Last season (29.9 points per game), coach Marc Trestman’s first year with the team.

And don’t blame pace of play for the Bears' troubles. Chicago also ranks last in the NFL in opponent points per drive (2.48) and percentage of opponent drives ending in touchdowns (27 percent).

Cutler closing in on Bears record
Although Jay Cutler has struggled with turnovers in 2014 (NFL-high 21 entering Monday), he has also found the end zone. Cutler ranks among the top 10 league-wide with 26 touchdown passes this season, three shy of Erik Kramer’s team record set in 1995.

Cutler’s career high of 27 was set in 2009, his first season with the Bears after being acquired in a trade from the Broncos.

Ingram rolling on the road
Mark Ingram
Brees may be the face of the Saints’ offense, but running back Mark Ingram has been the go-to player for New Orleans on the road of late.

Ingram has rushed for at least 100 yards in two straight road games and is trying to become just the fourth player in team history to top the 100-yard mark in three straight games on the road. The last Saints player to do it was former pro bowler Deuce McAllister in 2003 (five straight).

Back in prime time
This will be the 11th time that the Bears have appeared on "Monday Night Football" since the start of the 2010 season (most in the NFL over that span), and a win over the Saints would give Chicago multiple wins on MNF for the third straight year.

Not to be outdone, New Orleans is making its ninth MNF appearance since 2010, tied with the Jets and Chargers for the second-most league-wide over that span.

Despite their frequent appearances on MNF, tonight marks the first meeting between the Bears and Saints on "Monday Night Football" since the series debuted in 1970.

MNF Preview: Ravens-Saints

November, 24, 2014

Sean Gardner/Getty ImagesJimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football
The New Orleans Saints (4-6, first in NFC South) host the Baltimore Ravens (6-4, last in AFC North) on "Monday Night Football" at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.

Here are the top 10 stats to know heading into the game.

1. Joe Flacco and the Ravens are 3-0 and averaging more than 38 points per game against the NFC South this season.

2. Flacco has a Total QBR of 97 in those three games against the NFC South, the second-highest by a quarterback against one division in the last five seasons (minimum 50 attempts).

3. Flacco has 10 touchdowns and five interceptions on passes throws 15 yards or more downfield (three touchdowns, nine interceptions in 2013)

4. Torrey Smith’s five touchdown receptions since Week 6 were tied for the fourth-most in the NFL entering Week 12

5. Justin Forsett rushed for a season-high 112 yards in the Ravens' last game (Week 10) and is averaging the most yards per rush among running backs this season at 5.4 (Jamaal Charles is second at 5.2).

6. The Saints have lost two straight home games and are trying to avoid their longest home losing streak since they lost four in a row across the 2006-07 seasons.

7. The Saints have won 12 straight home games in prime time (7 PM or later). According to Elias, that’s the longest streak since the 1970 merger.

8. Drew Brees has won seven straight home starts on "Monday Night Football", one win shy of the all-time record held by Peyton Manning.

9. Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 30 straight games, the third-longest active streak in the NFL behind Manning (49 games) and Tony Romo (37 games).

10. Mark Ingram rushed for 67 yards last week but still leads the NFL in rushing since Week 8 with 459 yards (Charles is second with 402).

Bears' victory comes after steep climb

September, 15, 2014
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
Brandon Marshall caught three touchdown passes to help the Bears catch the 49ers.
In Week 1 it was the Philadelphia Eagles. In Week 2, on Sunday night, it was the Chicago Bears.

For the second time in two weeks, a team that trailed 17-0 in the first half mounted a rally and pulled out a highly improbable victory.

On Sunday night, on the possession after the San Francisco 49ers took a 20-7 lead in the third quarter, the Bears’ win probability dipped to 5.2 percent. The Bears finished that drive with the second of Brandon Marshall’s three touchdown catches, making the score 20-14 and improving their probability of winning to 20.3 percent.

The first snap after the ensuing kickoff was the game’s biggest play in terms of win-probability swing. Kyle Fuller’s interception of Colin Kaepernick’s pass boosted the Bears’ chances of winning by more than 25 percentage points.

The Bears’ win probability surpassed 50 percent on Jay Cutler’s touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett on the next play, and the Bears never had less than a 45 percent likelihood of winning in the final 13 minutes.

