A balanced offense led by MVP candidate Drew Brees, astute and aggressive play calling from Head Coach Sean Payton and complimentary defense guided the New Orleans Saints to a 13-3 record, the first seed in the NFC and, now, on the cusp of another Super Bowl.
After losing their week one clash against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the most surprising fashion, on the end of a 48-40 shootout loss at a time when the Bucs seemed in disarray, New Orleans ripped through the rest of their schedule as they won ten in a row. Including knocking off the then 8-0 Los Angeles Rams, which will provide a gentle reminder that they can, and have, beaten the team that stands between them and a trip to Atlanta.
While their opposition on Sunday get many of the plaudits for unstoppable offensive football, the Saints have not been shy in in piling on the points, either. The Saints scored 40 or more points on five occasions throughout the regular season, including the 45 they hung on the Rams in week nine.
On that day a 21-point second quarter blew away Sean McVay’s squad as Brees put Wade Phillips’ defense to the sword as he threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns.
The Rams would tie the game at 35-35 before a ten point fourth quarter finished the game. Michael Thomas’ 72-yard catch and run for a touchdown icing the contest. Thomas ripped through the LA secondary with 12 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown, most of that with Marcus Peters in coverage.
Peters sewed the seeds for Sunday’s game during his post-match interview after his rough outing with the former Kansas City Chief having some strong words for Payton.
“Tell Sean Payton keep talking that s**t, we going to see him soon. Because I like what he was saying on the sidelines too, so tell him to keep talking that s**t and I hope he sees me soon, you feel me? And then we’ll have a good, nice little bowl of gumbo together.”Marcus Peters after the Rams 45-35 loss to New Orleans
New Orleans are possibly the most balanced team left in the postseason. As well as their powerhouse offense, the defense has played complimentary football all season. While statistically they are middling – apart from ranking second against the run allowing 80.2 yards per game – the Saints defense held opponents to under 20 points eight times, nine if you include their 20-14 Divisional win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nick Foles sent the reigning champions into an early 14-0 lead in New Orleans, but that would be as good as it got. led by All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan and All-Pro cornerback Marshon Lattimore they shut down the Eagles for the next three quarters forming the backbone of the comeback victory. Thomas was equally important on offense with his 12 receptions, 171 yards and a touchdown.
Their triumph came at a cost, though. Sheldon Rankins will be missing with a ruptured Achilles, which will hurt the interior pass rush and against one of the best offensive lines in the league that could be an issue.
It is their other line which is possibly the most cause for concern. Not hitting the heights of earlier in the season Brees has been bothered by pass rush in the last month. Facing the best defensive player in the NFL in Aaron Donald and the cast of stars on the defensive line will be a daunting prospect. However, the safety valve of All-Pro tandem Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram can help keep the defense off balance and keep Brees upright.
Their Super Bowl drought is a decade long and their MVP level QB has just turned 40-years-old. McVay has rightly caught a lot of attention for his remarkable work in Los Angeles, but the old guard are on a quest for their second title and keep the young bucks in line.