It's been almost a month since the Saints played a road game (November 13 @ Atlanta), and later today they will take the field in Nashville, Tennessee to Clash with the Titans. And maybe after it's all over, we'll still be able to Remember the Titans. (more clever Titan movie/song puns are welcome in the comment section)
Nashville. Music City. Home of the Music City Miracle, the Grand Ole Opry, a Parthenon (not the original, mind you), the Ryman Auditorium, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. And soon it will be the home of the Saints tenth win of the 2011 season and the Lamentations of the Titans and their fans.
Make the jump to see what I think it's going to take for the Saints to make me Nostra-freaking-damus, as I present to you my Hot Reads.
** We can also use this comment thread as a place for our pre-pre-game chatter to help us hang in there until the actual Game Open Thread opens up. **
Drew Brees is having an amazing, record-setting season. To help keep this going, the team must Protect Brees and let him work his magic.
This week I think it's going to take a little more than just keeping him on his feet and giving him time to survey the field. Protection of Brees will take on many forms.
What I'd Like To See: Keep him on his feet (minimal hits and zero sacks), give him time to survey the field, but also support him with a decent ground presence early and often so it doesn't have to be on his shoulders alone, run the correct routes, and catch the ball when it comes to you. No stupid pre-snap penalties. Hang on to the damn ball.
Checkdown # 1
Chris Johnson is the most powerful weapon in the Titans arsenal, so the Saints absolutely need to KO CJ2K. He has been "en fuego" as of late. En fuego = 46 carries, 343 yards and 2 TDs in the last two games, both of them Titan wins.
This season, the Titans are 5-0 when Johnson gets 23 or more carries, and only 2-5 when he gets 14 carries or less. I'm not sure what causes what (do more carries from him cause the victory, or does the team's winning allow him to get more carries?) but it appears the Saints chance of winning increases significantly if they can hold him to under 15 carries.
The Saints defense gives up almost five yards per rush. GAAAAA!!! I have visions of CJ2K getting to the edge faster than any of the Saints defenders and then racing down the sideline for a score. I also see him heading for the edge and then cutting it back against the grain and leaving a bunch of players diving at air as he glides past them on his way to the end zone.
What I'd Like To See: Nothing from the previous paragraph. Nothing. He just needs to have less than 15 carries in the game. Whether that's through many three and outs by the Titans offense, multiple turnovers that give the ball back to the Saints, or long sustained drives by the Saints that chew up lots of the clock. I don't care. Just limit how many touches CJ2K gets (ok, this is the Saints defense, so maybe let's just keep him under 20 rushes) and the Saints can win.
Checkdown # 2
With the outdoor stadium and colder weather, along with the natural turf that may get chunked up into gritty brown bits, I see the deep ball and big plays not being as big a factor for the Saints. Because of this, drives will need to be sustained and finished, so to do this, and in order to support both the Primary Option and Checkdown # 1, the Saints must Win On Third Down.
The tale of the tape in regard to third downs is this: The Saints convert 53.2% of their third downs (83 of 156), while allowing teams to convert 34.6% (54 of 156). The Titans are not as good as the Saints at this, and convert 38.6% of their own third downs (64 of 166), while allowing opponents a 41.6% success rate (72 of 173).
What I'd Like To See: The Saints convert over 60% of third downs while holding the Titans to under 30% on third down conversions.
One thing the Saints haven't done well away from the Dome this season is punch it into the end zone from the red zone, so a key for success today will be to Exorcize Those Red Zone Road Demons.
Overall, the Saints score TDs 56% of the time when they get inside the 20-yard line, but there's a large discrepancy between home vs. road performance on this metric: 38% on the road vs. 71% at home.
What I'd Like To See: One of two things to combat this malady. Either a perfect or high red zone TD percentage for the Saints, or many, many red zone trips that result in FGs to make up for the missed TD opportunities. If the second one happens, it will be a long afternoon at the office for us. Pass the antacids, please.
Bonus Hot Read
It's go-time, people. Make or break AND shake-n-bake time. The Final Four of the regular season. Time for players and teams to give it their all, plus just a little bit more, FTW, to keep winning streaks going, for the top seed, for the division title, and/or for the wild card berth.
It is in that spirit that I present to you today my little bit more, in the form of an additional Hot Read. Whatever it takes, my friends, whatever it takes. You're welcome.
A significant X-Factor in this game will be the Matching of Wits between rookie head coach Mike Munchak and five-year veteran and Super Bowl-winning Coach Sean Payton.
Mike Munchak assumed the reins of the team this year following the dismissal of longtime coach Jeff Fisher, and he cleaned house, replacing both coordinators, and bringing in new blood or at least changing the jobs of 13 other coaching positions on the staff. Sean Payton, on the other hand, has been at the helm of the Good Ship Saints since early 2006, with the majority of his coaching staff in place for multiple seasons.
This game could come down a difference in proper strategy and advance planning coupled with well-timed and appropriate in-game adjustments to what's working/not working, responding to what the other team is doing well, decisions made in crunch time, and/or bold and creatively aggressive vs. "just don't lose it" actions taken.
What I'd Like To See: Steely resolve, good play-calling, bold decisions, proper mid-game adjustments, and excellent clock/game management by the Saints coaching staff, contrasted with some rookie/inexperienced/just plain bad coaching mistakes made by the HC of the Titans. You don't have to ice your own kicker or anything, Mike, but make a bad review challenge or two, mismanage the clock or your time outs throughout, and particularly at the end of the half or the game, and that'll be just what Dr. HansDat ordered for the Saints win.
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OK, now what are your thoughts on these reads? Let me know in the comment section!