Make no mistake about it, the game on Sunday is the toughest test the Saints will experience at this point in the young season (Giants vs Saints coverage). Throwing out the two undefeated records for a second, this is the most complete team the Saints have faced by a significant margin. The Giants represent both the best offense and the best defense the Saints have seen, hands down. The most important matchup of Sunday's game, in my opinion, is the Saints' ability to get pressure with their front four and the Saints' ability to block the Giants' front four.
Saints front four:
With Eli Manning's ability, the Saints would be taking a big risk if they blitzed as much as they have early in the season. While they've had success doing so in their first four games, the first four quarterbacks they've faced lack the experience, quick decision making skills and accuracy of an Eli Manning. While Charles Grant and Will Smith have looked healthy and inspired of late, getting to the quarterback without the luxury of blitz help will be of utmost importance for them. I anticipate Gregg Williams asking his four man front to create more pressure this week on their own. If you look at game tape against Matt Stafford and Kevin Kolb especially, there were plays where the Saints blitzed and left their coverage on an island against receivers, potentially exposing themselves to huge pass gains. Luckily on most of those plays the accuracy of the passes thrown were way off, largely due to the amount of pressure the defense was bringing. Granted, that was a comfortable risk to take given the opposition. The difference is Eli Manning will make those throws more consistently, and can make the Saints pay for taking such risks. The duty lies on Smith, Grant, Bobby McCray, Sedrick Ellis, Anthony Hargrove and company to show they can get in Eli's face. The Giants have given up just three sacks in five games coming into New Orleans, while the Saints have generated ten sacks in four games (eight by the front four).
Saints blocking the Giant's front four:
The Giants have generated fourteen sacks in just five games, eleven of which were made by a member of their front four. Their ability to create pressure without blitzing is flat out scary, led by the devastating bookend combination of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. Take a look at how quarterbacks have done against them so far this season:
Jason Campbell: 19-26, 211yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 fumbles - sacked 3 times
Tony Romo: 13-29, 127yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs, - sacked 0 times
Byron Leftwich: 7-16, 22yds, O TDs, 1 INT - sacked 0 times
Matt Cassel: 15-32, 127yds, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 3 fumbles - sacked 5 times
JaMarcus Russell: 8-13, 100 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 3 fumbles - sacked 6 times
Those performances aren't just bad, they're flat out embarassing. As evidence by Romo and Leftwich's numbers, even when these quarterbacks are getting the ball out quick enough, they're still performing terribly. Granted none of these guys are Drew Brees, but it is worth noting how badly they've all played. The Saints' offensive line has given up four sacks in four games, but this game they'll have a replacement left tackle going up against the NFL's finest. Whether that's Jermon Bushrod or Zach Strief, they better be ready to play the game of their life and Brees better be ready to get the ball out in a hurry.
The matchups in these areas are about as tough as it gets. When the Saints are on defense, the home crowd's influence will need to be the x factor that can help them. When the Saints are on offense, I believe the key ingredients to success are threefold: the performance of the Saints at left tackle, Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey. Bush and Shockey will both offer Brees the most dangerous short passing checkdown options. When Brees wants to get rid of the ball in a hurry, these two players will be available and targeted often. Expect both of these guys to get many opportunities as Brees won't always have the time to attack the perimeter. We'll see if they can deliver when called upon. Sidenote: Bush and Shockey are killer fantasy plays this week, ESPECIALLY in leagues where you get points for receptions.
So it all boils down to getting pressure with our front four, and limiting their front four's pressure. Sounds simple but much easier said than done. So what are your thoughts? Do you guys think Smith and Grant have turned a corner and can have big games this weekend when the Saints need them the most? Do you think Strief/Bushrod/Stinchcomb can realistically slow down Tuck/Umenyiora?