Changing fortunes add intrigue to Broncos-Saints matchup
NEW ORLEANS (AP) The fortunes of the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints have changed considerably in little more than a month, making their midseason meeting in the Superdome on Sunday all the more compelling.
The defending champion Broncos (6-3) have dropped three of five and fallen out of first place in the AFC West since breaking out to a 4-0 start. The New Orleans Saints (4-4) have won four of five and climbed into second place in the NFC South since starting 0-3.
"I do not care what our record is. I do not care what their record is,'' Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. ''There is a reason that they are defending Super Bowl champs. ... This will be the best team that we have played thus far.''
The 37-year-old Brees , energized by a thriving, young receiver corps, has New Orleans atop the NFL in passing, averaging 324.6 yards per game. Denver boasts the league's best pass defense, allowing a mere 183.3 yards per game. Those rankings make this matchup intriguing, but what makes the Saints a credible threat to Denver is the way they've run the ball lately - and the fact Denver's run defense ranks among the NFL's worst, at 29th.
Last week, New Orleans racked up a whopping 248 yards rushing, with Mark Ingram gaining 158 yards and Tim Hightower 87.
For Denver's coaching staff, trying to anticipate how Brees and the Saints' offense might choose to attack this week is a tall order.
''Right now, when you watch them play, from a receiver's standpoint, everybody's making plays. They have two tight ends going and the last two weeks the running game's been going with two different backs,'' Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. ''When you're getting ready to play people and looking at where the ball's going and those types of things, it's hard to zero in on anything because they're so consistent and so unified throughout, because of everybody contributing and knowing what's going on.''
Some other things to know about the Broncos' visit to New Orleans:
MILLER'S RUSHING: Denver's secondary has been banged-up recently, putting more pressure on Broncos pass rushers to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable. That's where outside linebacker Von Miller comes in. Nine games into the season, Miller is averaging slightly better than a sack per game with 9+. Saints coach Sean Payton said Miller ''clearly'' is the best pass rusher in the NFL.
''He wins with speed. He wins with power. His get-off is outstanding,'' Payton said. ''He plays with leverage so he can convert speed and all of a sudden be underneath and pushing you back into the pocket. He plays the run well, he's a fantastic player.''
AIR TIME: Miller is feeling as much urgency to pressure Brees as any quarterback he has, or will, play against all season. He knows that giving the Saints' record-setting QB too much time to throw is a sure recipe for a miserable afternoon. Brees has already passed for more than 300 yards in a game five times this season, and more than 400 yards twice.
''Drew's the best passer in the league right now,'' Miller said. ''I mean, he's leading the league in passing yards and it's not the first time he has done it, either.''
LEARNING CURVE: Denver rookie QB Trevor Siemian has hit a rough patch lately, completing fewer than half of his passes in last week's loss to Oakland. But Denver's struggles on the ground haven't helped, either. The Broncos have rushed for fewer than 100 yards in six of seven games, and just 33 yards last week .
''We're all a little frustrated,'' Siemian said. ''Guys are working hard and we're not seeing it pay off on Sundays like we want it to, but we all have the right mentality and we're going about things the right way.''
LIMITED LIABILITY: Currently, the Saints rank 30th in yards allowed per game (408.5) and points allowed per game (29.8). They're also last in yards passing allowed per game (300). However, the Saints' defense has not allowed more than 23 points in any of New Orleans' past three games. Two of New Orleans' opponents in that stretch, Kansas City and Seattle, each scored defensive touchdowns. The unit is also getting healthier. Top cornerback Delvin Breaux and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, the club's top draft choice last spring, returned from injuries last week.
FAMILIAR SURROUNDINGS: Denver's defensive backfield includes two players, cornerbacks Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon, from south Louisiana who played college football for Tulane in New Orleans. Kubiak called the pair, ''two good young players that this organization's counting on in the future.''
''Obviously they've been a big part of what we've been doing lately because we've had some secondary issues with Aqib (Talib) and Kayvon (Webster) being out,'' Kubiak noted. ''So, they're two good kids who work their tails off, both very bright and just working hard for their opportunity.''
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL