Chiefs vs. Saints: 5 Keys to a New Orleans Win
It was the year 2007. It followed the best season in franchise history to that point. That should be enough information for any Saints fan to recognize I'm talking about the last time the New Orleans Saints began a season 0-2.
The team returned home for the opening home game, on Monday Night Football, sure it would finally capture a victory against Vince Young's Tennessee Titans.
The poor Titans promised to be the victim of a complete beatdown by a team who was ready to break out after a frustrating start. Fast forward five years, and it's almost the exact same scenario at play Sunday when the Saints host the Kansas City Chiefs in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The only notable difference is that the game this weekend will be played on Sunday afternoon instead of Monday Night on national television.
Saints fans can only hope the similarity in scenarios ends at the going-into-the-game stage. If the Saints pull the same lame excuse for football they played on that fateful night in late September, 2007, or the same lame excuse they've pulled for the first two games of 2012, the team and its fans will likely give up on the remainder of this campaign and start thinking about 2013 when Sean Payton returns to lead the charge.
To prevent that sad excuse for a season, the Saints absolutely must win Sunday. Here are five keys to make that happen.
Run the Football, Run the Football and Run the Football Some More
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Kansas City's defense gave up a number of big plays in the run game to the Buffalo Bills and C.J. Spiller.
While Spiller is a better natural runner/athlete than anyone the Saints possess, the Saints running game is actually a more fundamentally sound running game than the one the Bills presented against Romeo Crennel's defense.
That doesn't even mention the simple fact that the New Orleans Saints ran for 163 yards Sunday against Carolina, without even putting forth significant effort in the running game.
No, success one week in a particular phase of the game doesn't guarantee success the next, just as a lack of success doesn't guarantee getting burned in that same area the week after.
But given the necessity of this Saints team to run the football with quantity, a high number of running reps Sunday only makes sense.
Protect Drew Brees
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The keys this week are as much a reflection of the Saints' struggles through two games as they are the weaknesses of the Chiefs. In fact, as it relates to this key just know Kansas City has struggled mightily to create any real quarterback pressure this season, or over the last five or so years.
Tamba Hali is the only real threat as a pass-rusher for Kansas City. Second-year rush end/outside linebacker Justin Houston is coming into his own, but is not proven yet, and should be handled by a Saints pass pro unit that is used to dropping back and keeping rushers away from Drew Brees.
Though the pass-protection of the Saints in 2012 has been relatively poor, Sunday would seem to be bringing about a major opportunity for improvement. At least the Saints and their coaches have to hope that is the case.
If not, the team is in more trouble than any of us could ever imagine.
Don't Give Up the Big Play
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Former LSU Tiger star wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has become a borderline great professional. Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki also present matchup issues for the Saints defense.
The lesson? Even though Kansas City is 0-2 and lacks the overall talent of many NFL rosters, it does not mean the offense can be taken lightly.
Between the three mentioned here, as well as Peyton Hillis and Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs present a real challenge to the Saints' struggling defensive unit. The good news in all of it is that Matt Cassel starts at quarterback for the Chiefs.
If the Saints can get any pressure at all, even the same amount they were able to get in the first two games of the year, then they can slow down the No. 1 team in yards in the AFC.
Given the Chiefs' desire to run the football and hit plays deep down the field, a conservative approach figures to serve the Saints defense well this weekend.
Play Ahead, Not Behind
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In the Sean Payton era it is quite clear that Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints play better when they take the lead early in the football game. There's no shame in that.
In the first two games of the 2012 season the team has fallen behind early in the football game (though Sunday against Carolina they started ahead before succumbing to the Panthers late in the first half).
Kansas City is one of the few teams in the league whose emotions may be as fragile as the New Orleans Saints. In fact, those said emotions may be even more fractured than ones belonging to New Orleans' team.
If the Saints can get ahead early, heads and hearts of Chiefs team members may shrink quickly. A significant early lead is all the team needs to secure its first win of the season. It doesn't hurt New Orleans in that sense that Kansas City is not a super-explosive offensive football team.
Be Prepared for K.C.'s Special Teams
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Between Javier Arenas, Dexter McCluster and Ryan Succop, the Kansas City Chiefs are one of the few teams in the NFL who can match the New Orleans Saints in the special teams department.
Either Arenas or McCluster can make a big play if given the opportunity in the return game. That's when it's nice to have Thomas Morstead handling kickoffs and punts. His length, accuracy and hangtime should eliminate the threat those two players present.
But Ryan Succop is still one of the better kickers in the league. If the Chiefs can somehow make this a field goal-type game, the Chiefs could come away from New Orleans victorious.
Again, the Saints need to simply do what they do on special teams and not get beat in this particular area. Not getting beat is the key. Anything in the green is gravy, as they say.
Gravy, though, is not what the Saints are looking for in this game. Winning is all that matters.