As the late, great Buddy D. would say, don’t be a squirrel.
The bye week gave the Saints a chance to get some players healthy, do some self-scouting and focus on the challenges ahead after stumbling out to a 2-3 start. The Saints are undefeated coming off their last five bye weeks.
“A renewed energy, focus, enthusiasm and kind of re-establish your goals for the latter part of the season,” quarterback Drew Brees said this week. “This is where you make your mark and where you have to make a run if you want to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish.”
But for this team to right the ship, a lot needs to be done — perhaps more than a bye week can fix.
The restoration job begins Sunday in Detroit. The Saints have won the past four games against the Lions (4-2) by blowout margins.
2008: 42-17 (Ford Field)
2009: 45-27 (Superdome)
2011: 31-17 (Superdome)
2012: 45-28 (Superdome)
What does that mean for Sunday? Nothing really, but it’s a start when you’re 2-3 and looking for positives.
The Saints offense needs to show it can still score points consistently. Easier said than done.
The Lions will trot out the NFL’s top-ranked defense Sunday, which is allowing only 270.7 yards and 13.7 points per game. They’ve also recorded a league-high 20 sacks, including eight on Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last week. But the Lions haven’t faced an offense like the Saints. The average rank of all offenses they’ve faced this season is 25th. The Saints are second in the league in total offense, averaging 442.8 yards per game.
To be successful against Detroit, it starts and ends with the Saints offensive line. Everything else aside, if the Saints protect Drew Brees and run the ball well, I think they win. Problem is, Brees has been hurried and hit quite a bit this season. He has only been sacked four times, the second-fewest of any quarterback in the league to have started every game this season. That’s encouraging, but Brees hasn’t had a lot of time to sit and pick defenses apart. That’s where he excels. When he’s hurried or presses, we see some of those cringe-inducing, underhanded and backwards ball flips that often end in points for the other team. If the Saints protect Brees he’ll have a chance to expose the Lions defense. Is that asking too much? Maybe.
The return of Mark Ingram should be big for the offense, especially if he continues to run like Angry Mark Ingram. Before his injury, Ingram had run for 143 yards and averaged six yards per carry in two games. No other Saints back has run like that this season. Khiry Robinson has been solid filling in, averaging five yards per carry. The two of them together, along with Pierre Thomas, give the Saints the edge in the running game. As a team, the Saints are averaging two yards more per carry than the Lions (5.2 to 3.2), who have run the ball 32 more times.
I expect Lions running backs Reggie Bush and/or Joique Bell to be a factor at some point. Maybe even fullback Jed Collins and safety Isa Abdul Quddus. That’s how ex-Saints roll. But I don’t think it’ll be enough in a game the Saints have to win.
The Saints defense, ranked 23rd, has shown flashes of improvement but still lacks turnovers and big plays. The way the Lions sling the ball around, there should be opportunities. Matthew Stafford takes a lot of sacks, too. Stafford has been taken down 21 times this season and is well on his way to obliterating his career-high of 36 sacks in 2011.
If the Saints defense makes a couple of big plays and the offensive line controls the flow of the game, the good guys leave Detroit with a 3-3 record.
I’m hopeful… but not overly optimistic.
Saints win, 27-24.