The New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers battled for four quarters, and like many of their matchups in recent memory, it was physical and came down to the wire. And like many Saints games that came down to the wire, Drew Brees would drive his team down the field in the closing minutes, and with no time remaining, Garrett Harley booted-in the game-winning field goal to give them the win and remain firmly atop the NFC South division with a game against the Atlanta Falcons coming this Thursday night.
After a disastrous 2012 campaign marred by the bountygate scandal and the loss of their Head Coach Sean Payton, the Saints are once again among the NFL’s elite and a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The reason being is their dominance through the air, as they have arguably the league’s best passing offense and defense.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, a team’s ability to pass the ball effectively while preventing their opponents from doing just that will win you a lot of games, and more often than not, will make you a Super Bowl contender, at least, if you do it as well as the Saints have done.
Not only do they rank second in the NFL in passing yards per game, but they also rank third in opposing passing yards per game. They are also tied for sixth in the league with 32 sacks this year, and their defensive resurgence is because of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s arrival.
His diverse schemes and multiple-formation packages keep opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators constantly guessing. Just this past Sunday, the Saints started the game in a package that included three linemen, five linebackers and just three defensive backs. It was a new package they implemented for the first time this past week as a way to combat the 49ers’ unique style of “scheme runs,” as well as the possibility that San Francisco might run some read-option.
After the previous two 49ers-Saints matchups saw San Fran run-wild on New Orleans, the Saints defense held the 49ers to a total of 196 yards and 81 rushing yards. Not to mention both of the 49ers’ touchdowns came on short fields after turnovers.
And to top it all off, the Saints defense has gone from setting a NFL record for yards allowed last year at 440 yards per game, to now ranking fourth in the league this year at 305.4 per game. An elite defense to finally compliment an elite offense has the Saints among the two or three best teams in the NFL, and it won’t be a surprise if we eventually see them holding the Lombardi Trophy at season’s end.