To get ready for Saturday's game, I exchanged five questions with Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles, SB Nation's New Orleans Saints blog. My answers to his questions can be found here, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. There's no doubt that what Drew Brees did this season was remarkable, but it seems all of the focus on what the Saints do well is on the passing game. What are some of their other strengths?
Their other strength is the running game. It's amazing how much it's been overlooked but I can certainly understand with what Brees has done. It probably comes as a surprise but the Saints had the sixth best rushing attack in the league this season. Thanks to an incredible rotation of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory, who are all talented in their own specific way, the Saints are able to mix it up and choose the perfect tool for the job. Of course their offensive line is incredibly talented as well. They're the reason Drew Brees has been able to accomplish so much. Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are the best guard tandem in the league.
2. On the flip side, what are some of the Saints' main weaknesses?
On defense they give up a lot of yardage. They usually seem willing to give up the short, underneath stuff in favor of protecting the big play. Offenses can nickel and dime this defense with quick passes and a heavy dose of tight end work. But the Lions will need to continue moving the ball well once in the red zone and not let the defense hold them to field goals. I hate to sound like a cocky homer but the Saints really have no weaknesses on offense. They are a pretty complete unit.
3. Since their first meeting with the Lions this season, has anything changed with the Saints in terms of injuries or personnel?
The Saints have actually been able to stay relatively healthy this season and dodged major injuries to key personnel, a welcome change from years past. The most significant would probably have to be the loss of Mark Ingram, who was placed on IR last week with turf toe. But, as mentioned earlier, the Saints have just plugged Chris Ivory into his role and kept right on moving as if nothing happened. In fact, I think Ivory is the better runner at this point. Overall, I'd say the Saints are a better team all around than they were when they first met the Lions.
4. One of the most surprising games this season was the Saints' loss to the Rams. How did that upset unfold, and what have the Saints done since then to not lose any games?
I think the Saints, who were coming off a 62-17 drubbing of the Colts, just got a little too comfortable and cocky facing an equally weak Rams team. Probably the biggest reason the Saints lost the game was the poor play of Drew Brees, who threw two interceptions in St. Louis. If Brees has a bad game, chances are good the entire offense will suffer. The Saints rely heavily on their powerful offense and when that fails them, all bets are off. But this is a smart team, and I think that was the wake up call they needed, realizing they should never take any opponent for granted. If the Saints are on their game, they're nearly unstoppable. Perhaps this is cliché, but the only thing standing in their way is themselves.
5. If you were devising a game plan to beat the Saints, what would it revolve around?
There is no doubt in my mind that the first, second and third priorities for any opponent should be to attack the hell out of Drew Brees. He needs to be hit early, often and until the very end. Brees cannot be allowed to do whatever he wants in the pocket. He's definitely prone to making mistakes and throwing bad passes; constant pressure and getting in his face can make that happen. I would also try and mix up defensive looks as much as possible. The more confusion, the better. On offense, it will be key for the Lions to convert their third down opportunities. The Saints bend but they don't break very much. They're great at shutting teams down when it matters most.
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