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Effective running game could hinder Denver's pass rush

We've seen this before. Two weeks ago, to be exact. Remember when Saints-Seahawks was all about a special defense (Seattle) taking on a special offense (New Orleans) and, perhaps specifically, the best pass defense of the last half-decade (Seattle) matching wits against the most prolific passing offense of the last decade (New Orleans)? One name changed (replace "Seattle" with "Denver"), but much else remains the same, as the Saints look to win their third consecutive game, their fifth in the last six games and to climb above .500 for the first time since the 2013 season, when they opened with five straight wins en route to an 11-5 record and playoff berth. Here are a few areas of interest:

  1. It's not just linebacker Von Millerthat the Saints have to be wary of, in terms of protecting quarterback Drew Brees. The Broncos are second in the league with 28 sacks, so he isn't the only effective rusher. But Miller, the Super Bowl 50 MVP (2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the game), is second in the league with 9.5 sacks and the Saints know they have to have a plan to limit his effectiveness. That likely will entail giving help to right tackle Zach Strief, either with a tight end or a running back or an extra tackle when the Saints go jumbo, and it also will include Brees getting rid of the ball quickly. That means Brees' receivers – Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Willie Snead, as well as tight end Coby Fleener– will have to be quick and decisive in their routes. Denver allows a league-low 183.3 passing yards per game, and has surrendered the second-fewest touchdown passes (six), so its secondary is no slouch, either. But the Saints lead the league in passing yards per game (326.4) and Brees only has been sacked 12 times. Obviously, this matchup alone is worth the price of admission.
  1. There's never a *bad *time for a running game to hit a hot streak. But, maybe, the Saints have found a good stride at the perfect time for them. In the last two games, New Orleans has run for 371 yards on 77 carries, led by Terron Armstead(49 carries for 189 yards and a touchdown) and Mark Ingram(18 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown, plus a receiving touchdown). Meanwhile, Denver owns the fourth-worst run defense in the league (128.6 yards per game allowed, and 4.4 yards yielded on 29.2 carries per game). And the Broncos are coming off a series of poor showings: 218 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries by Oakland; 123 yards on 26 carries by San Diego; and 140 yards on 25 carries by Houston. The Saints' running game may be as effective in hindering Denver's pass rush as will be pass blocking.
  1. For whatever that can be said about the Saints' pass defense this season, include this accolade: New Orleans has allowed 11 touchdown passes, total, after surrendering 45 last year (20 at the midpoint). In the last two games, the Saints have as many interceptions (two) as touchdown passes allowed (two). Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian, a first-year starter, still appears to be finding his way. In the last three games he has completed 52 of 100 passes (52 percent) for 716 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Saints have back healthy Delvin Breauxand Sterling Mooreat cornerback, and that should be a boost in the secondary against Siemian and his receiving corps. He only has been sacked 13 times in eight games, and the Broncos likely don't want to put the game on his shoulders. That's exactly where the Saints want it to be, so it's imperative that they make Denver one-dimensional (the Broncos average 96.8 rushing yards per game, 10th-fewest in the league, and 3.8 yards per carry).
  1. When the Saints have been ball hogs, they've been pretty good. Namely, in three of their four victories, their time of possession has been at least 32:39 and in the last three games, their time of possession advantage average is 35:51-24:09. As you might imagine, that means the Saints have been especially efficient on third down; they're converting a league-leading 53 percent this season on third down, 59 percent in the last six games and a whopping 63 percent (29 of 46) in the last three. The longer the Saints can keep Denver's defense on the field, the more chances they will have of taking advantage.
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