Week 11 Preview: Saints vs. Bengals

Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to get a full preview for today’s game done, due to an overload with work, so here are some cliff notes:

Saints (4-5)

Total offense: 2nd (435.0 yards per game)
Scoring: 6th (27.9 points per game)
Pass offense: 3rd (304.8 YPG)
Rush offense: 6th (130.2 YPG)

Offensive leaders:
Brees: 313 YPG (3rd) / 18 TDs (9th) / 10 INTs (2nd) / 68.4% completions
Ingram: 91.8 YPG (3rd) / 6 TDs / 4.8 yards per carry
Graham: 56 receptions / 66.0 YPG / 7 TDs

Total defense: 19th (366.0 YPG)
Scoring: 22nd (25.0 points per game)
Pass defense: 24th (259.2 YPG)
Rush defense: 11th (106.8 YPG)

Defense leaders:
Lofton: 82 tackles (8th) / 5 tackles for loss
Vaccaro: 46 tackles / 3 passes defended / 1 INT
Lewis: 11 passes defended (T-5th) / 1 INT
White: 6 passes defended / 2 INTs
Galette: 6.0 sacks
Jordan: 5.0 sacks

Bengals (5-3-1)
Total offense: 20th (339.8 YPG)
Scoring: T-18th (21.0 points per game)
Pass offense: 20th (222.3 YPG)
Rush offense: 12th (117.4 YPG)

Offensive leaders:
Dalton: 210.0 YPG / 8 TDs / 9 INTs / 60.9% completions
Hill: 404 yards / 5 TDs / 4.7 yards per carry (Last two games as starter: 104.5 YPG / 2 TDs)
Sanu: 41 receptions / 72.0 YPG / 4 TDs
Green: 23 receptions / 62.5 YPG / 3 TDs

Total defense: 30th (391.9 YPG)
Scoring: T-18th (23.4 points per game)
Pass defense: 20th (248.9 YPG)
Rush defense: 31st (143.0)

Defensive leaders:
Nelson: 61 tackles / 6 passes defended / 2 INTs
Iloka: 8 passes defended / 3 INTs
Jones: 9 passes defended / 1 INT
Dunlap: 4.5 sacks
Atkins: 1.5 sacks

Notable Injuries:

Saints – Thomas (O), Robinson (O), Baker (O), Meachem (Q), Lewis (Q), Lofton (Q), Hawthorne (P)

Bengals – Bernard (O), A. Smith (D), Burfict (O), Newman (Q)

Player to Watch:

My one player to watch is Mark Ingram. He’s been dominant in the past three games as the lead back and he’ll carry the load again. Cincinnati is allowing 143 yards per game on the ground, so it’s one of the best matchups he can get. He’s run for 100 yards in three straight games, the first Saints RB to do that since Deuce McAllister in 2006. I’d expect him to make it four straight.

Notes:

– The Saints have lost four games by three points or less and led within the final two minutes of each one. They could just as easily be 8-1, but reality is 4-5.
– Andre Smith being doubtful is huge. He’s one of the best left tackles in the league, so if he’s out, Cam Jordan and Junior Galette could have a big upper hand.
– While Geno Atkins is probably the heart and soul of Cincy’s defense, Vontaze Burfict isn’t far behind and he will not play. That’s a big absence for their linebacking core, which is why they are the 30th ranked run defense in the league.
– If Keenan Lewis doesn’t play, expect a lot of one on one coverage on Mohamed Sanu, while Rob Ryan gives safety help to whoever covers A.J. Green.

Prediction:
I think the Saints match up well against this team. Cincinnati will need a lot of production from Andy Dalton to have a chance and it’s been hard to trust him this year.

Saints – 31
Bengals – 26

As always, Who Dat?!

Follow David Billiot Jr on Twitter @DCBilliotJr

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Week 10 Preview: Saints vs. 49ers

Corey White may have fumbled away a possible pick-six against San Francisco last year, but his play as of late cannot be ignored.

As they enter the first leg of their three part home-stand, the New Orleans Saints have a chance that they haven’t had since Week 1. Get above .500. Sitting with a 4-4 record, the Saints have scratched and clawed their way back in to the pole position in the NFC South as we reach the halfway mark of the 2014 season. Coming in to the year, expectations were for the Super Bowl, but after two months of play, New Orleans likely feels fortunate to be where they are given their horrendous 1-3 start. From this point on, the one and only focus (not that it’s never the first goal), will be securing the division and simply guaranteeing themselves a spot in the playoffs. After that, Coach Sean Payton and his team can only take what opportunities present themselves, with a whole lot left to figure out as far as the NFC through the final eight weeks.

