Brees Cleared to Face Super Bowl Champ Chiefs

Falcons Saints Football
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been cleared to play against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

 

New Orleans Saints (10-3) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (12-1-0)

Sunday, Dec. 20, 3:25 p.m.

TV: CBS WWL 4

Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM

 

Saints looking to get back on track

After a week of chill in the air and spirits of Saints fans, news broke this morning that quarterback Drew Brees will play Sunday after missing the last four games with 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Brees’ return comes ahead of one of the most anticipated games of the 2020 NFL regular season. In what could be a preview of Super Bowl LV, New Orleans hosts the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, as they look to get back on track after playing their worst game of the year and snapping a nine-game win streak.

The Saints were deficient in all three phases of the game in the 24-21 loss to the Eagles last Sunday, but nothing hurt the team as bad as its inability to control the line of scrimmage. It’s not often that you see the offensive and defensive lines both have bad days in the same game, but that’s how Philly shocked New Orleans.

The Saints’ defense entered the game as the NFL’s best, but was steamrolled for 413 yards, including a shocking 246 on the ground. The unit saw its NFL record 55 games without surrendering 100 rushing yards to an individual player come to a end as two Eagles topped the century mark – running back Miles Sanders, 115, and quarterback Jalen Hurts, 106. The Saints couldn’t contain the run, and the Eagles O-line held the Saints to zero sacks, allowing the rookie to complete 17-of-30 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.

While the Eagles kept Hurts clean, the Saints O-line gave up five sacks in the game. Quarterback Taysom Hill struggled under pressure, tossing an interception and losing a fumble when he took a blindside hit in the backfield. He finished 28-of-38 with two passing TDs. New Orleans finished with 358 total yards, 262 in the air and 96 on the ground.

Going into the game, it was thought that the Saints would be better running than passing against the Eagles. Postgame, Saints head coach Sean Payton said his play calling was more focused on the pass than the run and that only became more exasperated after Philly jumped out to a 17-0 lead at the half. Forcing Hill to throw as much as he did is antithetical to the winning balanced attack they had established with the backup QB under center.

For the Saints to get back to their winning ways, they have to be strong up front.

The Chiefs, 12-1, are the best team in football. Their NFL-leading offense is lead by quarterback Patrick Mahomes and features WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce, and RBs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell. They showed their potency last week in Miami. After Mahomes threw two early picks KC fell behind 10-0. Then they scored 30 unanswered points on their way to a 33-27 victory. Mahomes completed 24-of-34 passes for 393 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Chiefs extend their win streak to eight and clinching their fifth-straight AFC West title.

Kansas City is a formidable opponent, but that doesn’t mean New Orleans should be counted out before kickoff. Right now, the Saints have to win with their defense. They’re ranked second in the NFL in total yards and rushing yards surrendered and fourth in points and passing yards allowed per game. Facing Mahomes and his arsenal is a daunting task. That being said, the Chiefs’ balance of power is in their offense. The Saints will need to play their best while depending on the running game and finding opportunities to pass to methodically move the ball up field. Finally, Wil Lutz, simply, has to improve. In the playoffs a kick can mean reaching your team’s goals or ending team mates’ season.

 

At the Line of Scrimmage

Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.

 

When the Saints have the ball

PPG           TYPG        PYPG         RYPG

Saints Offense     28.3 (7)      369.8 (13) 232.5 (21)   137.3 (7)

Chiefs Defense    21.6 (8)      358.8 (17)  230.5 (14)   128.4 (26)

 

When the Chiefs have the ball

PPG           TYPG        PYPG         RYPG

Chiefs Offense    31.0 (2)      429.2 (1)    317.5 (1)      111.7 (17)

Saints Defense    20.4 (4)     298.4 (2)   209.2 (4)    89.2 (2)

 

Goal to Geaux

For the Saints to get back to their winning ways, they will have to be strong up front on offense and defense. The Saints need to use a balanced attack to churn up yards, have the advantage in time of possession, and keep Mahomes & Co. on the sideline. It would be nice to see Hill, running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray grind down KC’s defense.

The Saints D will have to be mindful of giving up penalties and big plays. They’ll need to contain Mahomes within the hash marks and put as many hits on him as possible to give him something in the back of his head to think about when he drops back to pass.

 

Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 14

  1. Running back Alvin Kamara’s touchdown raised his career count to 52 putting him in fifth place in Saints’ history. His 3,131 career rushing yards pushed him past Ricky Williams for eighth place in the franchise’s records.
  2. Punter Thomas Morstead has played in 187 regular season games and remains a silent threat. On Sunday, he punted four times for 211 yards (52.8 gross average) with a long of 58 and one inside the 20.
  3. In 13 games this season, quarterback Taysom Hill has fumbled 10 times, losing five.

 

Quotes of the Week

“We know every game is important in the NFL. While I would say every game is important, we knew what was at stake….I have to take some blame for that as a quarterback. I think at the end of the day this one does sting a little bit because we knew what was at stake.” – Saints quarterback Taysom Hill on the loss knocking the team out of first place in the NFC playoff race

“We didn’t do a good enough job as coaches, starting with myself, in preparing our guys and getting ready. At halftime, we came back out with a little bit of juice and energy, making it a closer game. But clearly, we didn’t play one of our better games today. That was obvious.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on the Saints loss to the Eagles.