Less is more
Whether it’s because the Dallas Cowboys win more often when Tony Romo passes less, or it’s that Romo passes less when the Cowboys are winning, there’s no denying Romo has performed better when he throws fewer passes. In his career, his win-loss record, touchdown-to-interception ratio and Total QBR are much better when he attempts fewer than 30 passes in a game.

Romo threw 29 passes Sunday in the Cowboys' 26-10 win over the Tennessee Titans. He completed 66 percent of his passes, but he was sacked four times and averaged 6.1 air yards per pass. His Total QBR was 63.

Total QBR is a metric on a 0-to-100 scale, with 50 being average. Even when Romo throws 30 or more passes, he performs at a level above the NFL average.

Don’t blame Saints’ offense
The New Orleans Saints have posted an NFL-high plus-30.3 offensive efficiency this season. But their defense and special teams have combined for a minus-34 efficiency, the worst in the NFL. Efficiency accounts for the impact of each play on a team’s potential point margin.

Five other teams since 2006 have posted a worse defense/special teams efficiency in their first two games, and four of them finished under .500. But there might be some hope for New Orleans -- the 2007 New York Giants finished 10-6 and won the Super Bowl.

Keys to victory: Seahawks 23, Saints 15

January, 11, 2014
Harry How/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch set a Seahawks postseason record with 140 rushing yards in Saturday's win.
The Seattle Seahawks entered Saturday having lost their previous four divisional playoff games, and their 2-6 record all-time in the round was tied for the second-worst mark among teams with at least three divisional playoff appearances.

But Seattle rode another “beastly” effort from Marshawn Lynch, along with a stellar performance from its defensive secondary, to pick up the 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints and secure a spot in the conference championship for the third time in franchise history.

Seahawks offensive key: Marshawn Lynch
Lynch finished the game with a Seahawks postseason-record 140 rushing yards, breaking a mark he previously shared with Shaun Alexander. Lynch now has three of the four highest single-game rushing yardage totals in Seahawks history.

For his career, Lynch now has three 130-yard rushing games in the postseason. Under the current NFL playoff format (dating back to 1990), only Terrell Davis and Thurman Thomas have more such games.

Lynch did the majority of his work going right up the middle, with 19 of his 28 rushes to that area, for 108 yards (5.7 yards per rush). On the nine rushes outside the tackles, Lynch gained just 32 yards, for 3.6 yards per carry. Thirty-one of those yards came on his fourth-quarter touchdown run.

In true “Beast Mode” form, Lynch finished with 66 rush yards after contact. In Seattle’s Week 13 victory over the Saints, Lynch finished with just 45 total rush yards on 16 carries.

Seahawks defensive key: limiting Jimmy Graham and screen passes
During the regular season, Jimmy Graham led the Saints in receptions and receiving yards and scored a team-high 16 touchdowns (no other player scored more than five). On defense Saturday, Seattle managed to limit the Saints tight end to just one reception for eight yards on six targets.

At the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was 0-for-4 when targeting Graham, with all four incompletions having been broken up by Seahawks defenders.

Thanks in part to Seattle limiting Graham, the Saints finished just 3-for-12 (25 percent) on third down. During the regular season, the Saints were third in the NFL and tops in the NFC, converting 43.9 percent of their third downs.

New Orleans also struggled with screen passes, usually a strength of the team. The Saints ran six screen passes Saturday, gaining positive yards on only one of those plays.

During the regular season, the Saints led the league in screen-pass completions to running backs with 59, 14 more than any other team, and were third in yardage on screen passes to running backs.
The Seattle Seahawks hope we’ve seen this weekend’s NFC divisional playoff game before.

Seattle scored a decisive 34-7 home victory in Week 13 over the New Orleans Saints, who had one of the worst offensive games of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. The 27-point loss was the second largest under Payton-Brees, and their points, yards and first-down totals were all the fewest in a game in at least five years.

They get a chance for redemption Saturday but will have to deal with CenturyLink Field again. Here are four matchups that will help decide the game:

Drew Brees’ deep ball vs. Seahawks secondary
Brees had his worst game of the season in Week 13. He completed multiple passes at least 15 yards downfield in every game this season except that one (0-for-8). Though he didn’t throw an interception, Seattle defenders broke up five of Brees’ eight deep attempts in that game.

