The job only gets more difficult for the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints (8-2) have won seven straight entering Sunday's game against Denver (4-6) at Empower Field in Mile High. The most recent of those wins, a 24-9 spanking of Atlanta, occurred with Taysom Hill at quarterback, replacing the injured Drew Brees.
With that bit of film archived, opponents obviously will attempt to throw some wrinkles at Hill to slow down the Saints' offense. The manner in which New Orleans handles that will be critical to whether it can extend to eight its winning streak.
Here are a few ways the Saints can get it done:
- TURN IT LOOSE: Not 45-passes-a-game loose. But as the Atlanta game progressed, you could sense the growing comfort with Hill via the play-calling. It's doubtful that New Orleans will be going backward in its game-planning, and Hill showed himself capable (18 of 23 passing for 233 yards, 10 carries for 51 yards and two touchdowns). His major flub was a lost fumble, his second in as many games. That turnover didn't come back to haunt and if the Saints continue to take care of the ball – especially on the road – they'll put themselves in great position to win. Expect to see even more comfort with Hill in the passing game (he already has shown some early chemistry with Michael Thomas, who caught nine passes for 104 yards against the Falcons).
- CONTROLLED CHAOS: The Saints aren't going to get eight sacks every game. We know that. And Denver quarterback Drew Lock is a tad more mobile than Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Still, though, Lock has been sacked 11 times in eight games and, more, has thrown 11 interceptions against just seven touchdowns, and is completing 56 percent of his passes. So, with Trey Hendrickson (a league-leading 9.5 sacks), Cam Jordan (5.5 sacks) and David Onyemata (5 sacks) applying the pressure, there could be some opportunities for interceptions for safeties Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins (3 and 2 picks, respectively) and cornerbacks Jackrabbit Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore. New Orleans is on a roll defensively, allowing just 8.3 points, 36.3 rushing yards and 241 yards per game in the last three. Can the Saints keep it going? It's never easy, but Lock may provide some opportunities for big plays on defense.
- EARN THE RIGHT: Saints defenders say in order to earn the right to rush the passer, they first have to stop the run. No team has been better over the last three weeks, and few have been better over the last three years. They'll need to be at their best against Denver running backs Melvin Gordon (122 carries, 523 yards, six touchdowns) and Phillip Lindsay (73 carries, 394 yards, one touchdown). Denver is coming off a 33-carry, 189-yard rushing game against Miami and is capable of repeating that. Saints linebacker Demario Davis, arguably the best in the business, and his teammates will do their best to prevent it.
- QUEZ ON THE SCENE: All-Pro returner Deonte Harris may be a no-go for this one and if he is, rookie Marquez Callaway is an able substitute. Each has proven to be valuable in the passing game, too. There probably won't be much opportunity in the way of kickoff returns, but there could be in the punt return game, and Callaway seems pretty fearless.
- MILE HIGH: There's a reluctance to mention the altitude, because Saints players won't use it as an excuse. But the fact is, it's a real issue. New Orleans has been mindful in its preparation – hydration, rest, etc. – and, hopefully, the pre-game work will pay off in-game in terms of stamina and performance.
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