The Saints offense hits the halfway point sitting right about where you’d expect them to be across the major statistical categories in the NFL. They come in to Week 10 with the 2nd best offense, churning out 436.5 yards per contest. As for scoring, they rank 5th, putting up 28.4 points per game on the scoreboard. As you can expect from a Drew Brees led offense, New Orleans is 3rd in third-down percentage, converting 51.5% of those opportunities to extend their drives. Despite there being times when he’s seemed to be under more pressure, Brees has been sacked the 5th least in the league, going down only 12 times. A third of those came just last week at Carolina, when the Panthers got to him four times. With the gaudy numbers, you may be wondering if the defense is the sole reason that this team is only 4-4. The numbers will tell you that the defense has been less than stellar, but the big reason this team stumbled out of the gate was turnovers. New Orleans has turned the ball over 15 times, which is tied for 8th in the NFL, though they are ranked 27th in turnover differential at -6. Not only has Brees thrown eight interceptions, but so many of them have been extremely crucial. Most of them were either returned for a touchdown, set up the opposing offense near or in the red-zone, or they came with the Saints inside of the red-zone, giving away sure points. No matter how you cut it, they’ve been very costly.

As for the defense, it’s safe to say they have played much better as of late. After not intercepting a pass through the first four games, they’ve picked off six passes since then. The kicker? All of those interceptions have come following the loss of prized free agent free safety Jairus Byrd. Whether it was lack of leadership or continuity up until that point, the unit rallied together following the big loss and has helped turn around this season for the Saints. Rob Ryan’s defense ranks 20th in the NFL, allowing 370.5 yards per game, certainly an improvement from the 568 yard output they allowed to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. As for scoring, they come in at 21st, giving up 24.8 points per contest.  Continue reading

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Saints Shake Road Losing Streak; Seize 1st Place with 28-10 Victory Over Panthers

Drew Brees leaps over the line to score on a crucial 4th and goal conversion in the 3rd quarter.

Finally, the talks of the New Orleans Saints’ road woes can be dispatched. Well, for this week, at least. Coming in to tonight’s game, every media outlet that spoke of the matchup made sure to discuss that New Orleans had lost seven straight regular season road games. I have a few thoughts on that. First, let me say that I concur that their struggles away from the Superdome is a topic well worth mentioning. I have no issue with that. But, why is everyone ignoring the Saints’ victory in Philadelphia in the Wild Card playoff game in 2013? Because it’s convenient to look before that so you have a larger stat to throw out there? Their win on the road against the Eagles means a heck of a lot more than a regular season win on the road. It was the playoffs, in the cold, and in primetime, but that game has been ignored in lieu of the chance to say that the team has lost seven straight in the “regular” season. I don’t mean to ramble, but it’s something that has gotten on my nerves since I first heard it and I am more than happy that the “streak” is finally over. With that being said, let’s get to tonight’s magnificent performance!

Coming in to tonight’s game, every team that has scored first in the Thursday night football games has gone on to win the game. Sean Payton usually likes to take the ball when he wins the toss, so I doubt that particular stat was a big deciding factor in the decision to receive, but the thought of getting out to a fast start and setting the tone on the road was certainly in his mind. Drew Brees and the offense looked great right off the bat. It only took the Saints six plays to get in to the red-zone with contribution from Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, and Jimmy Graham, but on a 3rd and 6, things went wrong. Brees’ pass to Kenny Stills ricocheted off of the defenders arm and floated in the air for defensive tackle Dwan Edwards to have it fall in to his hands. Just like that, New Orleans had their first turnover of the night and Carolina had the early momentum.

The Panther began moving the ball pretty well on their first drive, getting down the the Saint 39 yard line, but two straight incompletions stalled the drive and forced a punt. Credit Rob Ryan’s defense for a crucial stop following the Brees interception. In the first seven games, six of Brees’ seven interceptions directly led to a touchdown for the opposing team. New Orleans started at their own 10 yard line and again started moving the ball with relative ease. In their first two drives, the Saints had five plays of 18 yards or more. On a 1st and 10 from Carolina’s 39 yard line, the turnover bug struck again when Charles Johnson pushed fullback Eric Lorig back in to Brees, causing him to lose the ball. Mario Addison was right there for the recovery and Carolina was in business with another great opportunity to get points off of a New Orleans turnover.  Continue reading

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Week 9 Preview: Saints vs. Panthers

Mark Ingram looks to build on his best performance of his NFL career last week, when he faces the struggling Panther defense tonight.

Whoa…and just like that, we’re halfway through the 2014 season. The conclusion of tonight’s game will put the New Orleans Saints halfway through their schedule and not many would have guessed that, at best, they could be sitting at an even .500 at 4-4. The slow start was tough, but it already appears as if this team has finally showed up and tonight’s battle for first place in the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers is another opportunity to prove that despite their record, they are a legit threat. New Orleans sits at 3-4, while Carolina currently holds a slight edge at 3-4-1. The good news is, the NFC still doesn’t appear to have any unbeatable teams, like Seattle a year ago. Speaking of the Seahawks, the defending Super Bowl champions are 4-3 and looking very average. The Arizona Cardinals lead the NFC with a 6-1 record, while the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and Green Bay Packers follow behind with just two losses. A lot can happen over the final nine weeks of the season, so it’s essential that the Saints continue their hot play and who knows what could happen.

The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are obviously very familiar with each other. Being in the same division since the Panthers entered the league nearly 20 years ago, the series is almost dead even with Carolina holding the 20-18 edge. Sean Payton is 7-7 against the Panthers, with the team’s splitting the season series in 2013.

The Saints continue to rank inside of the top-10 in all major offensive categories. They rank 2nd in total offense, averaging 445.3 yards per game, while ranking 5th in scoring, putting up 28.4 points per game. They also rank 2nd in the league in both 3rd down conversion percentage (51.2%) and total 1st downs (190). The only problem has been the turnovers, having given the ball away 12 times. When this team refrains from turning the ball over, they are dominant. New Orleans is 26-0 under Sean Payton when they do not commit a turnover. The Saints are currently ranked 27th in turnover ratio at -5.  Continue reading

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Saints Dominate Second Half, Packers; Climb One Game Back of .500

Mark Ingram looked like the dominant Heisman Trophy winning running back that the Saints expected when trading up to draft him in 2011.

Well, the New Orleans Saints have finally arrived to the 2014 NFL season. After matching each and every score from the Green Bay Packers in the first half, the Saints exploded in the final 30 minutes with a dominant 28-7 half to win their 19th consecutive home game with Sean Payton on the sideline. The Sunday night victory also extended New Orleans’ streak of consecutive home prime time victories to fourteen.

Coming in to the 2014 season, not only did the team itself have Super Bowl aspirations, but many experts, analysts, and writers around the league believed the Saints were primed for a championship run. It wasn’t until Sunday night that we all finally saw the team everyone expects. The Saints had played great for a few short stretches this season, but had yet to put it together for a complete game. For example, they played well in the first half of their Week 1 game at Atlanta, the first quarter of Week 3 against Minnesota, and for about 56 minutes at Detroit last week. They showed flashes, but this is far and away the best performance New Orleans has displayed since probably Week 14 of 2013 when the Saints beat up on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night Football in the Superdome. Whatever it was that finally clicked for the black and gold, it was great to see and we can only hope for more.

The Green Bay Packers tested the Saints right off the bat, when Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for a 70 yard touchdown on the fifth play of the game. It’s safe to say that there was a collective “here we go again” feeling when the game started like that. To their credit, New Orleans came right back down the field with a seven play, 80 yard drive to tie it up. The touchdown came on a 4 yard end around to Brandin Cooks to tie it up. The teams then traded field goals on the remaining six drives of the first half, knotting the score at 16-16 heading in to halftime.  Continue reading

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Week 8 Preview: Saints vs. Packers

Tonight’s matchup features two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Which will lead his team to a big win?

That time of year has come for the 2-4 New Orleans Saints. No, it’s not the cool weather. It’s the tough part of their schedule. Starting with Detroit last week, the Saints are entering a stretch that includes Green Bay, Carolina, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. It’s safe to say that this is not quite where Coach Sean Payton wanted his team to be as they head in to the gauntlet, but there is nothing they can do to change that now. Thankfully, the Carolina Panthers are only a game ahead in the NFC South, so even with a loss, the two teams could be playing for first place when they get together on Thursday night. The last time the Saints played the Green Bay Packers was in 2012. The Packers won 28-27 after, get this, coming from behind in the 4th quarter. The last time Sean Payton has faced the Packers was in 2011 in the Thursday night season opener, when Green Bay held off a late comeback effort and defeated New Orleans 42-34. If you are looking for the last time that the Saints beat the Packers, look to 2008, when they did it by the score of 51-29 on Monday Night Football.