The Seahawks held Brees without a deep completion in a game for the second time in the past eight seasons. Brees targeted six different Saints on those eight throws, highlighting the skill and depth of Seattle’s pass defense.

Brees rebounded well, completing 57 percent of his deep throws over the final four weeks of the regular season (second in the league). But his next deep completion against Seattle will be his first this year, and the Saints will need better production from their passing game to advance.

Rob Ryan vs. Marshawn Lynch/Russell Wilson
Brees wasn’t the only star player who underperformed in that Week 13 matchup. Lynch had 16 rushes for 45 yards, a 2.8 yards per rush average (his second lowest of the season).

Lynch was limited because New Orleans keyed in on stopping Seattle’s ground game. The Saints loaded the box (more defenders than blockers) on 23 plays, the fifth-highest total of the season. The only quarterbacks they loaded a box against more this season were Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, Mike Glennon and Tom Brady early in the season (without Rob Gronkowski and with inexperienced receivers).

The problem for Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was 5-foot-11 Wilson had no trouble against the loaded box. Wilson finished 8-of-9 for 119 yards and two touchdowns when the Saints loaded the box. Ryan’s strategy slowed Lynch but enabled Wilson to shred the Saints’ secondary.

Seattle’s pass rush vs. Saints offensive line
The Seahawks secondary isn’t the only strength of the defense. Their pass rush ranks first in controlling the line of scrimmage overall and when sending a four-man rush. No team in the league has pressured opposing quarterbacks more often than Seattle (203 times).

The Saints did a good job this season of protecting Brees, who was under pressure or sacked on the fourth-lowest percentage of dropbacks in the league. They are strengths of their respective teams, but the Seahawks did enough to disrupt Brees in Week 13.

Brees was under pressure or sacked on 11 of 39 dropbacks (28 percent), his third-highest percentage this season. Brees was sacked only once, but it was a first-quarter Cliff Avril strip-sack that Michael Bennett returned 22 yards for a touchdown.

Percy Harvin vs. Keenan Lewis?
The Seahawks offense has been effective this season without Harvin, who returned to practice this week and is a possibility for Saturday’s game. Harvin’s league-best 8.5 yards after catch per reception average in 2012 might have been even better if he played with a better deep-ball quarterback.

Christian Ponder missed on 55 percent of throws deeper than 20 yards downfield in 2012 with Harvin and connected only once in his career on a deep throw with Harvin. Wilson connected on 26 deep throws this season, third most in the league, and would likely use Harvin better than Ponder if Harvin is healthy.

It appears that Lewis will play Saturday. He held DeSean Jackson without a catch before he left with a concussion last weekend and may draw Harvin if he’s healthy.

Matchups to watch: Saints at Eagles

January, 3, 2014
The New Orleans Saints travel north to take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night. If Drew Brees and the Saints hope to return to the Super Bowl, they will have to win three consecutive road games.

The Saints were winless in three road games against playoff teams during the regular season.

For the Saints to keep up with the fast-paced Eagles offense, New Orleans will need another elite performance from their top playmaker.

Jimmy Graham vs. Eagles coverage

Jimmy Graham’s dominance this season raises several questions for the Philadelphia defense. Graham led the NFL with 16 touchdown receptions this season, the second-most by a tight end in a season and only the third time a tight end has led the league in touchdown receptions.

The Eagles had been about league-average defending tight ends this season prior to Sunday night, when Jason Witten hauled in 12 catches for 135 yards. Both numbers were easily the most the Eagles allowed to an opposing tight end this season.

Expect the Eagles to rotate linebackers and defensive backs into coverage responsibilities against Graham. Graham’s 26 receptions and 358 yards when split out wide were the most by a tight end in a season since 2008.

Eagles offensive line vs. Saints front seven

Lost among the great performances by LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and DeSean Jackson has been the dominance of the Eagles offensive line this season. The Eagles averaged a league-best 3.6 yards before contact per rush. No other team finished with an average above 3.2 this season.

The Saints allowed 4.6 yards per rush, the fifth-most in the league this season. New Orleans particularly struggled against the zone read, allowing 5.6 yards per rush on such plays. The Eagles had nearly twice as many zone-read runs (304) as any other team during the regular season.

Saints running backs vs. Eagles linebackers

While the big guys up front help lead the way for the Eagles on offense, the Saints rely on two of their smallest offensive players to run past opposing defenses.

The Saints incorporate their running backs into the passing game as much as any team in the league. Led by Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, New Orleans totaled the most receptions and yards after the catch by a team’s running backs since 2006.

A lot of the credit belongs to Thomas, who filled in for an injured Sproles to post career highs in receptions (77) and receiving yards (513). In fact, Thomas led all running backs in receptions this season.

Either Thomas or Sproles has led the league in running back receptions each of the last three seasons.

The Eagles held opposing running backs to one receiving touchdown this season, tied for the fewest in the league. Over the final five weeks of the regular season, only the Lions allowed fewer receptions to opposing running backs.

Oh when the Saints, go on the road ...

December, 17, 2013
Even after a loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 15, the New Orleans Saints are ranked fifth in the weekly NFL Power Rankings. The Saints’ ranking all season has been a reflection of how well the team plays at home. Whenever the Saints venture out of the Superdome, nothing seems to click.

The Saints are 3-4 and averaging 18.4 points per game on the road this season. At home, they are 7-0 and averaging 32.9 points per game.

The Saints’ struggles on the road aren’t limited to any one area. Passing, rushing and defense all seem to lose a step when outside of New Orleans.

Drew Brees
Brees makes the Saints’ offense go, and his performance on the road has taken a significant dip this season.

Brees has an 80.3 Total QBR when at home this season, which is second to only Peyton Manning (82.0). Brees’ 55.8 QBR when on the road is 12th in the NFL, but is only slightly above the league average (51.8).

One of the reasons behind the dip in Brees’ road performance is an increased degree of difficulty hitting the deep ball.

In New Orleans, Brees has completed 59 percent of his passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield with 10 touchdowns. On the road, Brees’ completion percentage on those passes falls to 40 percent, which is below league average (42 percent). Brees has only four such touchdowns on the road this season.

Running game
The Saints are one of the most pass-happy teams in the NFL, dropping back on 67 percent of their plays this season, third highest in the NFL and highest of any team with a winning record. The Saints do depend on the run, however, and heading outdoors causes problems.

When playing indoors this season, including road games in Atlanta and St. Louis, the Saints have averaged 4.4 yards per rush (excluding kneel downs). When playing outdoors, the Saints have averaged 3.5 yards per rush.

The struggles to run impact Brees’ ability to work off play action. In those outdoor games, Brees has completed 54 percent of his play-action passes, compared to 67 percent when playing indoors.

Pass rush
The Saints’ four-man rush just hasn’t had the same impact on the road this season as at home.

When sending four or fewer rushers, the Saints have recorded 18 sacks at home, which has accounted for 9.0 percent of opponent dropbacks. On the road, the Saints have only six sacks using such rushes, or 3.8 percent of opponent dropbacks.

The dip in creating pressure has impacted the rest of the pass defense. The Saints have eight interceptions when sending four or fewer at home to only one on the road.

Matchups to watch: Panthers vs Saints

December, 6, 2013
What are the key statistical matchups in the Sunday night clash between the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints? We'll give you one for each quarterback, as well as an under-the radar noteworthy matchup on special teams.

Cam Newton vs the blitz
Cam Newton has faced five or more pass rushers on 42 percent of his dropbacks this season, the highest rate in the NFL.

But he’s handled that pressure very well during the Panthers eight-game winning streak. He’s completed 64 percent of his throws against it, with seven touchdowns, two interceptions and only eight sacks. His Total QBR against pass rushes of five or more was 11.1 in the first four games of the season, but 90.0 during the winning streak.

The Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 8.5 percent of dropbacks, the second-highest percentage in the NFL (trailing only the Buffalo Bills, 8.7 percent).

Newton has been a little shaky in the two games in which the Panthers have played a winning team on the road (the opponents being the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals). His Total QBR is 10.4

Panthers secondary vs. Drew Brees deep throws
Drew Brees has excelled on throws at least 15 yards downfield, but last week against the Seahawks, he struggled significantly with them, going 0 for 8.

