Saints-Giants preview: Both teams are coming off losses and need wins

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If the New Orleans Saints were a cat, they would have expended eight of their lives already. The final quarter of the season for the Saints is pretty simple. One loss and you can really begin to think about next year.

There is a slim chance at best that the season can reach the playoffs as they must first beat the Giants, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Panthers then hope a few teams lose multiple games out of the remaining four left.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning

“It is (different). This position is no fun to be in, because you feel like other people control your destiny,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of Saints lack of control playoff wise. “You always want to be in position where you’re the one who’s writing his own ticket. At times you have to battle through situations like this. There are many teams in the past that have been through situations where they have to win down the stretch and need some things to happen and sneak in. If you win four in a row going into the playoffs, you’re obviously playing some good football and that’s our goal.”

Sunday afternoon the Saints (5-7) take on the Giants (7-5) at MetLife Stadium. New York has lost three and of their last four games falling most recently to the Redskins 17-16 on Monday night football. The Saints have lost two straight but during the Sean Payton era the Saints are 3-0 against the Giants.

“They’ve done an outstanding job. They’ve scored a lot of points against us and for a while it looks like we have a chance to match but it’s never enough,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin of the Saints recent success against his team. “In those situations there, they’ve done an outstanding job putting points on the board.”

The Saints beat the Giants last year in the dome 49-24.

DE-FENCE

The defense has improved over the last month as the Saints gave up 454 yards in the win against Atlanta on November 11 while forcing an interception. Oakland the following week gained 404 yards and committed two turnovers with one being a 55-yard Malcolm Jenkins interception return for a touchdown. San Francisco had 375 yards of offense as the Saints defense forced an interception and a fumble. Last week in Atlanta, the Falcons managed just 283 yards of offense and the Saints defense forced a fumble.

The Saints defense isnt why the Saints have lost the past two games.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and defensive players all season have said that they don’t really pay attention to the number of yards given up but rather how they are playing redzone defense and if they are holding teams to field goals and not touchdowns. Limiting an 11-1 team to 283 is impressive to me especially with the weapons in the Atlanta offense. “I like the sound of that but I haven’t gotten stuck on the bad stats so I’m going to get stuck on the good ones,” Spagnuolo said when the stats of the Falcons game were brought up. “I think our guys should feel good about that.” They may not get stuck on stats but fans, media and statisticians do and the bottom line is the defense is improving.

“It’s getting better,” Vitt said this week of his defense. “I think we’ve all had this conversation the last four or five weeks with the addition of (Jonathan) Vilma getting back in there, he and Lofton getting used to one another. Our corner play has really been good, especially in man situations and our defensive line gap integrity has gotten better every week, along with some really good four man rushes we’ve had, so this is a what have you done for me lately league. What took place, two, three, four weeks ago doesn’t matter; it’s what we do this Sunday and how we perform against the World Champions in their building.”

Spags and his guys will be challenged this week as the Giants are capable of running and throwing the football when their offense is rolling. New York is 9th in the NFL in passing averaging 256.3 yards per game and 15th in the league running the football averaging 114.8 yards. “They have some of the best receivers in the game and also they got Bradshaw (Ahmad) who’s one of the best running backs and he’s tough,” says Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton. “It’s just going to take an all around effort from this defense from secondary, linebackers, defensive line all playing together as a unit.”

New York back on Monday night at Washington had 390 yards of offense but only 16 points as they were forced to settle for four field goals converting on three of them.

“Offensively, we have to take care of the ball and score when we get into the redzone,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning says of a key to winning this week. “We need to try and get touchdowns and not settle for field goals. We need to do everything we can to control the ball offensively and play smart football.”

The Saints defense has to get pressure on Manning and that’s something they’ve been able to done in the last few meetings. A key defensive players talked about this week was finishing through the play with Manning due to his ability to throw accurately and complete a play even when pressured. Vitt several times referred to Manning’s ability to throw off of his back foot. At least five defenders told me the same thing in the locker room this week so no question it’s been a point of emphasis.

PAGING BREESUS

Saints quarterback Drew Brees vows the his recent high interception rate wont effect the chances he takes.

Saints fans aren’t used to seeing quarterback Drew Brees make mistakes much less look mortal. Brees has thrown seven interceptions in the last two weeks combined and it would be hard not to say those mistakes haven’t cost the Saints a pair of wins.

It’s tough to get to upset at him since the way he takes chances and looks for big plays is a reason the Saints offense has been among the NFL’s elite offense the past few seasons.

“You stay aggressive. You stay confident. If you don’t have trust and confidence in this league as a quarterback you can’t play,” Brees said this week when asked if he needs to be more cautious with the ball. “I understand the importance of taking care of the football. I understand the percentages and the odds for teams that have it taken away and ones that protect it. The last two weeks, the amount of turnovers can’t happen. It’s something I have to fix. I’m doing my best to do that. As far as being cautious or conservative, that’s not going to happen.”

“Drew’s going to bounce back and at the end of the day if Drew’s not under pressure he doesn’t throw five interceptions,” said Saints right tackle Zach Strief of Brees’ game against the Falcons. “It’s not on Drew it’s on the offense as a whole. We all share in every one of those.”

The Giants have a very good defensive line, active linebackers and a pretty solid secondary. Vitt mentioned to reporters during the week that the Giants defense has 30 takeaways so that has been an emphasis. Brees will have to play well but the Saints must be balanced. If the game gets into a situation where Brees has to throw the ball 40 or more times for the Saints to be in the game, it’s going to be a long game.

“They are a group that you absolutely want to be able to control the tempo of a game against and try to stay in the most favorable positions as possible as an offense,” says Brees. “You get into a bunch of pass only downs, third and long situations, that plays right into their hands and strengths. I think a lot of it is just situational football and understanding the situations you want to be in. Doing the best to handle those guys and mix it up on them and that kind of thing.”

MY TAKE

Saints running back Pierre Thomas needs to be involved more.

The Giants are barely holding on to the NFC East division lead and the Saints are barely still alive when it comes to their playoff chances. Both teams have lost games recently that they could have won. New York’s ability to pressure the quarterback combined with Brees’ high interception total the last two weeks scares me.

It’s simple to me for the Saints offensively. They must be balanced somehow some way or the game will not be pretty. Strief is gutting it out at the right tackle spot with a bad groin already and if the Saints offense has to be in situations where it’s an obvious passing play then that favors the Giants and their defensive line. New Orleans has to run the football. A few healthy snaps to running back Chris Ivory would be good and pleas someone tell me where the Saints screen game has gone? Also let’s hope the staff learned from the Atlanta game that running back Pierre Thomas needs to be a part of the game plan, as only good things happen when he is involved.

Defensively, the Saints are playing better and Giants have struggled to get into the endzone when they get inside the 20 yard line. I expect New York to try and establish the run and unlike Mike Smith of Atlanta, if they get bulks of yards early, Eli Manning won’t throw the ball 30 times because they’ll stick with it.

New York is an enigma of a team as one week I feel they are good enough to reach the Super Bowl and the following one I feel they may not make the playoffs. The difference to me is the fourth quarter. The Saints this season have failed to finish while Manning has been pretty good in the final frame. I see New York pulling this one out 30-24 in a playoff style game.

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