Today the Saints find themselves in St. Louis, closing out the first half of the 2011 season with their fourth road game in five weeks, hoping to avoid a letdown in the Gateway City following last week's 62-7 pasting of the Colts.
Fun fact: According to wikipedia, the population of St. Louis has been in decline since 1950, and our quarterback is also in decline - how about that? Read for yourself. And if you do, you'll see that St. Louis and New Orleans share a number of connections, from World's Fairs to Mississippi River port status to French heritage to Kevin Held of Hakim Drops the Ball.
Follow me to read what I think the Saints need to do to keep the Algiers/Canal Street Victory Ferry chugging up and down the mighty Mississippi.
**Please enjoy yourself (responsibly) in this pre-pre-game open thread and share your thoughts on the game and my Reads as the clock inches closer to kickoff...**
We all saw what happens when the o-line PROTECTS DREW BREES and gives him time to find his receivers. He put together a masterful performance for the ages, and his day was done before the fourth quarter started. We can't always expect it to be that easy, but if they can do this early and allow for another big lead, we can perhaps see lots of safe handoffs in the later stages of the game, and maybe even another Chase Daniel Band sighting.
Chris Long and James Hall bring pressure off the ends for the Rams, and while they are not as formidable as theDwight Freeney/Robert Mathis combo, they definitely merit attention.
What I'd like to see: Brees protected well once again and hardly touched by the Rams.
Checkdown # 1
With AJ Feeley starting for the injured Sam Bradford, and a receiving corps that has made a living out of dropping passes, the main focus for the Saints defense should be STOPPING THE RUN.
Steven Jackson, although he's been hurt, returned last week against Dallas and is a big, bruising back who has the potential to run roughshod over the poor-tackling Saints, especially if he is easily able to get past the front line and into the second level of the defense. What worries me is if he's effective early and helps the Rams sustain drives and keep the game close. This would increase the possibility of him changing the game with one big run against the sloppy Saints D.
The Rams also have Cadillac Williams, formerly of the Buccaneers, to spell Jackson and/or take over if he goes down. While not a great back, Williams has had a big game or two against the Saints in his career.
What I'd like to see: A neutralized running game that is shut down early while the Saints build a big lead, and then they can get all the garbage yards they want after the game's in the bag.
Checkdown # 2
On the other hand, it may be just as important for the Saints to ESTABLISH THE RUN against the porous Rams run defense (allowing over 180 yards per game so far). Certainly the Rams won't give up over 200 yards rushing to a single running back again, will they? Or will they?
The Saints will be doing this without the Ingramaniac, and I'm sure many of us fans are interested in seeing how this plays out - who will get more of Ingram's carries? Pierre Thomas? Darren Sproles? Or will we perhaps even see the 2011 debut of TUSK?
What I'd like to see: Another effectively-implemented rushing game. Last week, they used the run just enough early on so that they weren't having to achieve everything aerially, and then pounded the ball successfully in the second half while increasing the lead. More of this would be just fine with me.
On paper, this game looks like it should be a cakewalk. However, there is much to be wary of, so I'm recommending here that the Saints remember to KEEP COOL NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS.
Sometimes these games don't play out like they are supposed to. As a nod to this, in my weekly prediction, I even have the Rams jumping out to a 17-0 lead. (And you know I've been on a tear with my predictions lately, so this is absolutely LEGIT.)
Flukey things happen. A bad bounce here, or a poorly-timed penalty or other mental breakdown there, and the Saints could find themselves behind in this game. If this indeed happens, from top to bottom, the coaches and players need to maintain their composure and just keep playing Saints football. Don't abandon the running game, don't start forcing the ball downfield, just do what you do, and it'll all work out.
What I'd like to see: This factor not come into play at all. But if it does, the Saints need to nip it in the bud, show the Rams who's really in charge, and not let it get to them and force a snowball effect disaster scenario that allows this game to become another Bucs fiasco like in Week 6. I'm still spitting out a bit of stomach bile from that one.