Brees had completed at least three such throws in every other game this season, and had completed at least half of those passes in each of his previous five games. For the season, he has 13 touchdowns and two interceptions on throws of that length, the plus-11 differential tied with Nick Foles for the best in the league.

It would be unlike Brees to have two bad games in a row on these throws, but the Panthers are well equipped to stop him.

The Panthers have the highest rate of interceptions per attempt on throws at least 15 yards downfield (11 percent). They’ve picked off nine throws of that length this season, including at least one in four of the last five games. And they’ve only allowed three touchdowns.

Also of note for the Panthers with regards to stopping Jimmy Graham: Panthers opponents have completed 68 percent of their passes when targeting tight ends. That's a high success rate-- the 10th-highest against any team in the NFL.

Under-the-Radar Key: Thomas Morstead vs Ted Ginn Jr.
Saints punter Thomas Morstead and his coverage team will face a challenge this week in Ted Ginn Jr., who ranks sixth in the NFL at 12.2 yards per punt return.

The Saints have netted an average of 43 yards per punt this season, the second-highest average in the NFL. Opponents have had an average post-punt field position of the 23-yard line. Only two teams have put their opponents in a tougher position.

Ginn has four punt returns of at least 20 yards this season. The Saints are one of four teams to not allow a return of 20 yards or longer.

Keys to victory: Seahawks 34, Saints 7

December, 3, 2013
What were the biggest keys to the Seattle Seahawks' rout of the New Orleans Saints 34-7 on "Monday Night Football"?

Difference-maker: The deep ball
Drew Brees has made his money on being a great deep passer, but Russell Wilson was far better than he was in this game.

Wilson was 5-for-8 for 185 yards on throws that traveled at least 15 yards downfield. Though he didn’t have any touchdowns, he had a couple of notable throws to set up scores, including the 60-yarder to tight end Zach Miller.

Brees was 0-for-8 on throws of that length. He had completed at least three passes of 15 yards or longer downfield in every game this season.

That’s one of the reasons why Brees’ streak of 43 straight games throwing for at least 200 yards came to an end. He came within two games of Dan Fouts’ record-long 200-yard streak.

The Saints finished with 188 yards of offense, their fewest in a game since Week 3 of the 2003 season, when they had 188 against the Tennessee Titans.

Rob Ryan’s blitz didn’t work
Wilson made the Saints look bad when they chose to blitz. Wilson was 22-for-30 for 310 yards and three touchdowns overall. He was 8-for-9 for 170 yards and two touchdowns against pass rushes of five or more men. He completed all three of his pass attempts when one of those rushers was a defensive back.

Wilson now has 22 touchdown passes this season. He’s the fourth player in NFL history with at least 20 TD passes in each of his first two seasons (Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Andy Dalton).

The number 22 is also significant for Wilson in this regard: His 22 wins as a starting quarterback match the most by any quarterback in his first two seasons, among those who debuted since the merger. The other quarterback with 22 is Ben Roethlisberger.

Did you know?: Monday Night streaks
The Seahawks don’t just have a 14-game home winning streak. They have an eight-game winning streak on "Monday Night Football," including last year’s controversial win over the Green Bay Packers.

The Saints had their nine-game "Monday Night Football" winning streak snapped.

Matchups to watch: Saints vs. Seahawks

December, 2, 2013

Getty ImagesSeahawks assistant Dan Quinn (left) might have the right personnel to contend with Jimmy Graham.
A Seattle Seahawks win on Monday night stamps Seattle’s ticket to the playoffs, but the implications of Monday night’s showdown are much bigger.

A Seattle win Monday puts the Seahawks two games ahead of everyone else in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC, while the New Orleans Saints could make the last four weeks interesting by handing Wilson his first home loss.

Both teams excel at home -- Russell Wilson is 13-0 at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, while the Saints are 14-0 in the Superdome in the last two seasons with Sean Payton as head coach (not including 2012, when Payton was suspended).

What do the Saints look like on the road? Let’s take a look, along with three other statistical matchups to watch on Monday night.

