The Denver Broncos (6-3) will take on the New Orleans Saints (4-4) tomorrow afternoon. It will be the eleventh time the two franchises have faced off, and their first meeting since 2012 when the Broncos defeated the Saints at home 34-14.
Denver has one eight of the ten meetings between the two teams, but all of that is just history. What matters more than anything is tomorrow's match-up, a "Battle in the Bayou" the Broncos must win if they want to stay in the race for the AFC West crown and a potential playoff spot.
The Saints, let by Drew Brees boast the NFL's best offense in yards per game (434.5), and the second best offense in regard to points per game (30.2). After being decimated by Oakland's offense last game, the Broncos' defense will look to rebound and improve against the Saints this weekend — which will be a tough task. The team will have Kayvon Webster back from injury, but two of their best players, Derek Wolfe and Aqib Talib will not play this weekend, which could cause a myriad of problems and hurt their ability to stop the run and the pass.
Over the past five years, it hasn't been often that the Broncos have been called the "underdog" in many games, but I certainly feel that their poor play as of late, coupled with a road game against a formidable opponent, that such designation is merited. The Broncos will need to play a mistake free football game and a darn near perfect outing on defense to escape the bayou with a win on Sunday.
Without further adieu, here is a closer look at the Saints.
A Concern for New Orleans - Despicable Defensive Effort
It seems like every week, the Broncos are facing an opponent whose defense ranks near last in almost every major category. Last week against the Raiders was a prime example, but the blunder-filled Broncos' offense wasn't able to take advantage of their woes, and were soundly defeated in the Black Hole.
The Saints defense is the third worst in the NFL. They give up nearly 30 points per contest (29.8 to be exact), over 400 yards (408.5) and have the league's worst pass defense (giving up 300 yards per game) and a middle of the road run defense that allow opposing backs to run for 108.5 yards per contest.
Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison have earned the wealth of criticism myself and the other staff writers here at Mile High Report have given them since the loss to Oakland. If they can't concoct a game plan that can take advantage of one of the league's worst defenses, the Broncos are in for a world of trouble on Sunday and in my eyes, significant changes will have to be made at coaching positions if that is the case.
Trevor Siemian has a chance to prove he is the man to lead the Broncos into battle for the rest of the season if he has a good game on Sunday. An average game won't suffice. If he isn't capable of taking advantage of a rather opportune situation, he belongs on the bench and should have his captaincy stripped and should be replaced by Paxton Lynch.
Saints defense is God awful, so if Trevor Siemian can't put up points against them, it's time to move on.— Kyle Banks (@kylebanks) November 7, 2016
It takes a grand amount of stubbornness and naivety to be fine with the status quo. For whatever reason, Kubiak seems complacent with what has gone on with the offense to date. However, I certainly am not and the fans deserve to see better than what they are getting on a week to week basis.
Look for the Broncos to get their ground game going early against the Saints, and then open up their passing attack once it is established. This is a game where the teams' offense should be able to score easily and often. There is no margin for error and there is no more room for excuses. Get the job done.
The X-Factor for New Orleans - Drew Brees
In his sixteenth season, Drew Brees is playing as good as he ever has. Like a fine wine, he seems to only be getting better with age. Through eight games he has thrown for just under 2,700 yards, 21 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. He is on pace to replicate his best seasons ever (2010 and 2011) and is deserving of NFL MVP Honors with his performance to date.
Brees is efficient and deadly with the football in his hands. For his entire career, he has shown the poise and precision to pick apart even the best of defenses with his strong arm and high football IQ. If the stats above aren't enough to convince you how big of an X-Factor he is, how about this little tidbit: Drew Brees ranks third in the NFL with a quarterback rating of 124.3 on third downs, only behind Tom Brady and Jimmy Garopollo of the New England Patriots.
What does that mean? It means he is absolutely clutch when it matters most, and the Broncos' defense has struggled immensely this year on third downs. ProFootballFocus has him graded out as the fifth best quarterback of the season, trailing the aforementioned Brady, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.
It isn't likely that the Broncos defeat the Saints in a shootout, so there will be a tremendous amount of pressure for the defense to step up their play and get after Brees as much as possible. They can't afford to start off slow and allow points like they have for most of the year, and they certainly can't make costly errors and mistakes in key situations.
Key Matchup's to Watch
Von Miller vs. Zach Strief
There is no question that Von Miller is one of, if not the best pass rushers in the league, but this week he will be going up against a high-caliber right tackle in Zach Strief. Strief, in his eleventh season, has only allowed one sack thus far in his 2016 campaign. Miller will have to get creative and put together one of his best games of the year if he wants to have a shot at rattling and sacking Brees on Sunday afternoon.
Denver's Wide Receivers vs. New Orleans' Secondary
As mentioned earlier, the Saints' pass defense is atrocious, allowing 300 yards per game through the air. They haven't had any ability to stop opposing wide receivers to date. Receivers are averaging 8.3 yards per catch against them and over 38 percent of all pass plays have for first downs. They've allowed 31 catches for 20 or more yards, and 7 catches for 40 or more yards.
Can Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas consistently win their match-ups against Sterling Moore and Delvin Breaux? They will have to in order to help give them enough momentum on offense to have a shot at defeating the Saints. Denver needs both Sanders and Thomas to show up in a big way on Sunday.
I'm absolutely nervous about this game. I've lost complete faith in our coaching staff's ability to gameplan and have little confidence that our offense, despite having a favorable match-up can do enough to deliver a victory over the Saints. Having Talib and Wolfe out on defense won't help matters either, and could be enough of a detriment to allow their Brees led offense to run roughshod all game long.
The Saints will defend their home territory and defeat the Broncos on Sunday, dropping our beloved franchise to 6-4 before our bye week. If the prediction pans out, expect some big changes for the Broncos during the bye week, in particular, a change at quarterback.
Saints, 30. Broncos, 27.