The world watched as the Minnesota Vikings pulled off the “Minneapolis Miracle” in the last seconds to break hearts in January. The sting has seemingly lessened after a brutal reflection and the passing of time. The New Orleans Saints are going to have to figure out how to curtail their defense going into the fourth quarter.
That play had some luck on the Vikings side, but it also shed light on a critical weakness in the Saints defense in 2017. Surely, the defense took a major step forward last year. In addition, the improvements were critical in giving the Saints the NFC South title and a playoff win. That being said, the one thing that stands out last season is the points given up late in games.
The New Orleans Saints Have to Close Out Games
Fourth Quarter Points
The Saints were ranked 27th last year for points given up in the fourth quarter. Their last three losses were to Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta. In those four game the Saints gave up a combination of 40 points in the fourth quarter for the combined games.
On average, that’s almost 14 points per game. Fourth quarter defense like that won’t cut it in 2018. The NFC South looks to be once again the toughest division in the NFC, and possibly in the NFL as a whole.
If the Saints want to reach the Super Bowl they must finish games out. Odds are, many games the Saints play in 2018 will come down to those last critical possessions. Obviously, the Saints want to improve in this area, and there are many theories of why this happened last year.
New Orleans added plenty of depth at each position. Staying healthy and forcing late turnovers will be crucial for the Saints in 2018. To achieve this, there is a lot of work to be done to make sure there are no breakdowns or miscommunications.
Special Teams Needs to be Special
Something that rarely gets mentioned is the importance of special teams late in the game. The numbers won’t garner much attention in the box score, but one big play on special teams could change the outcome of a game.
The Saints have been improving in that area, but the big plays late need to come more often. Look for a heated battle for returning punts and kickoffs. Of course, Alvin Kamara can do it, but is it a good idea to expose the franchise running back to additional contact?
The expectations on the 2018 season are sky high. Saints fans have no reason to hope for a winning season anymore, as winning is now expected. After the three 7-9 seasons, fans were getting restless and wondering if the team was heading in the right direction. Now, a realistic goal this year is winning another Super Bowl.
The Saints have to be salivating at the idea of going to Atlanta to win a championship in enemy territory. If the Saints can clamp down late in games, the Lombardi Trophy could be coming back to “The Big Easy.” By and large, the defensive play late in game can be the difference between an 8-8 season and a 12-4 record. The margin for error has never been so small in the NFL. Parity is here to stay aside from the New England Patriots. Keeping teams out of the end zone is extremely important for another run into January.
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