The Saints vs CenturyLink Field
The Saints’ point differential at home (+104) is 99 points higher than their road differential (+5), the third-biggest disparity in the league.

New Orleans has held opposing quarterbacks to a Total QBR under 20 in four of the six games played at the Superdome. The Saints’ Total QBR allowed jumps from 29 at home to 51 in road games.

There’s also a noticeable dip in Drew Brees' performance on the road. Any quarterback would rather play at home, but Brees’ completion percentage at home leads the league. His completion percentage in road games ranks 12th.

CenturyLink Field is no ordinary road venue, either. Since it opened in 2002, Seahawks opponents have been flagged for 208 delay of game or false start penalties in Seattle, the most of any venue.

The Seahawks’ point margin is 937 points higher at home (+635) than on the road (-302), the second-biggest disparity in the league.

Jimmy Graham vs Dan Quinn
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is tasked with coming up with a plan to stop Jimmy Graham, who leads tight ends in targets, catches, yards and touchdowns.

Graham hasn’t been a particularly versatile tight end, running a pass route on almost two-thirds of his snaps (65 percent). Graham has run 254 routes lined up as a receiver (either slot or outside) compared to 63 lined up as a traditional tight end.

Graham’s worst game of the season came in Week 6 against the Patriots, who used cornerback Aqib Talib on Graham instead of a linebacker. Brees completed more passes to Talib than Graham, finishing 0-for-6 with an interception targeting the tight end.

Richard Sherman (6’3, 195 pounds) could play a similar style as the 6’1, 205-pound Talib did on Graham. If Quinn uses Sherman on Graham, Sherman’s length and physicality could give Graham fits and limit Brees’ most effective weapon.

Russell Wilson vs Saints’ pass rush
No one has a better completion percentage, yards per attempt average or Total QBR on throws at least 15 yards downfield than Wilson. Those routes typically take time to develop, and so far in his career Wilson has had the necessary time.

In his rookie year, Wilson averaged 4.08 seconds before throwing a pass, the highest average among quarterbacks by 0.29 seconds.

In his second season, Wilson has been quicker to release the ball. Wilson’s 3.86 seconds before pass is “only” seventh slowest in the league. Thirty one percent of Wilson’s passes have taken longer than four seconds to release, a higher percentage than 23 quarterbacks and a problem given this week’s opponent.

The Saints defense has 24 sacks in four seconds or less this season, tied with the Ravens for most in the league. New Orleans’ defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks on nine percent of dropbacks in its first year with Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator, the highest rate in the league.

Seahawks LBs vs Saints’ screen game
Brees has thrown 45 screen passes this season, third most in the league. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles rank first and second in receiving yards on screen passes since Sproles signed with the Saints in 2011. During that same span, no one has defended screens better than the Seahawks.

Seattle has allowed 4.5 yards per screen attempt, best in the league and over a yard and a half fewer per attempt than the league average. Seattle is one of two teams that hasn’t allowed a screen-pass touchdown in the last three seasons along with the Green Bay Packers.

Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are the two most likely candidates tasked with slowing Thomas and Sproles, who missed last Thursday’s game against the Falcons with an ankle injury.

Keys to victory: Saints 17, Falcons 13

November, 22, 2013
What were the keys to victory for the New Orleans Saints in their 17-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons?

For the Saints, it was a matter of just following up on everything that they’ve done all season.

Brees on play-action
Drew Brees was 7 for 11 for 100 yards when utilizing a play-action fake. Both of his touchdowns in this game came via play action, giving him 10 such touchdown passes for the season. That’s one shy of Peyton Manning for the most in the NFL.

Brees picked on the right team. Entering Thursday, the Falcons had allowed a 91.5 Total QBR on play-action passes, the worst defensive rating in the NFL.

Graham’s record-tying day
Tight end Jimmy Graham had one of those play-action touchdowns, a 44-yard reception. Graham finished with exactly 100 receiving yards, giving him six 100-yard games this season. That tied Tony Gonzalez’s NFL record for most 100-yard games in a season by a tight end (done in both 2000 and 2004).

Those six games are tied with A.J. Green for the most in the NFL by any player this season

He now has six touchdowns on throws 15 or more yards downfield this season, and four receiving touchdowns of 40 yards or longer (combining yards on and after the catch), the most in the league.

