Saints vs. Titans: 5 Things We Learned from New Orleans' 22-17 Win
The Saints traveled to Tennessee for their first road game since a Week 10 overtime win against the Atlanta Falcons. The Saints looked like they had this game all wrapped up with a little more than two minutes left, but they allowed the Titans to nearly steal it away in the last few seconds.
With today's victory the Saints improved to 10-3 on the year and could clinch the NFC South with a win against the Vikings next week.
We have learned a lot about the Saints in recent weeks, but we may have learned the most about them from today's narrow escape in Nashville.
The Saints Can Win the Close Games Too
We have seen the Saints destroy teams throughout the year.
However, with this game they proved they can consistently win the close games.
The Saints were able to beat the Houston Texans in Week 3 by seven points, and they went to the Georgia Dome and beat the Falcons in overtime. With this win the Saints have shown they are just as capable of overcoming adversity and getting the close games as well as blowing out opponents.
This is a great thing to have in a football team, especially heading toward the playoffs. If the Saints want to get another Super Bowl championship this year, then they have to win the close games.
The Saints Can Play in Cold Weather Games
One knock on the Saints is that they are a dome team and, apparently, cannot play in cold weather situations or on a field that does not have fake grass.
Well, the Saints proved those accusations wrong in the victory against the Titans. Brees threw for 323 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Brees also had his best game this season as far as completion percentage goes; he completed 76.6 percent of his passes against Tennessee.
The Saints ran the ball for 114 yards at a respectable 4.4 yards per carry, and they did so without their leading rusher of 2011, Mark Ingram. Chris Ivory played for the first time in a while and carried the ball well, leading the Saints in rushing.
The defense played their normal style of defense. They gave up some big plays, but held strong when it mattered most.
The point is that the Saints played a similar style of football in this cold weather game as they do back home in the Superdome. They did not come away with points in the red zone, and that reflects on the scoreboard.
However, this Saints team can definitely put up some yards in the cold weather, which bodes very well for their Super Bowl aspirations.
The Saints Are a Very Physical Football Team
This may be the most physical game I have seen the Saints play all year.
The No. 1 goal of the defense coming into Week 14 was to stop Chris Johnson from running the ball, and they did that with excellence. Johnson averaged 2.1 yards a carry and only ran the ball for 23 yards. Jake Locker was the Titans' leading rusher on the day, and he only accumulated 36 yards on the ground.
The Saints were effective in stopping Johnson because they punished him every time they got the chance. There were numerous hits on Johnson that evoked an "Oh!" from the Titan fans, and it affected Johnson's running ability.
The Saints' secondary also put a ton of hits on the Titans' receivers. The hit pictured above was on a play where Nate Washington caught a deep pass, but then got knocked around like a pinball by Jabari Greer and Malcolm Jenkins.
The offense ran the ball with power early in the game. The Saints' offensive line dominated the Titans' defensive line for most of the game, only allowing two sacks and three total hits on Brees.
This Saints team is widely known as a finesse-style team, but they showed against the Titans that they can play smash-mouth football and be very good at it.
The Saints Can Win on the Road
It was not pretty, and the Saints almost gave it away, but they still won on the road against a good Titans team.
There has been skepticism around the league about the Saints' ability to win games on the road. After all, they lost to the Buccaneers and Rams on the road in 2011.
However, on Sunday the Saints were able to go into a hostile environment and beat a potential playoff team in the Tennessee Titans.
If the Saints can continue to win, then they may only have to play one road playoff game, but this victory showed the Saints can compete against good teams away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints Need to Play with More Focus
One thing that could not go without notice against Tennessee was the Saints' overall lack of focus.
The Saints were called for 11 penalties for 95 yards.
Yes, you read that right.
The Saints accumulated 95 penalty yards. This is normally not a problem with the Saints, but they have to get that area fixed before the playoffs come.
Some of the penalties called were arguable, but regardless, the Saints should not be in any position to let that happen. They had an 82-yard punt return touchdown by Sproles called back because of a holding penalty. The Saints also had numerous drives stall out because of unnecessary penalties.
However, the Saints showed that it is not just penalties that messed up their focus. The defense nearly gave the game away at the end, despite the Titans having no timeouts, a rookie quarterback and just more than a minute to drive down the field.
The Saints have a knack for playing at the level of their opponents, and it certainly looked like that was the case in Week 14. The Saints did not score a touchdown in the first half, even though they had two trips inside the Titans' 30-yardline.
The most aggravating thing about the Saints is they can play badly and still win games. The defense bent a lot in this game, but again did not break. The offense still managed to put up 437 yards and 22 points.
This Saints team played a game in which they were not completely focused, but still won.