Fans of the New Orleans Saints have been feeling pretty good in recent days over the team's 2-game winning streak and its performance by their defense; which has bounced back strongly with 2 very solid performances in successive weeks, after a rough start in their opening 2 losses.
However, any type of small scale celebration may prove to be short-lived.
The reason behind the party's cancellation?
Up next for the Saints defense after this Sunday's Bye, they get to face 2 of the very best QB's in the entire NFL: Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford at the Superdome on October 15th, before a road trip the following week to the legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin --- to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
It goes without saying, that we'll get a real assessment of just how "good" or not this young Saints defense really is, after the next 2 games.
If Saints fans thought the team's resurgent defense has been "tested" in any way during the first 4 games against Sam Bradford, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Jay Cutler, then they're about to be TRULY TESTED by Stafford and Rogers.
Stafford has led the Lions to a (3-1) start to the season, and has thrown for a total of 887 yards with 7 TD's and only 1 interception on the season.
Rodgers meanwhile is 3rd in the NFL in passing yards (1,146) and is tied for the League lead with Brady in TD passes (10), along with 3 interceptions for the (3-1) Packers.
While the Saints will be enjoying the day off this Sunday, the Lions will host the Panthers at home (Ford Field) this Sunday; while the Packers travel to Dallas (AT&T Stadium) to face the Cowboys in the NFL's premiere nationally-televised match-up of the upcoming weekend.
Though it's a certainty that the Saints will have their hands full with both Stafford and Rodgers, the wins over Carolina and Miami were still a reason to be optimistic about their chances.
As New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill observed in his film study the other day, New Orleans did not allow any deep passes in the win over the Dolphins in London.
Miami QB Jay Cutler only attempted one deep throw late in the second half, and it fell incomplete. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton completed just one of his three deep ball attempts the week before.
Underhill says that contrast that with the two previous games in the losses to the Vikings and the Patriots, where Tom Brady completed four deep passes and Sam Bradford connected on five.
Underhill notes that the Saints defense seems to be starting to figure out some of its issues, but the real story will get told over the next two games against Stafford and Rodgers.
One of the reasons for the defense's noticeable improvement from the past 2 weeks after the embarrassment of the first 2 games: a better performance by the secondary, which in turn has allowed the defensive line to have a markedly improved pass rush.
Underhill adds that one of the benefits of better coverage is that it allows the pass rushers more time to finish their task. New Orleans was able to generate pressure 16 times against Cutler and produced four sacks.
Whether or not they can have similar success in the next 2 games, will likely determine how they'll fare in what may be the last actual stretch of "tough games" on the Saints 2017 season schedule. After facing the two NFC Playoff contenders in Detroit and Green Bay, the schedule lightens up considerably for the Saints.
It's more than fair to say that if the Saints defense can manage to help the team get a "split" these next 2 weeks against the Lions and Packers; and be (3-3) heading into a home game against the Bears in Week #8, the Saints could have an opportunity to contend for a Playoff spot if they can manage to win more times than they lose in their final 10 games.
One reason to be encouraged: the Saints defense is now ranked 11th overall in the NFL after 4 weeks in points allowed, having yielded a total of 78 points, or 19.5 per game.
The New Orleans Saints are 11th in points allowed per game after 4 weeks. Yeah like really
— Ralph Malbrough (@SaintsForecast) October 2, 2017
If that trend were to continue though it will be difficult with the Lions and Packers coming up, it certainly is a recipe for continued success.
New Orleans has finished 20th or better in points allowed just five times in the 11 seasons of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era, and they qualified for the Playoffs in every single one of those 5 seasons — averaging a total of 12 wins, with the worst being a (10-6) record in 2006 and 2010.
How they fare against Stafford and Rodgers, will go a long way in determining if they can add a 6th Playoff season to that track record.
The Saints are (3-3) all-time against Stafford, but they've lost to Stafford for 3 straight seasons dating back to 2014. Meanwhile, they're (2-2) all-time against Rodgers, though they did get a win over Rodgers the last time that they faced him in 2014 at the Superdome.
Since Rodgers became the Packers starting QB in 2008, the Saints are (2-0) against him at the Superdome -- but are (0-2) at Lambeau Field in Green Bay; where they'll be this time for the game in 2 weeks.
It goes without saying that the odds appear to be stacked against the Saints and their chances for beating either QB; but in a season that's already been full of surprises so far in the first 4 weeks, it would be foolish to count the Saints out of any possibility at this point.
One thing that is certain: the Saints defense is about to get TRULY TESTED in the next 2 games; and whether or not they get a "passing grade" against two of the NFL's "elite" QB's, will have a lot to how they will eventually end up, once the curtain draws to a close on the 2017 regular season.......