Graham also had a career-high 26 yards after contact.

The Saints defense did its job
Matt Ryan may have completed 30 of 39 passes, but he also took a season high five sacks.

The Saints have sacked opposing quarterbacks on 9.0 percent of dropbacks. That is tied with the Rams for the highest rate in the league.

Cameron Jordan had a season-high 2.5 sacks, giving him 9.5 this season, the most he's had in any season of his career.

Entering Thursday, Ryan had been sacked on 4.4 percent of his dropbacks, the fourth lowest rate among NFL quarterbacks.

The Saints also forced their 12th fumble of the season. They had a total of 11 forced fumbles in 2013.

Top stats to know: Saints at Falcons

November, 21, 2013
The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons will kick off Week 12 Thursday night. The teams are heading in opposite directions.

Just a Brees
Drew Brees has been giving opposing defenses fits for years. He needs just 38 passing yards to move past Warren Moon into fifth place on the all-time passing yards list.

In 16 career games against the Falcons, Brees has passed for 4,862 yards, his most against any single opponent. However in his last matchup at Atlanta last year, he threw five interceptions and zero touchdown passes.

Less effective away from home
Brees is nowhere near as effective away from the Superdome. This season, his Total QBR at home is 78.5, but on the road, that number drops to 58.5. His completion percentage also drops from 73.5 percent to 60.7 percent.

Falcons struggling
The Falcons continue to struggle after going 13-3 last season. The Falcons are 2-8 this season and have lost at least nine of their first 11 games nine times in franchise history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s tied for the second-most in the Super Bowl era (Cincinnati Bengals are first with 11).

The Falcons defense has a defensive EPA of -88.54, second worst in the NFL. This metric looks at the impact of every play and factors in things such as field position. Last season the Falcons defense was 11th in Defensive EPA.

Elite tight ends
The Saints and Falcons have Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez, respectively, two of the top tight ends. To get the ball into the hands of these talented players, their teams use some unconventional methods.

No two tight ends have been split out wide more frequently than Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez this season. Graham has more receptions when split out wide than any Saints wide receiver.

Brees and Matt Ryan have each thrown touchdown passes to 10 different receivers this season, most in the NFL.

Brady's clutch heroics lead Pats to victory

October, 13, 2013
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaTom Brady threw a game-winning touchdown pass with five seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

Tom Brady still has some late game magic left in him.

When it looked like the game might be over, Brady led the New England Patriots on a game-winning drive in the final minute of the fourth quarter to shock the New Orleans Saints.

The Patriots took over possession with 1:13 left in the fourth quarter. Brady completed 5 of 8 passes on a 70-yard drive that lasted 68 seconds, capped by a 17-yard touchdown strike to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds remaining.

It’s the latest fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown pass of Brady’s career. It’s only Brady’s third career go-ahead touchdown pass with less than 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. He threw a game-winning, 20-yard touchdown pass to David Patten in 2002 to beat the Chicago Bears, and he threw an 8-yard score to Aaron Hernandez in a game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011.

Brady was five seconds away from having zero touchdown passes in consecutive games for the first time since 2006, but instead he threw his 342nd career touchdown pass to tie Fran Tarkenton for fourth on the all-time list.

Brady still struggling on deep throws
Brady was 1-of-9 for 23 yards on throws deeper than 20 yards downfield, continuing his season-long struggles.

Brady has completed 18 percent of his throws at least 20 yards downfield this season with no touchdowns and two interceptions on those passes. Fifty-five percent of his pass attempts at least 20 yards downfield have been off target this season.

What went wrong for the Saints?
Jimmy Graham had been an important key for the Saints over their previous four games, accumulating at least 100 receiving yards in each of those games. But it was quite the opposite on Sunday. Graham was held without a catch for the first time since his rookie season in 2008 (Week 10).

The Patriots defense held Drew Brees to 0-for-6 passing with an interception targeting Graham. It was the first game of Graham’s career with multiple targets and no catches.

Brees rolls over records, Dolphins

October, 1, 2013

Drew Brees had another dominant Monday Night Football game for the New Orleans Saints.

