3 questions for the Saints-Bucs game

Today’s New Orleans Saints/Tampa Bay Buccaneers game is interesting because the Saints enter the game with incomplete information. The game is either really important (if the Falcons lose to the Panthers) or completely meaningless. This make’s Sean Payton’s job just a little bit harder: how should he treat the game? After the jump, 3 questions that I have going into today’s game.

1) How long will the starters play?

One of the secrets to the Saints’ playoff run last year was the health of the team. While they had injury troubles during the season, all hands were on deck come playoff time.

The Saints are entering this year’s playoffs a bit more banged up: Marques Colston had knee surgery last week, Pierre Thomas has re-injured his ankle, Chris Ivory’s hamstring is still a problem*, and half the defense seems to be hurt in some nagging way. These injuries are a bad sign, and any more could spell doom for the team in the playoffs.

*You know something’s wrong when Reggie Bush is your healthiest running back.

So, how long will Sean Payton risk injury to his starters by keeping them in the game? If I were Sean Payton*, I’d keep a close eye on the Atlanta-Carolina game. Once the Panthers got down by, say, 2 touchdowns, I’d start sitting folks.

*Actually, if I were Sean Payton, I wouldn’t be writing this, because I’d be going over game plans or calling Kenny Chesney or something

After all, the Falcons aren’t likely to lose to the Panthers, especially in a lame duck game for Panthers head coach John Fox. Therefore, it’s probably not worth it for the Saints to risk further injury to a depleted squad chasing an unlikely dream.

Sean Payton is competitive, though, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t pull the starters until late in the game if ever. I’d disagree, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

2) How will the Saints’ run defense hold up?

It’s been a hectic year for the Saints’ run defense. Sometimes, they’ve looked excellent, like in last week’s game against Atlanta. Other times, they’ve looked terrible, such as the first game against Atlanta, when Falcons running backs ran for over 200 yards.

The Saints’ run defense was excellent in the first Saints-Bucs game (holding the Bucs to about 30 yards total rushing), but there were two mitigating factors: (1) the Bucs best running back, rookie LeGarrette Blount, was sidelined for the game, and (2) the Saints had such a big lead that the Bucs had to focus on passing the ball to try to catch up.

If the Saints don’t jump out to a big lead, will they be able to hold back LeGarrette Blount?

3) Will the offensive line be able to protect Drew Brees?

The single biggest problem with the Saints’ offense this year has been their inability to protect Drew Brees. Poor Drew has been under constant pressure, which has been a major factor in the 652 interceptions he’s thrown this year.

The Bucs defensive line is the worst in the league at creating sacks. Gerald McCoy, the hot rookie, is out for the game. Their defensive ends are, frankly, not very good. If the Saints’ offensive line can’t create time for Drew Brees against this group, then Brees should start taking out insurance policies for the playoffs.

Bonus 4th question: How many yards will Adrian Arrington get?

We all know that Sean Payton has been hiding Adrian Arrington, AKA Randy Moss, Jr., until just the right moment. That moment is now. The question isn’t whether or not Arrington will be the MVP of the game (that’s a given). The question is, will he score 4 touchdowns or 5? 125 yards receiving or 175? Will he have more touchdown receptions than Drew Brees will have touchdown passes?