The Saints come in to Week 8 with each side of the ball at opposite ends of the spectrum. On offense, the team ranks 2nd with 437 yards per game and 9th in scoring, putting up 25.8 points per game. As for the defense, they are allowing 373.7 yards per game, which is 21st in the league. They are ranked 28th in scoring defense, giving up 27.5 points per contest. It makes sense that the defense is ranked lower in points allowed than yards allowed, given the 11 turnovers they have, which in many times have either directly led to touchdowns from the opponents or setting up great field position for the opposing offense. New Orleans is tied for 29th with a -7 turnover differential.

You won’t hear the 5-2 Green Bay Packers complaining about their start to the season, but even they could admit it’s been a little weird. They’ve won four straight since starting 1-2, listening to the advice of quarterback Aaron Rodgers to R-E-L-A-X. I say that it’s been a weird start, because although they are 4th in the NFL with an average of 28.7 points per game, they are ranked 25th in total offense, gaining just 325.4 yards per game. The defense ranks 19th, giving up 362.7 yards per game, which means on a per game basis, they are actually being out-gained. The difference, though, is the defense is allowing just 21.0 points per game, which is tied for 9th in the league. Green Bay sits atop the entire NFL in turnover differential at +10, having given the ball away just four times. Even one of those almost doesn’t count, as it came from backup quarterback Matt Flynn in mop-up duty.  Continue reading

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Saints Avoid Disaster; Notch Second Victory with 37-31 Win Over Buccaneers

Khiry Robinson sealed the win for the Saints with his 18 yard touchdown run in overtime.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the New Orleans Saints found a way to pull off a come from behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In a rare occurrence, the Saints won the game, despite losing the turnover battle. Drew Brees’ three picks were matched by Patrick Robinson’s interception, the first and only for the New Orleans Defense. The win gets the Saints to 2-3, tied for 2nd in the NFC South and just a game behind the 3-2 Carolina Panthers.

Despite showing great resolve, the Saints were able to pull of the comeback win in large part due to a penalty riddled game from the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay was penalized 15 times for 113 yards, with many of them giving New Orleans a free first down. The most notable penalty of the day was an illegal hands to the face on Buccaneer cornerback Johnathan Banks, which came on the opposite side of the field on third down in overtime that was going to force the Saints to punt.

Along with the penalties, the story of the game was large momentum swings and scoring runs. After scoring the first 13 points of the game, New Orleans allowed Tampa Bay to score 24 unanswered points, which was part of a 31-7 run for the Buccaneers. The Saints then responded with 17 straight points of their own, including a safety that closed the deficit to three, a field goal that sent the game to overtime, and the game winning touchdown run from Khiry Robinson on the first possession in overtime.  Continue reading

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Week 5 Preview: Saints Defense vs. Buccaneers Offense

Rafael Bush will have all eyes on him as he fills in at safety in the wake of Jairus Byrd’s season ending injury.

The hits just keep coming. I briefly discussed it yesterday, but as you all know by now, Jairus Byrd is out for the year. The high-priced free safety tore his lateral meniscus on Thursday and was put on injured reserve on Friday, ending his season. You’ve heard the term “adding insult to injury” before, well, this is sort of the other way around. Injury to insult. The New Orleans Saints were already coming off of a 38-17 throttling at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys on national television last Sunday night, then Byrd goes down. I know, I’ve started this preview with some negativity. The reason? Because I’d like to get it out of the way, so we can then move forward and try to stop looking at the past. With that being said, it’s been a rough start, but three quarters of the season still remain and the Saints are only a game out of first place in the division. Not to mention, both Atlanta and Carolina are dealing with a slew of injuries on their side, as well. Keep faith, Who Dat Nation, this is far from over.

