8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Saints -9, Over/Under: 46
A pair of teams traveling full speed in opposite directions meet tonight in the Big Easy as the New Orleans Saints play host to the struggling Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football from Mercedes-Benz Superdome, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Though it took them a good, long minute to get to this point, this is about what we expected from the Colts (6-7, 3rd in AFC South), who after a promising 5-2 start have seen their season go off the rails, losing five of their last six outings. Allow us to reiterate, folks: this was always going to be a difficult season for Indianapolis who has incurred a wealth of adversity beginning before the term even began. Of course, we’re referring to the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck, their Franchise Quarterback who had just returned from an injury that kept him out for the entire 2017 Season, leading the club to their first Playoff Appearance since 2014 en route to earning the league’s Comeback Player of the Year honors. With a healthy Luck back in the proverbial saddle, and a young, talented roster rebuilt under the collective vision of General Manager, Chris Ballard, and Head Coach, Frank Reich, BIG things were expected of the Colts in 2019. However, news of Luck’s shocking retirement emerged during Halftime of a Week Three Preseason Tilt, leaving the organization scrambling for solutions. Backup Quarterback, Jacoby Brissett (63.2%, 2,496 YDS, 6.23 NY/A, 18 TD, 6 INT, 54.0 QBR), who performed admirably in Luck’s absence, was promptly inked to a long-term contract, with the hopes that he would be able to keep the skip headed in the right direction. With three games left to go, it’s debatable if that is actually the case. In twelve starts, Brissett hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t necessarily been great either, completing 63.2% of his Attempts for an average of 208.0 yards per Game on 6.23 Net Yards per Attempt, with Eight Touchdowns in comparison to Six Interceptions, while posting a QBR of 54.0. While those figures are a clear improvement over his performance as the Starter two years ago, it must be taken into account that the roster as a whole has been enhanced greatly, particularly the Offensive Line. An MCL Sprain suffered Midseason cost him two games, and from the looks of things, continues to hamper today; since leaving the field in a narrow 24-26 loss at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 27-Year Old has gone on to complete just 60.77% of his Attempts for an average of 181.2 Yards on 6.56 Net Yards per Attempt, with Four Touchdowns and Three Interceptions and a Passer Rating of 82.4, with the Colts going a meager 1-4 in the process. While we can certainly make the argument that his predecessor enhanced the level of play of his Supporting Cast as much as they in turn helped him, the same can’t really be said in his case, though he’s been far from the only Colt to suffer from injuries. One of the most dangerous vertical threats in the league, T.Y. Hilton (35 REC, 378 YDS, 10.8 Y/R, 5 TD), has been relegated to just Seven Games in 2019, courtesy of a lingering calf strain that has relegated him to a career-low 10.8 Yards per Reception. Third-Year Tailback, Marlon Mack (205 CAR, 900 YDS, 4.4 Y/C, 5 TD), returned after suffering a partially broken hand that cost him two games, while last year’s leader in Touchdown Receptions (13), Tight End Eric Ebron (31 REC, 375 YDS, 12.1 Y/R, 3 TD), made just two starts this season before landing on Injured Reserve due to both of his ankles requiring surgery. Furthermore, Devin Funchess (3 REC, 32 YDS, 10.7 Y/R, 0 TD), whom the team acquired via Free Agency, has missed all but one game this season with a broken collarbone. And then there is the Defense, which is currently experiencing their own problems in the Secondary, with Free Safety, Malik Hooker (47 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 2 INT, 3 PD), and Rookie Cornerback, Rock Ya-Sin (45 TKL, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 1 INT, 4 PD), both Questionable with foot and ankle injuries, while fellow Defensive Back, Kenny Moore (61 TKL, 4 TFFL, 4 QBH, 2.5 SK, 1 FR, 2 INT, 3 PD), out for tonight’s affair with an ankle malady of his own. It’s gotten so serious in Indianapolis, that Reich has kept the likes of veteran Edge-Rusher, Justin Houston (39 TKL, 12 TFL, 15 QBH, 9.0 SK, 1 FF, 3 FR), Defensive Tackle, Denico Autry (31 TKL, 3 TFL, 11 QBH, 3.5 SK, 1 FF, 4 PD), and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Darius Leonard (92 TKL, 6 TFL, 6 QBH, 5.0 SK, 2 FF, 4 INT, 1 TD, 6 PD), out of practice just to given them some rest down the stretch. Further compounding their injury crisis has been ageless Place Kicker, Adam Vinatieri, who just this week hit Injured Reserve undergoing surgery on his knee, possibly bringing an end to the career of arguably the most decorated Kicker in NFL History. When we last saw them, the Colts blew a 35-21 lead at Tampa Bay en route to relinquishing a season-high 542 Total Yards, including 474 Yards through the air courtesy of Buccaneers Quarterback, Jameis Winston. Though the visitors managed to intercept him three times, with the aforementioned Leonard returning one Eighty Yards for a score late in the Second Quarter, they could do little else to prevent the hosts from torching them downfield, particularly in the Second Half, where the Bucs ran off Seventeen Unanswered Points to steal a 38-35 victory. In this case, Indianapolis simply isn’t built to keep up with an opponent like this, with their Four Turnovers proving to be the only thing that was keeping the affair close. The visiting side managed just 309 Total Yards Sixteen First Downs, rushing for just Sixty-Six Yards, their second-lowest output of the term, while struggling on Third Down to convert a disappointing 6-of-16. Brissett completed 19-of-36 Passes for 251 Yards and Two Touchdowns, with the unheralded Marcus Johnson (12 REC, 207 YDS, 17.3 Y/R, 2 TD), hauling in Three Passes for 103 Yards and a score. Reich will no doubt rue his side’s failure to close this one out, for after taking a 14-Point Lead midway through the Third Quarter, they managed just Forty-Four Yards n their final Four Drives of the day, with the last three ending with a Lost Fumble, followed by a missed Field Goal, and lastly on Downs.
