The Saints are coming off of a huge win at home against the Los Angeles Rams, which boasted one of the most impressive defensive player collections in the league. Now, they’re set to square up with a league-bottom ranking defensive squad in what should be an “easy win”. However, there are no easy wins in the NFL so here are five things the Saints must be able to do in order to leave the Queen City 8-1, with a comfortable division lead.
1. Run the effin’ ball.
The Bengals defense may rank at the very bottom of the league in pass defense allowing 319.4 yards per game through the air, but the run game will be the key for the Saints. Weather is expected to be in the 40’s, so it’ll be a little chilly. Last time the Saints played in those conditions was November 17th against the Buffalo Bills. A game in which the Saints scored 47 points and rushed for 6 touchdowns, including one from Brees himself who didn’t throw for over 200 yards in that game. The Bengals, despite having defensive linemen like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap haven’t matched up well against this run this season at home, giving up 4.37 yards per carry throughout their 4 home games so far. The Bengals have also allowed 14 runs for over 10 yards at home, tied for 9th-most in the league. I’ll be looking for Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to each have big days out the backfield both on the ground and a bit through the air with Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil being out.
2. Force the Bengals to be one-dimensional.
The Bengals will be without some of their major receiving targets in this game. A.J. Green is out with a toe injury and Tyler Eifert’s been on Injured Reserve with a broken right ankle. That’s two of their top five receiving threats out for this game. The Bengals will also be without TE Tyler Kroft and WR Josh Malone. Meaning that they’ll be relying on WRs Tyler Boyd, John Ross, and rookie Auden Tate from FSU who may find his way to the gameday roster. Not a huge amount of talent like the Saints have defended in the past weeks. If the Saints are able force Cincy to rely on those receivers by shutting down Joe Mixon and limiting the run game as they have in each of their first eight contests this season, they’ll be in good position to run away with a victory here. My biggest concern is actually going to be rookie WR Auden Tate. The Saints tend to give up production to rookie wideouts, a criminally common and annoying occurrence. Here are the numbers for the last five rookie wideouts who have caught at least 3 passes against the Saints on their home field:
Calvin Ridley in Atlanta – 7 catches/146 yards/3 touchdowns
Chris Godwin in Tampa Bay – 7/111/1
Cooper Kupp in Los Angeles – 8/116/0
Josh Reynolds in Los Angeles – 4/37/1
Sterling Shepard in New York/NJ – 8/117/0
As long as New Orleans continues to defend the run as they have all season, Cincy will have to rely on some unreliable sources (outside of Boyd) to produce.
3. Take advantage of Cincy’s O-line.
The Saints pass rush is set for an “on” week this weekend. Three weeks ago against Baltimore, they couldn’t get to Flacco, the week after, they got four sacks on Kirk Cousins with a hampered O-line. Last week the hit Goff 5 times with no sacks, this week they’re taking on the Bengals who have allowed multiple sacks in every single game this season outside of week 2. Dalton is also terrible under pressure throwing only a 46.8 completion percentage per PFF. He has though, managed to throw 5 of his 17 touchdowns under duress as well. The Bengals will be shuffling offensive lineman this game due to Alex Redmond’s injury. He’s doubtful to play tomorrow, in which case starting Trey Hopkins will hop over to RG from Center as Billy Price assumes his role from early this season. Having a rookie up front and a Guard who played Center swapping back to Guard might provide some opportunities for interior pressure from Sheldon Rankins and Krewe
4. Keep Special Teams special
We always talk about winning at all three levels of the game, but then only really discuss offense and defense when it comes to “keys to victory” so I’m throwing in the third element today. Wil Lutz is currently 16/17 on Field Goals this season and hasn’t missed yet on the road. Meanwhile, Thomas Morstead has had multiple games this season in which his services as a punter were not required. When it comes to punters in the NFL, Morstead has the fewest punts so far this season for those who have been active for at least 8 games with only 19. A lot of Morstead’s numbers have to do with Sean Payton’s willingness to go for it on 4th down, Saints are 9 of 10 on fourth, the best percentage in the league.
5. Play a clean game.
Drew Brees threw his first interception against the Vikings two games ago but didn’t really suffer from much of a bell curve as he continued his clean play against Los Angeles. This is a game that the Saints should win but has the potential to turn into one of those “the Saints lost this game more than the Bengals won it” type of weeks. If New Orleans can execute on offense with efficiency and without coughing the ball up or giving it away on an arrant throw/tipped ball, they should cruise through Cincinnati with a W. Again, there are no easy wins in the NFL, but not having to overcome your own errors definitely makes one easier.