New Orleans comes in to Week 5 with the 29th ranked defense in the NFL, allowing 396 yards per game. They are tied for 27th in scoring defense, giving up 27.5 points per contest. The performance from this unit has been a far cry from what we saw last season. There has been little to no pressure on the quarterback, poor tackling, and blown assignments in coverage. It’s tough to blame Rob Ryan or any single player as the reason for the decline, as everyone is collectively to blame. Can they turn it around? Sure. I don’t see them getting back inside the top-5, or even top-10 for that matter, but there’s no reason to believe that a home game against a struggling offense followed by a bye week doesn’t present at least some opportunity to get better for the rest of the season. Honestly, they don’t have any other option then to pull it together. Starting 1-3 and now losing one of the best three players on the defense has the Saints with their back against the wall, so to make anything of this season, things must change and they must change fast.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a nightmare first three games of the season on offense, but finally got things going last week in their win at Pittsburgh. Free agent signing Josh McCown was struggling to do much of anything, then injured his hand in the team’s Week 3 blowout loss at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. Mike Glennon has since taken his place and started for the Buccaneers last week, invigorating their passing attack and leading them to a come from behind victory. Despite the good performance, Tampa Bay enters Week 5 with the 30th ranked offense, gaining just 290.8 yards per game. They’re 29th in scoring, putting up 18.0 points per contest. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a drastic climb in the ranks with Glennon under center, but this offense is almost definitely better than what those numbers suggest with him in the game.  Continue reading

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Week 5 Preview: Saints Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

Kenny Stills caught a long touchdown against Tampa Bay last year. Can he do it again on Sunday?

It hasn’t quite been rock bottom, but the start to this season has been pretty darn close. Despite this being the offensive preview, I still have to mention the horrible news from today. Prized free agent Jairus Byrd tore his lateral meniscus in a non-contact play yesterday and was put on injured reserve, ending his season. The free agent played just four games of his first season in black and gold, with his injury simply piling on the abundant amount of heartbreak that fans have endured through the first quarter of the season. With that being said, let’s get this preview moving in a positive direction. I’ll discuss more of what to expect in Byrd’s absence in tomorrow’s defensive preview.

The New Orleans Saints head in to their second divisional game of the season with the 3rd ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 425.8 yards per game. While their yardage is where it normally is, the scoring is not. The Saints are tied for 15th in the league scoring 23.8 points per contest. A lot of why they aren’t ranked as high as usual is turnover margin. Whether it’s the offense giving up opportunities with the ball or the defense failing to get the ball back in Drew Brees’ hand, it causes the team to make the most of the rest of their possessions. To no surprise given the way they’ve played, the Saints are tied for last in the NFL with a -5 turnover margin.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have, too, had a rough start to their season. They also sit at 1-3, but have not quite garnered the same amount of criticism as the Saints, though. Why not? It’s simple. Expectations. Coming off of a bad season in 2013, the Buccaneers fired their general manager and head coach immediately after the year ended. Out went Greg Schiano and in came Lovie Smith. Tampa Bay made a flurry of moves in free agency and drafted wide receiver Mike Evans with the #7 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Sure, with all of the moves they made, there was a lot of optimism, but not many could honestly expect the turnaround to be immediate. It became apparent that a quick turnaround was not in the cards for this season, when the Buccaneers were victim to a 56-14 shellacking at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons on national television two Thursdays ago. Impressively, they recovered from the bad loss and notched their first victory of the season last Sunday with a last second touchdown on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s tough to say who’s been more to blame for the 1-3 start for Tampa Bay, the offense or the defense. They are most likely both equally at fault, but the defense has suffered through a lot of injuries early on this year, which I’ll detail more in a little bit. The Buccaneer defense ranks 25th in the NFL, allowing 387.8 yards per game. Thanks in large part to their Week 3 blowout, they are second to last in scoring defense, giving up 29.8 points per game.  Continue reading

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Grading the Saints and Sinners: Week 4 vs. Dallas

DeMarco Murray ran all over the Saints, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns to lead the Cowboys to a huge victory.

“I just don’t get it.”

That was my reaction on Sunday night and that’s still how I feel. I just simply do not understand why this team is performing like this. Yes, I know the reasons that they are getting beat, but why are those things happening? How can Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan seemingly forget how to get to the quarterback? How can Akiem Hicks turn in to a ghost after improving on a weekly basis? How can Kenny Vaccaro forget how to tackle when he missed just three tackles though his entire rookie season? How can Marques Colston go from the most reliable pass catcher since 2006 to someone who can’t hold on to the ball? The questions go on and on. Thankfully, the New Orleans Saints’ next two weeks consist of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home, then their bye week. Also, if you’re looking for any positive out of this 1-3 start, it’s the fact that the NFC South looks very weak. The Saints are still only a game out of first place in the division and everyone else seems to be reeling, as well. We’ll get to that a little more later on, but for now, let’s go ahead and get to the debacle on Sunday night.

Really quick, due to time, I’m going to skip the post-game article, because after not being able to put it together after traveling home from Dallas on Monday, who even really wants a recap of that sad excuse of a game, right? We all on the same page? Good. Let’s move on and dig deeper in to what went wrong.  Continue reading

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