Happy Day After Epiphany (or Twelfth Night) for all who celebrate it. Hopefully your unofficial start of the Mardi Gras season was a winner in more ways than one...
Speaking of celebrating and winning, those are a couple of things I'm quite interested in today, and if you'll follow me across the jump, I'll clue you in to what five things (my Hot Reads!) I think the Saints need to do to win and celebrate in their Wild Card playoff game with the Detroit Lions tonight in the Superdome.
Lions vs Saints coverage
** Let's continue using this comment area as our pre-pre-pre-game tailgating area to get psyched up for the first playoff game in what we all hope to be another magical Super Season for the Saints. How are you feeling about it? What are you eating/cooking? What are you wearing for lucky Saints gear? Will you watch the early playoff game, too? **
This time around, it is going to be a little bit tougher, and thus even more important to PROTECT DREW BREES. Why and how, do you ask? Well, because the beastly Ndamukong Suh will be digging in on the defensive line, and the skilled Louis Delmas will be patrolling the secondary tonight, and neither of them suited up in the first game. The ensuing better pressure and coverage of receivers will add some degrees of difficulty to succeeding in the passing game.
What I'd Like To See: Brees suffered four hits and two sacks when last these teams met, and I want the line to step it up even more and cut those numbers in half, while giving him a nice pocket to climb, open sight lines to see his receivers down the field, and unobstructed passing lanes to get the ball to them.
Checkdown # 1
RUN, RUN, AS FAST AS YOU CAN (and as much as you can). The running game of the Saints has flown a bit under the radar as the franchise and league passing records have fallen right and left this season, even as it has improved to sixth in the league by the end of the season at 132.9 yards per game. Last time, the Saints gained 100 yards and a Mark Ingram TD on 23 carries, and I'm not sure that's going to cut it this time.
What I'd Like To See: Close to 150 yards and at least two TDs out of the running game. I know Chris Ivory will get plenty of touches, Sean, but you've also GOT to make sure Pierre Thomas gets more than the pitiful two carries he had against Detroit in December.
Checkdown # 2
BIG PLAYS, NO WAY. In Game One, Matthew Stafford and the Lions seemed to be getting a big pass play to keep a drive alive, or get into scoring range every time I turned around (they notched six pass plays of 20 or more yards), and it was so frustrating to watch it unfold, either through a blown coverage, or bad positioning, lack of jamming the receivers at the line of scrimmage, or whatever. These could be the undoing of the Saints this time around.
What I'd Like To See: The Saints defense limit them to no more than three plays of 20 or more yards.
DON'T FOOL AROUND ON THIRD DOWN. There's been some discussion on CSC this week about the effectiveness of third down shutdowns by the Saints defense. Here's how it went last time: Detroit converted only two of 11 third downs. These denials led to punting four times, missing one field goal and making another, getting two cheap first downs by penalty, and then throwing a fourth-down interception late. The road to success in this area involves forcing a lot of three and outs, or at least getting third down stops in the red zone.
What I'd Like To See: The Saints force the Lions into at least 15 third downs and allow no more than four of them to be converted into first downs, with at least six punts.
Bonus Hot Read
HANG ONTO THE BALL, Y'ALL. This year's model of the Saints has not been a ball-hawking bunch, and what worked well last time against the Lions was winning the turnover battle by mainly not coughing up the ball to them, and I think that's all we'll need to do again.
What I'd Like To See: More of the same, boys. No giveaways. Just practice ball security - Brees has tossed a few INTs in the last couple of games, so he needs to be smart with his throws, and everyone needs to hang on tight and watch out for your blind side.
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Now you've got one HansDat's take on what the Saints need to do to win tonight and advance to the Divisional round and a date with the 49ers, and it's time to share what you think about them and also what your Hot Reads for this game might be...don't be shy now, remember that we're in the single-elimination round, and there's no tomorrow if we don't win today!