Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome there will be plenty of story lines to follow. The New Orleans Saints will try and pick up their first win of the season under the watchful eye of head coach Sean Payton. Saints quarterback Drew Brees can break a record held by Johnny Unitas for over 50 years. These are just two of the more important ones.
Brees, who has passed for 29, 744 yards since joining the Saints in 2006, can set the record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass on Sunday. Unitas record of 47 straight games was matched last weekend in Green Bay. The last time Brees played a game without throwing a touchdown pass was back in Oct 4, 2009 against the New York Jets.
“Watching the way he threw the ball during that era was pretty unbelievable. He really revolutionized I think the game and the quarterback position,” Brees said of the Hall of Famer. “Certainly his accomplishments speak for themselves.”
The NFL knew what they were doing when they scheduled the two teams for this week by having the Chargers be the team that Brees can break the record against. Brees was drafted by the Chargers in 2001. San Diego lost faith in Brees however and drafted Phillip Rivers in 2004 to replace him. That had to be tough situation right?
“You know what’s funny is I like Philip a lot as a person, as a quarterback, as a family guy, off the field, everything,” Brees says of Rivers. “Hey, they’re drafting him to be the quarterback of the future to take my job. I think people wanted us to be at odds. They wanted us to be adversaries. They wanted this to be a contentious relationship, and it wasn't. Listen, we were both competitive people. We both wanted to play”
Quarterback Doug Flutie was also on the roster and Brees credits his leadership in keeping the peace in the building. “We all helped one another, and yes it was competitive, but it wasn’t adversarial at all,” Brees recalls. At this time, on behalf of Saints fans I’d like to thank San Diego for giving up on Brees as he turned out to be pretty good.
The fact that Brees could set yet another record in his career would be more enjoyable if the team wasn't seeking its first win. “I think you always have to stay encouraging and certainly positive,” Brees says of the mentality the team must have right now. “It’s not where we wanted to be. Bottom line is did you win or lose and we lost. We’re 0-4. So you got to face reality a little bit.” Reality is the fact that for the Saints to reach the playoff they’ll likely have to win 10 games, the same win total of the two Wild Card teams from a year ago Atlanta and Detroit. With just a dozen games left do the math, that means the Saints will have to win 10 of the next 12 games.
Only one other team has started a season 0-4 and gone on to make the postseason. San Diego did it in 1992 by erasing the four game deficit with a season that ended at 11-5 and winning the AFC West division title.
“We have gotten better each week there’s no doubt about it in so many ways,” Brees says. “Unfortunately in a few of these games it’s been a matter of finishing. We got to finish the game the way that we know how the way that we've done many times in the past. We've had our moments throughout the course of the game and it’s never going to be perfect but when you have the opportunities to win it you got to win it.”
One way to finish stronger is to get the running game going. The Saints have rushed for just 323 yards the entire season. This week offensive players gave a handful of reasons from execution, to trusting in the run game more, to sometimes the team feels that a pass play has a better chance of success.
Saints running back Mark Ingram described the running game like line dance where if one or two people don’t know the steps it simply won’t look good. “It’s like one string one chord. The steps the line takes, the steps the runner takes but we got to know how they’re blocking, they got to know what we’re reading that’s what makes the thing go.” When asked if that case had been a problem this season for the Saints Ingram added, “We just got to be better, simple as that.”
A good number of fans have been calling for running back Chris Ivory to get a chance to play. Ivory has been inactive in all four games this season. Running back Travaris Cadet, who has been active for all the games, has not practiced this week with a shoulder injury leaving the door open for Ivory to be activated this week. “He’s healthy, he’s available. He’s working with the offense. We rotate all of our backs in. He could play at any time,” was how interim head coach Aaron Kromer responded when asked if Ivory would see playing time this week. Frankly at this point try anything.
Last Sunday in Green Bay, the Saints passing game looked much better as Brees passed for 446 yards tossing three touchdowns and more importantly zero interceptions. Receiver Marques Colston hauled in nine balls for 153 yards and a touchdown. No doubt San Diego will pay more attention to him this week especially since receiver Lance Moore didn’t practice this week with a hamstring injury. The team brought back Greg Camarillo to help out if Moore doesn’t play. It could provide an opportunity for Joe Morgan to really step up. Morgan caught an 80-yard touchdown last week in Green Bay, his first NFL score.
Speaking of receivers, Sunday is the return of Robert Meachem to the Superdome. The former Saints first round pick signed a four-year $25.9 million dollar deal to be the big reliever for the Chargers. Meachem however ranks sixth on the team in catches with just six receptions for 92 yards and zero touchdowns.
San Diego head coach Norv Turner this week told New Orleans reporters he isn’t concerned about Meachem and opportunities were there if they could have protected Rivers better. Therein lies a key this week as the Saints defense has to get to Rivers.
“I think he’s very accurate,” says Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. “He has a great understanding of his offense and what defenses are getting in. They do a good job of checking at the line of scrimmage so from that stand point he’s definitely one of the elite quarterbacks in the league.”
The Saints defense had zero sacks and zero tackles for a loss against Green Bay last week and only one quarterback hit. If those starts are even close to be the same Sunday night the Saints won’t win.
San Diego is 3-1. They won at Oakland 22-14, won at home against Tennessee 38-10 and then lost at home to Atlanta 27-3. Last week in Kansas City 6 forced turnovers led to a 37-20 win. How good are the Chargers? It’s tough to judge by the wins based on their opponents records cause if you take 4-0 Atlanta out of the mix the wins come against team with a combined record of 3-9. The Chargers are 18th in pass defense and 5th in the league at stopping the run. So is their defense good or the offenses they plays, minus Atlanta, not very good.
The Saints face a daunting task as far as the playoffs are concerned but as Brees put it this week, a winning streak can’t start until you win one. This game has to be that one. I can’t see the Saints not playing with the energy and emotion it’ll take to win this game. Sean Payton will be in the house. The game will be on national television and it’s a stage the Saints have performed well on.
I don’t see much defense in the game as Brees breaks Unitas’s record in the first quarter in a shoot out. 37-31 Saints.