Let’s run through all the accolades of his ninth straight Monday Night win, a rout of the Miami Dolphins.

Brees had his 21st game with at least four touchdown passes, tying Dan Marino for the third-most all-time. Only Peyton Manning (24) and Brett Favre (23) have more.

Brees had his 10th game with at least 400 passing yards. The only quarterback with more is Marino, who has 13. All 10 of those games came since joining the Saints in 2006. No other quarterback has more than five 400-yard games in that span.

It was also Brees’ ninth straight game with at least 300 passing yards. That ties the NFL record for the longest such streak, a mark he set in 2011 and 2012. No other NFL quarterback has had more than six straight.

Brees has five games on Monday Night Football with at least four touchdown passes, tied with Marino for the most all-time.

The 400-yard, four-touchdown combo on Monday Night Football is a special one. It’s been done by five quarterbacks: Marino in 1983, Randall Cunningham in 1998, Manning in 2000, Tom Brady in 2011 and now Brees.

Lastly, the nine-game winning streak on Monday nights is impressive too. It’s tied with Joe Montana for the third-best ever, trailing only Ken Stabler (11 straight) and Steve Young (10).

How he dominated
Brees won this game with long and mid-range throws. He was 8-for-10 for 201 yards and two touchdowns on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield.

The supporting cast
Darren Sproles had both his first rushing and receiving touchdowns of the season and cleared 100 yards receiving by the end of the first half. He’s the fourth player to have at least 100 receiving yards, a touchdown catch and touchdown run in a Monday Night Football game. The other three are Tony Galbreath (1979), Jerry Rice (1994) and Marshall Faulk (2000).

Jimmy Graham caught two touchdown passes and now has a touchdown catch in five straight games dating back to last season (only Wes Welker, with six straight, has a longer active streak).

Graham joined Antonio Gates (2010) as the only tight ends with six touchdown catches in his first four games of a season.

Top things to know: Dolphins at Saints

September, 30, 2013

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSean Payton (left) and Drew Brees (right) look to start 4-0 for the 1st time since 2009.
The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints meet tonight on Monday Night Football (8:25 ET/ESPN). This will be the Dolphins' 79th appearance on Monday Night Football, the most all-time since the series began in 1970 (the Dallas Cowboys are next with 74 appearances). The Dolphins are 40-38 on Monday Night Football.

Here are five stats Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden might touch on tonight during the telecast.

1. This is the first time that two teams will meet on Monday Night Football with records of 3-0 or better since Oct. 5, 1998, when the 4-0 Vikings defeated the 4-0 Packers, 37-24, at Lambeau Field, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Dolphins are looking to become the fifth franchise to have at least seven 4-0 starts since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, joining the Rams (nine), Vikings (eight), Colts (seven) and Cowboys (seven).

The Saints are looking to start 4-0 for the fourth time in franchise history and first since starting 13-0 in 2009 when they went on to win the Super Bowl.

2. Drew Brees has won eight straight starts on Monday Night Football, with 24 touchdown passes and five interceptions. Brees is 10-2 on Monday night since joining the Saints in 2006.

Ken Stabler (11 from 1975-80), Steve Young (10 from 1995-99) and Joe Montana (nine from 1988-94) are the only starting quarterbacks with longer win streaks on Monday Night Football.

3. The Saints' defense has made remarkable strides under new coordinator Rob Ryan. They rank fourth this season with 295.7 yards allowed per game after allowing a league-record 7,042 yards (440.1 per game) in 2012.

In addition, the defense has surrendered 17 points or fewer in all three games after allowing just over 28 points per game in 2012.

4. The Dolphins will be without pass rusher Cameron Wake, who's expected to miss two to three weeks with a sprained left MCL. Since the start of 2010, Wake has 40 sacks, third in the NFL behind DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen.

As a team, Miami has sacked or put the opposing quarterback under duress on 35 percent of dropbacks this season, the best mark in the league.

5. Jimmy Graham caught nine passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints' win against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, combined with his 179-yard performance in Week 2 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Graham has recorded the highest yardage total (313) by a tight end in two consecutive games since 1996, when Shannon Sharpe posted games of 153 and 161 yards for the Denver Broncos (314 total).