“We didn’t execute early. So, it’s hard to generate energy. It’s hard to generate momentum when you’re not playing well. And that leads to looking flat.” – Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins on the team’s slow start against Philadelphia

 

Inside the NFC South

                                                W   L   T   Win %   PF       PA     DIV

New Orleans Saints               10  3    0    0.769      368     265    5-0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers         8    5    0    0.615       370     294    2-2

Atlanta Falcons                      4    9    0    0.308      328     322    1-3

Carolina Panthers                  4    9    0    0.308      307     332    1-4

 

Atlanta Falcons (4-9) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)

Atlanta and Tampa are seemingly mirror images on offense. The Falcons are ranked 15th in the NFL (6th passing, 25th rushing) while the Bucs are 17th (11th passing, 26th rushing). But the difference in this game is the Bucs’ defense – ranked 7th in the league to ATL at 28th. Atlanta is playing for pride. Tampa wants to solidify its playoff positioning and keep barely hanging on to hopes of winning the division.

 

Carolina Panthers (4-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)

Saints fans will be tuned in on Saturday night, rooting for former Saint Teddy Bridgewater to deliver a seemingly holiday miracle to his former team. Winter weather makes it tough to play in Green Bay after Thanksgiving. Even tougher are the Packers, who are 2nd in the NFL in total offense and passing yards and 10th in rushing per game and sport a top eight defense. No one expects the Panthers to win this one, but as the Eagles proved, anything is possible.

 

NFC Playoff Picture

Below are the NFC standings through Week 14. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.

 

Seed  Team             Division       W L   T

1          Packers – Y   North             10  3    0

2         Saints – X    South            10 3   0

3          Rams              West               9    4    0

4          Washington   East                6    7    0

5          Seahawks       West               9    4    0

6          Buccaneers    South              8    5    0

7          Cardinals       West               7    6    0

8          Vikings            North              6    7    0

9          Bears              North             6    7    0

10        Lions              North             5    8    0

11         49ers               West                5    8    0

12        Giants            East                5    8    0

13        Eagles             East                4    8    1

14        Cowboys        East                4    9    0

15        Falcons          South              4    9    0

16        Panthers         South              4    9    0

 

Legend

Z – Clinched home field advantage

Y – Clinched division title

X – Clinched playoff birth

 

The Extra Point: Anything’s possible

With no room for error, the Saints’ loss to the Eagles last week looks like a knockout punch to the team’s hopes of earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff race.

While Green Bay and New Orleans are both 10-3, the Packers beat the Saints 37-30 in Week 3 and hold a head-to-head tiebreaker. With three weeks left in the regular season, they have and appear likely to hold on to the lead for first place, which would award them a wildcard round bye and home field advantage through the NFC Championship.

For the Saints to get back atop the NFC, they’ll likely have to win their final three games and hope the Packers lose one. That appears to be a tall order.

Green Bay is favored in their final three games, at home against Carolina (4-9) and Tennessee (9-4) and on the road against Chicago (6-7). The Panthers’ playoff hopes are all but gone, but Teddy Bridgewater is fighting for a long-term roster spot, and the Panthers would love to knock off the top team in the conference; Tennessee is tied with Indy for first place in the AFC South; and the Bears are fighting for a Wild Card spot.

New Orleans plays at home against Kansas City (12-1) and Minnesota (6-7) and at Carolina (4-9). If the Saints lose this weekend, they’ll likely push their chances to win the NFC South back a week and end up playing for the 2nd or 3rd seed the last two weeks of the season. And that’s fine.

If the Saints get the two seed, they would host games in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds.

As the three seed, they would be in the Superdome for the Wild Card and have a chance to host in the Divisional if the two seed loses. If the two seed – either the Rams or Seahawks – advances, the Saints would play them on the road. Assuming they advance, they wouldn’t play at Green Bay until the NFC Championship game.

After last week’s loss, the Saints want to get back to winning ASAP. Starting quarterback Drew Brees has missed the last four games after suffering 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung. He will come back this week to help even the Saints’ odds against Kansas City. But the Saints need to take a reasoned approach to Brees’ return as they don’t want to rush him back, risk re-injury, and limit their opportunities for postseason success.

This game, with the potential for old guard Drew Brees facing off against young gun Patrick Mahomes, has been circled since the schedule was released. And there’s a good possibility the two could meet again on a much bigger stage – Super Bowl LV. Kansas City looks destined to be there. The Saints’ will have to put up a strong fight to meet them there.

Brees puts them in the best position to make that happen. Plus, Taysom Hill’s experience playing quarterback over the last four weeks will make him much more dangerous in his “Swiss Army Knife” role. Defenses cannot expect him to run as he is now a threat to throw, too.

Saints fans know anything can happen in the NFL. The Black & Gold are returning to full strength and will get the offense up to the expectations it has established for itself.

The closing of the regular season increases the stakes for all with hopes of playing in the postseason. The Saints have already qualified for the playoffs. Now they need to wrap up the division and keep heat on the Packers in the race for the conference.

The news of Brees’ return brings a punch of holiday cheer.

 

 

Geaux Saints, Geaux!

 

 

Categories: Pre-Snap Read