Week 10 saw two impressive home winning streaks snapped. Week 11 brings those two teams together. The Bengals, 13-0-1 in their last 14 home games (regular season) had their streak snapped on Thursday night by the Cleveland Browns, while the Saints, 11-0 in their last 11 home games, fell to the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, the Saints had won 20 straight home games which were coached by Sean Payton and quarterbacked by Drew Brees. The Saints (4-5) are having a disappointing season thus far, but they are in first place in the NFC South and are one of the toughest teams in the NFL in their home stadium (see previously mentioned 20 game streak). With the way the Bengals are playing on offense and defense, they are going to have a tough time stopping the Saints from starting a new home winning streak.
Here is what to look for this Sunday when the Who-Dey Nation meets the Who-Dat Nation in the Superdome...
When the Saints Run the Ball:
Saints Run Offense: 130.2 YPG (6th); 4.7 YPA (t-3rd)
Bengals Run Defense: 143.0 YPG (31st); 4.5 YPA (27th)
While the Saints still have a potent passing attack, the 2014 version of the New Orleans Saints can run the ball as well. Thanks to injuries and the departure of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram is finally flashing the skills that won him the 2009 Heisman Trophy. In just six games, Ingram has 551 yards, six touchdowns and is tied for ninth in the NFL with an impressive 4.8 YPA. More importantly, Ingram has zero fumbles. While Ingram offers very little in the passing game (11 receptions, 67 yards), he will be a challenge for a porous Bengals run defense, which finds themselves next to last in the rankings. This may be a game of "picking your poison." I expect the Bengals to focus on stopping Drew Brees and the passing attack and hope (emphasis on hope) that the run defense can hold its own with Ingram.
When the Saints Throw the Ball:
Saints Pass Offense: 304.8 YPG (3rd); 7.5 YPA (11th); 10 INTs (t-23rd); 14 Sacks (t-6th); 95.1 Rating (8th)
Bengals Pass Defense: 548.9 YPG (20th); 6.6 YPA (t-5th); 10 INTs (t-7th); 13 Sacks (t-29th); 76.5 Rating (2nd)
In my book, there are eight wonders of the world. Number eight being the Bengals inability to cover a tight end. For 30+ years now I have been watching the Bengals and every year I am amazed at their inability to cover a tight end. Coaches have changed and players have changed, but somehow, putting on the striped helmet causes defenders to suddenly forget about the tight end and his eligibility as a pass catcher. The Bengals have managed to make a lot of tight ends look like Jimmy Graham over the years and now they face the man himself. In my opinion, Jimmy Graham is the best tight end in the game and possibly the best of all-time. Combine that with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees and the Bengals penchant for letting tight ends run wild in the secondary, and Sunday's matchup is a scary thing for Bengals fans. With Jimmy Graham, it doesn't matter that the Saints receivers are pedestrian. If I were Sean Payton, I would construct a Super Tecmo Bowl style game plan equipped with eight plays: four pass plays designed for Jimmy Graham and four run plays designed for Mark Ingram.
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Run Offense: 117.4 YPG (12th); 4.2 YPA (t-11th)
Saints Run Defense: 106.8 (t-11th); 4.2 YPA (t-15th)
Statistically the Saints look to have a decent run defense; however, they haven't played many strong running teams. The two they did play - Dallas and San Francisco - torched them on the ground for 190 yards and 144 yards respectively. While the Bengals don't exactly possess a great run offense, they have been better of late and after last week, I would be surprised if Hue doesn't learn a lesson and lean on the run game a little more. Look for Hill to have twice as many carries as he did last Thursday (12) and look for him to find some running room on those carries.
When the Bengals Throw the Ball:
Bengals Pass Offense: 222.3 YPG (21st); 7.0 YPA (t-22nd); 9 INTs (t-19th); 12 Sacks (t-3rd); 79.5 Rating (27th)
Saints Pass Defense: 259.2 YPG (24th); 7.8 YPA (t-26th); 6 INTs (t-21st); 21 Sacks (t-16th); 91.4 Rating (16th)
Pass defense is where the Saints struggle the most. However, after Dalton's "gem" last Thursday, it is debatable whether the Bengals can exploit this weakness. Lucky for Dalton and the Bengals, the Saints top corner, Keenan Lewis, looks to be out this week. Look for the Hue Jackson to try and get A.J. Green lined up on his replacements - Patrick Robinson and Corey White - early and often. Remember when Darrelle Revis went down in week 4? The Bengals immediately got A.J. on his replacement and burned the Patriots for a 17 yard touchdown. If Dalton can find his accuracy and confidence, the Bengals passing game can find some traction on this Saints defense.
Kickoff Returns: Saints - 23.4 Avg (t-17th); Bengals - 26.7 Avg (5th)
Punt Returns: Saints - 3.4 Avg (31st); Bengals - 11.8 Avg (t-5th)
Kickers: Shayne Graham: 14/15 (93.3% - 8th) - Long 50 yds; Mike Nugent: 15/21 (71.4% - t-29th) - Long 49 (1 blocked)
Punters: Saints -Thomas Morstead: NET 44.7 (3rd); Inside 20 - 10 (34.5%); TB - 3 (10.3%); Bengals - Kevin Huber: NET 45.7 (1st); Inside 20 - 18 (40.9%); TB - 3 (6.8%)
Kick Coverage: Saints - 24.8 Avg (22nd); Bengals - 26.0 Avg (25th)
Punt Coverage: Saints - 2.9 Avg (1st); Bengals - 5.1 Avg (3rd)
The Bengals keep their unprecedented streak going of having the advantage on special teams. Mike Nugent has had a strong bounce back after his Carolina failure and despite having a good season in New Orleans, I can't give Shayne Graham the advantage over anyone. Both punters are playing at an equally high level, but with Adam Jones returning kicks and punts, the Bengals have a huge advantage in the return game.
Sean Payton has 121 career games as an NFL Head Coach, a .636 career winning percentage (77-44), 3 division titles in 7 years, a 6-4 career playoff record (.600), 2 NFC Championship appearances, 1 Super Bowl and is regarded as one of the most innovative minds in football.
While Marvin Lewis has the advantage in games coached, that is it. Marvin has 186 career games as an NFL Head Coach, a .516 career winning percentage (95-89-2), 3 division titles in 11 years, and an impressive (in a negative way) 0-5 playoff record. For those of you counting at home, that is a playoff winning percentage of .000.
Key to the Game:
Containing Jimmy Graham. Despite Dalton's play last Thursday, I still think he and the offense will find room to make plays against what I believe is a below average defense. However, the Bengals cannot afford to turn the ball over and must contain Graham. The Bengals struggles with tight ends are well documented and Graham is arguably the best ever. If the Bengals can't contain Graham, the Bengals defense will not be able to get off the field and Sunday will be a hard day in the "Big Easy."
Both teams have been disappointing thus far in 2014 and both teams need this win badly. Prior to the season, I predicted this game as a loss for the Bengals because the Saints don't lose at home with Payton and Brees (unless a phantom offensive PI is called). I am going to stick with my original prediction, but I do see it as a high scoring entertaining game.
Saints 38, Bengals 34