All the focus this week for Sunday’s NFC Divisional Round game focuses on the battle between Drew Brees and Tom Brady. It’s inevitable. The first playoff game between the two, happens when both players are in their 40’s. Both will end up in the NFL Hall of Fame. Also, the big prize is punching a ticket to the NFC Championship Game versus the winner of the Rams/Packers game.
Not to mention, this game may be the last for Drew Brees in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The list goes on and on for both having bragging rights well after their careers are finished. In short, this game is a big one. Still, the winner of this game could very well lie beneath the passing box score. These three statistical categories are critical to both teams wanting a spot in the next round.
Flipping the Field
This stat is so overlooked. Yet, the starting field position puts pressure on an opponent playing uphill on a long field. Special teams is one way to flip the field. One long kickoff or punt return not only gives better field position, but it’s a great momentum builder. Those extra 10-20 yards on a return incites enthusiasm on the sidelines. In addition, one big hit on the kicking team is just as game changing. Look for a one key play for either the Saints or Buccaneers to change momentum.
Red Zone Offense Versus Defense
Perfect execution becomes a must for scoring touchdowns in this game. Both offenses are hitting on a high level at the moment. Inside the 20-yard line, action is even more tighter. The small margin of error is compacted because of limited space. Tackling has to be solid here. One missed tackle can be the difference in winning and losing. Play calling is at a premium. The Saints offensive line late in the game is going to be crucial on third downs. The winner of this game is likely to be decided here.
Moreover, this is where the stars make big plays. And this goes for both sides. Blown coverages cannot happen. The Saints’ secondary can get a boost from pressure on Tom Brady. Putting pressure means an errand throw. These chances on a tip ball or fumble is where the Saints can steal points. This leads to my last number to watch.
Rushing offense versus rushing defense
An all out air raid is still a possibility between Brees and Brady. However, the ground game sets the tone. Rushing yards are just one way to measure success. It’s just as important getting a healthy average yard per carry.
Both teams are allowing under 100 yards per game on average. This puts them in the top five in rushing defense. Also, both teams are in the top three for rushing defense at under four yards a carry. Only three other teams possess these stifling numbers. Whatever team wins the line of scrimmage wins the game.
Especially, the team able to break the 4.0 yards per carry barrier. This yardage barrier may not seem like much, but inches count in the playoffs. Who wins the line of scrimmage will likely increase the likelihood of advancing.
This game is more than likely be a nail-biter. The team winning the execution of minute details should push the needle their way. The Saints success depends on fine tuned execution when it counts.