Saints' Best Bet Against Denver on Sunday Night Is to Get in a Shootout

Will OsgoodAnalyst IOctober 26, 2012

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 21: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on October 14, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

With the plethora of media outlets providing their previews, X's and O's breakdowns and game plan ideas for the Saints-Broncos Sunday Night Football contest, I will eschew that this week. 

Instead, there is one big idea that preempts all others in my mind as I watch the film and draw up a hypothetical game plan for the New Orleans Saints. That big idea is this: The Saints must make this game a shootout. 

Though the Saints showed glimpses of brilliance defensively last Sunday against Tampa Bay, the unit still gave up 28 points (nearly 35) and 420 yards passing to Josh Freeman. Here's a newsflash: Peyton Manning is better than Josh Freeman. 

Manning is playing as well as he has at any point in his entire career, in just his first season in Denver. Though Mike McCoy is listed in the program as the offensive coordinator, it is Manning who is running the show and calling the shots for the Denver offense. 

The scheme is eerily similar to the one Manning ran for years in Indianapolis under Tom Moore. In Denver, Manning has a nice blend of young talent (the frighteningly big and athletic Demaryius Thomas and the smooth Eric Decker) and veteran presence (Brandon Stokley and Willis McGahee). 

Just like Manning's Colts, the Broncos operate out of a ton of different two-tight-end sets and three-receiver looks. And despite some questions about his arm strength, Manning is throwing the football deep as effectively as at any time in his career. 

But it's also the short passes that Thomas turns into long gains that make this offense dangerous and scary for opposing defenses. Thomas has a long of 71 yards on the season and averages nearly 17 yards per reception (16.9). 

Mix in the ever-increasing playing time of third-round rookie running back Ronnie Hillman and the Broncos have an offense that only figures to get better, and somehow more explosive in the next couple seasons.

The rookie only has 17 attempts and 50 yards rushing, but has caught the ball four times for 37. He possesses big-play ability and figures to get a number of looks Sunday night in a likely cold-weather game. 

And don't forget about Manning's incessant quick throws to his tight ends over the middle and in the flats. He relies on those throws to keep defenses honest and help his offensive line in pass protection. 

Between Jacob Tamme (former Indy teammate) and Texans refugee Joel Dreesen, Manning has two big bodies he trusts to catch the ball at the most needed times. 

All this is really to say that Manning (who is also looking more athletic than at any stage in his career) and the Denver offense should have no problem moving the ball, and ultimately scoring, against New Orleans' soft defense. 

From a defensive perspective, things are looking ominous for the New Orleans Saints. And the Broncos defense presents plenty of challenges as well. 

Yes the Broncos have held opponents to six fourth-quarter points in six games. But the team has given up 132 points in the first three quarters of games. That averages out to 22 points over the course of three quarters. 

Of course, that is approximately three touchdowns. Now look at the teams Denver has played in those games: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston, Oakland, New England and San Diego. Only Oakland has a sub-.500 record and what would you would consider a below-average offense. 

Throw in the incredible pass-rushing abilities of Von Miller (six sacks and numerous pressures) and Elvis Dumervil (five sacks and nearly as many pressures) and it may seem that the Saints are in for a bad time Sunday night. 

But there is still potentially good news for the Saints' offense. 

Denver ranks 18th in the league in rushing defense, having given up 115.2 yards per game. The film shows there are some holes to be exposed, especially when running outside to Elvis Dumervil's side of the defensive line. 

More importantly, the linebackers shoot up on play-action and create a number of big-play opportunities in the passing game. If Jimmy Graham can persevere through the enormous pain in his ankle, he can be a dynamic weapon on Sunday night. 

And Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Marques Colston have an opportunity to make some big plays down the field against the Broncos' aggressive secondary. Much like last weekend's game versus Tampa Bay, Drew Brees should have no problem throwing the ball down the field. 

The key difference is, of course, the Broncos' pass rush. If Zach Strief and Jermon Bushrod can simply keep Drew Brees upright long enough for him to throw, the Saints can exploit Denver's secondary. 

Here's the thing, the Saints know how to get into shootouts. When they get the offense running smoothly in rhythm, even the best defenses cannot stop them. A great pass rush ultimately succumbs to the lazer rocket release that Drew Brees possesses on his right arm. 

Anyway, the Broncos give up 215 passing yards per game, which is good for 10th best in the league. They've given up 16 plays of 20 yards or more, and three plays of 40-plus yards. 

Perhaps more important they give up a 61.3 percent completions percentage. Only two teams in the top-10 of yards allowed are worse. It all means that Drew Brees should have a big game throwing the football down the field. 

Finally, add in the team's fourth-rated offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. That unit is in charge of slowing the dangerous pass-rushing duo mentioned above.

It all should add up to an explosive offensive game for New Orleans. The question is whether the Saints can score more often than Denver.

Perhaps the old adage, "Last team with the ball wins," comes true this weekend in Denver. It seems to be the Saints' best opportunity for victory Sunday night. 


Statistics taken from, and, except where noted. 


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