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Defense Set to Face Elite Saints Offense
The New Orleans Saints may be winless on the season, but their offense has continued to be as prolific as ever. Heading into the game, they rank eighth in total offense with 401.5 yards per game, third in passing with 320.8 ypg and 10th in points per game, averaging 27.5.
Appropriately, the Chargers aren’t taking the Saints lightly.
“If you watch a series of plays, it’s the same guys doing a lot of the same things at a real high level,” said head coach Norv Turner. “They are probably six plays away from being undefeated. That’s just this league. They lost last week by a point and they could have obviously made a field goal and won the game. The week before they were against Kansas City, and (the Chiefs) made plays to get into overtime and kick a field goal to beat them. They’re as explosive an offense as there is in the league. They have a lot of guys that can line up on offense and beat you at any given play.”
Leading the way is Drew Brees, who has thrown for over 300 yards in three of the season’s first four games, recording 1,350 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in the process.
“He’s such a good quarterback, and the things they do offensively are just so much,” said defensive coordinator John Pagano. “We really have to be sharp in what we do and be fundamentally sound. We have to go out and play within the scheme, but also try to affect the quarterback. That’s what we have to do defensively.”
Tight end Jimmy Graham has been Brees’ go-to target so far this season, snaring 24 catches for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Charged with defending him for the most part will be strong safety Atari Bigby, who relishes the opportunity to go up against one of the game’s premiere tight ends.
“Tight ends are game changers and they can pose matchup problems for defenses,” said Bigby, who leads the team in tackles with 32. “With Jimmy, they spread him around and things like that. But those are things that we’ve seen throughout the season. Hopefully we’ll be where we’re supposed to be. It’s a mentality that I’m going out there and I’m going to get the job done… All passing offenses pose a problem. They can score quickly and they’re explosive. But as a defense, that’s your dream because at the end of the day you get paid to defend the pass.”
According to Pagano, having his defense go up against a diverse and talented quartet of tight ends all year long in practice has helped his team prepare to keep Graham in check.
“The best work that we’ve gotten is always in OTA’s and training camp, having the ability to go against Antonio Gates, Ladarius (Green), Randy McMichael and Dante Rosario,” said Pagano. “We have more tight ends on this team that guys have gotten great looks, but nobody that tall. The way he goes and gets the ball and goes after it, we’re going to have to play with really good technique. But the work we got throughout the training camp and what not, it will pay off for us.”
Former Charger Darren Sproles has been equally as lethal as Graham in the passing game, grabbing 23 balls for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Bolts know firsthand how dangerous he can be, but they also know how best to bottle him up after seeing a variety of defensive game plans against him over the years.
“I think what you do is take what people did to us,” said Turner. “The longer he was here we saw different things that people did to us that were effective. You look at your tapes of the games where people were effective against him and see how they managed and handled it. You know he’s going to get his plays, but we’ll try to keep him from getting the ball out in space where he makes big plays...When that ball’s kicked off, we’ve got to find a way to slow him down, to stop him and find a way to get the ball away from him. We’ve got to do whatever we can do to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Should they manage to shut down these three explosive players, the Chargers have a good shot at grabbing their fourth win of the season.