Meanwhile, Indianapolis isn’t the only team that’s lamenting missed opportunities, for after last weekend’s epic 46-48 loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers, the Saints (10-3, 1st in NFC South) are once again raging at none other than the Officials. It’s becoming rather standard fare to watch Sean Payton speak his mind (or not) about the officiating following his team’s performance, with a fairly pivotal Pass Interference that was not called once again changing the outcome of the game. Trailing 33-35 with just over a minute left to play in the Third Quarter, Payton attempted a Trick Play on 4th & 18, in which the team’s Third String Quarterback and proverbial Swiss-Army Knife, Taysum Hill (35 Touches, 266 YDS, 7.6 Y/T, 5 TD), launched a deep pass towards the boundary intended for Receiver, Tre’Quan Smith (11 REC, 144 YDS, 13.1 Y/R, 3 TD), who mugged by a San Francisco Defensive Back. On a Trick Play the likelihood of that contact drawing the requisite laundry was pretty slim, though it definitely proved crucial to the game’s outcome, for the visitors recovered possession and immediately marched down the field en route to breaching the End Zone once again. New Orleans would battle on, eventually taking a slim 46-45 lead with one minute left to play in the contest as Drew Brees (73.6%, 2,140 YDS, 7.18 NY/A, 17 TD, 4 INT, 73.0 QBR) found the aforementioned Smith for an 18-Yard Touchdown. However, the Niners would drive downfield once more, converting a HUGE 4th & 2 as tight End, Geroge Kittle, reeled in a pass down the sideline from Quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, carrying a Saints Defender Thirty-Nine Yards with him, setting up a 30-Yard Field Goal from veteran Place Kicker, Robbie Gould, to end one of the most entertaining games in recent memory. In the end, the Saints totaled 465 Yards of Offense on Twenty-Eight First Downs, with Brees completing 29-of-40 Passes for 349 Yards and a season-high Five Touchdowns. Pro-Bowl Receiver, Michael Thomas (121 REC, 1,424 YDS, 11.8 Y/R, 7 TD), continued his prolific campaign with Eleven Receptions for 134 Yards and a Touchdown, while veteran Tight End, Jared Cook (34 REC, 523 YDS, 15.4 Y/R, 6 TD), went off early with Sixty-Four Yards and a pair of Touchdowns before exiting the field of play after taking a nasty shot to the head following the second score. Versatile Tailback, Alvin Kamara (206 Touches, 1,074 YDS, 5.2 Y/T, 2 TD), though was rendered as little more than a decoy, managing just Forty-Three Yards from Scrimmage on Nineteen Touches. However, it was an absolutely dismal showing from a Defense that had appeared to have put these disasters well behind them, as the hosts were throttled for a total of 516 Yards of Offense, including 162 Rushing Yards on Twenty-Four Carries and another 384 Yards through the air. Garoppolo matched Bress tit for tat, completing 26-of-35 Passes for 349 Yards, Four Touchdowns and an Interception, while veteran Receiver, Emmanuel Sanders, hauled in Seven Receptions for 157 Yards and a Touchdown, while also getting into the Trick Play field himself, launching a 35-Yard Touchdown to Tailback, Raheem Mostert. Even aided by Ten Penalties for a loss of Sixty-Seven Yards, the Saints could do little to stop the bleeding at the Superdome, as San Francisco relentlessly moved the football, scoring on eight of their eleven drives, six of which ended in Touchdowns. When it was all said and done, New Orleans’ Forty-Six Points were the franchise’s most ever scored in a loss, which in most cases is certainly enough to win the day. And now we’re going to explain why that loss was so pivotal for the Saints, who coming into that affair were in possession of the No. One Overall Seed in the loaded NFC. The only team within the conference to have clinched their Division, New Orleans climbed into the top spot after San Francisco’s loss on the road at Baltimore two weeks ago, and on the strength of their head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seattle Seahawks. However, that defeat now sees them tumble to the Third Seed, which doesn’t carry the luxury of a First Round Bye and will likely set up a date with either those Seahawks or the Minnesota Vikings. It also means that they’ll have to hit the road in the next round, potentially setting up a rematch with the Niners, this time in Santa Clara. Needless to say, few teams enjoy a greater home field advantage than this team, who in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees Era have gone 6-1 in the Playoffs at the Louisiana Superdome, opposed to a 2-5 away from it, with one of them being their triumph in Super Bowl XLIV which was played on a neutral field. One can’t help but feel that this season could be last chapter in this successful run for the franchise beginning back in 2006. Together, Brees and Payton have gone 130-83 (.610) with Six NFC South Titles, Eight Postseason Births, and a Super Bowl Championship (2009) to their credit, but given the veteran’s age (40) and the fact that he missed five games earlier this season with torn ligaments in his right thumb, along with the imminent conclusion of his contract, we could be seeing the last days of a Hall of Fame Quarterback. Given how their last two postseason runs have ended in infamy, particularly last year’s debacle NFC Championship Game, time is running out for this group to win one more Lombardi Trophy, and while they briefly controlled their own destiny, they’ll have to rely on a little bit of help in order to enjoy some extended home-cooking come January.