The positive for the New Orleans Saints (7-2) is that it's not unprecedented that they have played, and won, without quarterback Drew Brees. They did it five times, in five games, last season. So entering Sunday's game against Atlanta (3-6) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Saints know exactly what must be done in order to stretch their winning streak to seven straight.
Here are a few ways they can do that:
- HANG ON: The critical thing for anyone manning the quarterback position is to make sure he doesn't turn over the football. Brees threw three interceptions in 8.5 games this season; that's not a realistic expectation of anyone – except him – over that length of time. But Taysom Hill, or Jameis Winston, and everyone else on offense have to make sure to not give Atlanta any extra possessions if possible. New Orleans was able to overcome two lost fumbles against San Francisco because it recovered two fumbles and intercepted two passes. It's hard to count on producing four turnovers every game, so the Saints have to do what's necessary to not put themselves in position to have to overcome them.
- TRUE TO FORM: Just because New Orleans will be without Brees doesn't mean the Saints will curl into the fetal position offensively. Expect the Saints to do what they do – especially at home, with almost every other offensive weapon ready for action. Hill and Winston will have available receivers Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway, tight end Jared Cook and running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. The Falcons, like every team, will want to make the Saints one-dimensional, and they allow just 99.7 rushing yards per game. Hill's versatility as a runner will help New Orleans in that area. But don't overlook the fact that Atlanta also allows the second-most passing yards per game (310.3) in the league, though that number drastically has been reduced over its last three games (260.3). The comfort for any Saints quarterback is having Kamara as an outlet in the passing game. Falcons linebacker Deion Jones is fast, and he and Kamara likely will see lots of each other.
- GET HOME: New Orleans has allowed 153 rushing yards, total, in its last three games. The Saints simply have refused to allow opponents to run. If that facet of the game is taken care of – Todd Gurley can't be ignored, but the Saints slow down everyone – and Atlanta has to turn to quarterback Matt Ryan, New Orleans has had success pressuring him over the years. It'll need to do it again Sunday. If Ryan has time, he has targets. The Saints have 10 sacks and six interceptions in the last three games, so the pass rush and coverage have been at their best. New Orleans needs to continue its trend of eliminating chunk plays and coverage busts. Opposing offenses simply aren't going to allow defensive end Cam Jordan to one-man gang them, but Trey Hendrickson (7.5 sacks), David Onyemata (three sacks, and 11 quarterback hits) and Marcus Davenport (1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits, but much more impactful than the numbers suggest) have picked up the slack.
- STAY SPECIAL: At least twice this year, in victories over Tampa Bay in the season opener and against San Francisco on Sunday, special teams play arguably has been the reason for victory. Against Tampa Bay, the unit blocked a field goal and recovered a muffed kickoff against Tampa Bay (preventing possible points, and leading directly to points). Against the 49ers, Harris had a 75-yard kickoff return that led to a field goal, and Callaway recovered muffed punts that led to New Orleans' first and last touchdowns in a 27-13 win. Recoveries and blocks aren't easy to come by, but Harris can chew up some hidden yardage and influence field position on his returns, as can punter Thomas Morstead. The Saints need all the advantages they can generate.
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