It’s pretty amazing what the 2015 New Orleans Saints are capable of when you think about it. They start the season 0-3, then after a win, lose but then rattle off three straight wins and yet with one loss have fans feeling like they did a month ago.

The Saints (4-5) are currently two games back of Atlanta for the final wild card spot. I know playoffs how can I even say the word. Well after three wins in a row the possibility became a possibility. Sunday the Washington Redskins (3-5) host the Black and Gold in a game that is important to them in a Division that has no one running away with it.

Let’s get one thing clear though as we went through this last season where the Saints started out slow, got to .500 and then sputtered towards the end of the season. Inconsistency on offense and a porous defense was their undoing in 2014 and are the culprits this season and will be the reasons the Saints miss the playoffs yet again.

I get it, numbers wise the Saints offense looks spectacular with New Orleans the top offense in the league. That’s great but when the offense can’t pick up first downs or score more than seven points in the second half it does the team no good. That said scoring in the high 20s and even 30s should be enough to win a game. That’s where the defense comes in where they are at the bottom of the league in pretty much every category and 31st overall.

This is still a team learning what it takes to win. Defensive end Cam Jordan said the defense is still unfortunately in the “taking some lumps” mode as they continue to learn how to play with one another thanks to the many new faces.

Sunday’s game is between two teams that looking to take that next step out of mediocrityville.  Only seven games remain and considering that realistically you’d have to be 9-7 perhaps even 10-6 to get in as a wild card, teams with five losses like the ones playing Sunday know there is very little room for more losing.

HOW THE SOUTH IS WON

Carolina          8-0      @ Tennessee       +5.5

Atlanta            6-3      Bye Week

New Orleans  4-5      @ Redskins            Even

Tampa Bay     3-5      vs Dallas                Even

STORYLINES

The storylines to me this week is how will the team rebound and more importantly will the defense continue to hemorrhage yards and points.

It was interesting this week that the Titans loss was still lingering on the minds of many players on Wednesday, the team’s first day of work on the next opponent. The common reasoning was that each game is precious and when you are trying to battle back from and 0-3 start and two teams in your division are two and four games ahead of you, losing a game you should have won hurts.

Normally it could be concerning that days after a loss the team is still harping on a lost opportunity but in this case I don’t think it’s entirely a bad thing. A hangover effect would be where the team would be down and out, but it feels more like a team that still believes they can win games but simply blew it. QB Drew Brees said this week he believes the Saints will have play one of their best games and pull out all of the stops to get a win this week as they face an opponent whose defense is not bad and like to take shots down the field. Perhaps the fear of losing two straight heading into the bye week and falling to 4-6 with six games to play will make sure the right amount of focus is there inside the locker room.

The other story line is the defense. Safety Jairus Byrd had to joke this week when asked about why the team has good 3rd down numbers yet gives up chunks of yards and points. Byrd like many of you probably know the reason is because teams are having tons of success on first and second downs and don’t need third down.

Look, 899 yards and 83 points is what the defense has given up the last two games combined. One of those games the team scored 49 points and IT WASN’T ENOUGH. It’s defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s fault. It’s senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen’s fault. It’s Sean Payton’s fault. The players, it’s their fault. In truth, all share in the blame but at this point just figure it out. Missed assignments and first down causing penalties are inexcusable at this point. Either fix it or the coaches must sit players for those that can play without being called for a hold or know where the heck they are supposed to be.

THE ENEMY

Washington is coming off of 27-10 loss at New England last week where the game got away early. The Pats had a pair of touchdowns with Washington having just run one play from scrimmage. The 27 points scored by the Patriots were a season low and head coach Jay Gruden’s team have not lost more than two in a row this season and it’s happened only once.

QB Kirk Cousins is 5-12 as a starter for Washington and has tossed 10 TDs and 9 INTs this season but this week several Saints players and head coach Sean Payton talked about his ability to push the ball down the field thanks to a strong arm.  Washington also is getting healthy as on Thursday everyone practiced for the first time this season.

Washington have won their last three home contests and are looking for their first four game home winning streak since the 2012 season. The Redskins are one game above last place Dallas a game back of Philadelphia and three wins behind NFC East Division leading New York.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Saints offense is ranked 6th in points at 26.8 a game getting there averaging 421.7 (1st) yards a game via 326.7 (2nd) in the air and just 95.0 (25th) yards on the ground. Washington’s offense is averaging 19.8 (29th) points a game by gaining 329.0 (29th) yards on average getting there by averaging 237.8 (20th) yards through the air and 91.2 (27th) on the ground.

Defensively the Saints are giving up 29.8 (31st) points a game while allowing 414.8 yards (31st). Teams are passing for 292.2 (30th) yards and rushing for 122.6 (25th) against the Saints. The Redskins are giving up 24.4 (17th) points a game while allowing 372.9 (21st) yards.  Teams are passing for 240.4 (9th) yards and rushing for 132.5 (29th) against them.

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE

Running back Mark Ingram. The Saints have got to get the running game to be more consistent and get production out of it. The obvious reason is it will help open up the passing game and big play opportunities. A side effect of a good ground game is it keeps a bad defense on the sidelines. Ingram had just 54 yards on 22 carries last week against the Titans

PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE

Defensive end Cam Jordan. Jordan spent most of his time with the local media on Wednesday talking about how the lack of a pass rush against Marcus Mariota was their fault and something the defensive line needed to fix. The challenge is real this week seeing that last week the Titans lead the league in sacks given up and this week the Saints face a line that has allowed only nine all season.

X FACTORS

Running back C.J. Spiller. Spiller had three touches last week against the Titans. 3. Head coach Sean Payton explained it as it was a case of blitz pick ups and Ingram is the better of the two in protection. Brees explained it as well. Ingram has earned the right to be the featured back. Stop it. You’re paying. $4.5 million to him, that’s more than the $4 million you’re paying Ingram. It’s not understandable to me how a player that was billed as a dynamic pass catcher out the backfield and could provide help on the ground as well doesn’t get a touch in the fourth quarter of a game you’re in a battle in.

HOW I SEE IT

The Saints should be playing for a fifth straight win. They are better than Tennessee, but then again, no they are not. Penalties, inconsistent play by the offense where they produce points and yards one second then struggle to pick up one first down, and a defense that is inconceivably bad at times. I believe the Saints are as good if not a better team than Washington.  Then again both team have lost five times this season for a reason.

I see this game almost as a battle of wills. Both teams are alive for the postseason remarkably. New Orleans is two back of the final spot and so are the Redskins for the division lead. Both teams can ill afford to lose many more. Washington’s defense kept Tom Brady and the Patriots to a modest 27 points on the road. Brees and the Saints offense are struggling to run the ball but have moved it through the air. The defense is the defense. Sigh. I feel like it’s a loss but for some reason believe the Saints are a better team, slightly, and will pick up an ugly 24-23 win.

 

***Catch the New Orleans Saints on 97.3 The Dawg starting with the pre-game at 10am followed by the kick-off at noon.***