Stopping the Saints ground game won’t be easy for a shorthanded Broncos defense

The Saints (4-4), who have won four of their last five, are still very much in the NFC playoff hunt.

The Broncos take on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. (Keith Allison/Flickr)
The Broncos take on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. (Keith Allison/Flickr)
The Broncos take on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. (Keith Allison/Flickr)

When you think of the New Orleans Saints offense, you probably think of Drew Brees. The last time the Saints gunslinger didn’t throw for at least 4,300 yards in a season, 50 Cent was still making hit records, not mired in bankruptcy.

This season is more of the same from the 37-year-old. He leads the NFL in passing yards per game (336 yards) and has tossed 21 touchdowns against five interceptions.

The Saints (4-4), who have won four of their last five, are still very much in the NFC playoff hunt, and they have Brees largely to thank for that. However, there is also something else they can chalk up their recent success to: A dangerous ground game.

The last two weeks — wins over the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers — New Orleans racked up 174 and 248 rushing yards, respectively. Tailbacks Tim Hightower and Mark Ingram combined for 352 yards and 67 carries in that span.

That’s bad news for a Broncos team that is ranked 29th in run defense, and just gave up 218 yards on the ground to the Oakland Raiders. Denver will be without its best defensive end, Derek Wolfe, who’s dealing with a hairline fracture in his elbow. That likely means a starting defending end tandem of Billy Winn and Jared Crick. Denver needs both to step up against a Saints offensive line that Football Outsiders rates first in the league in run blocking.

Stopping Brees will be difficult. Slowing the Saints’ ground game could be even harder.

The Von Miller oversized glasses matchup to keep an eye on

Denver’s offensive line vs. the Saints’ front seven.

The more I watch the Broncos, the more I think the root of their problem is in the trenches — on both sides of the ball.

We covered Denver’s issues stopping the run above. During this streak of three losses in five games, the Broncos’ offensive hasn’t been great either.

Denver rushed for 33 yards against Oakland. Running backs Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs certainly share some of the blame for this. But I think the offensive line is the real problem. According to Pro Football Focus, only 10 of those 33 yards came before contact. That’s indicative of an offensive line that’s simply getting pushed around.

The Broncos offensive line needs to do a better job of winning at the point of attack against New Orleans. That will open up daylight for Booker and Bibbs, who didn’t see much of it last week.

How to watch the game

When: 11 a.m.

Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans

TV: CBS

The line

SAINTS -3

The pick

Saints 27, Broncos 20

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Christian Clark

Author: Christian Clark

Christian Clark covers sports. He's worked for outlets that include the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Oklahoman, Columbia Missourian and Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine. He likes music and Mexican food. Lots and lots of Mexican food.