The last time these two teams met was during October 2008 in London’s Wembley Stadium. The game had been billed (and rightfully so) as one of the most anticipated of the season with the two high-flying offenses squaring off in the International Series before a record crowd.
It would not disappoint, as the playmakers stepped up and did their thing. Drew Brees finished the game with 339 yards and 3 TDs ; Philip Rivers threw for 341 yards and 3 TDs; Ladanian Tomlinson rushed for 105 yards while Deuce McAllister and Pierre Thomas combined for 83 yards and a TD. When the smoke cleared and the clock read zero, the Saints had held on to defeat the Chargers 37-32.
The real difference in that game turned out to be the outstanding play of the Saints offensive line, which did not give up a sack, and a heads-up play on defense in which Jonathan Vilma intercepted Rivers to end an impressive drive down the field.
A lot has changed for both teams since then. McAllister is now retired and Tomlinson is a Jet. Many players have come and gone and I’m sure both QBs would love to have all of their playmakers healthy and ready to play. But one thing that remains the same is that this matchup is being billed as another high-scoring affair in which both offenses will be expected to post monster numbers.
In fact, some are even proclaiming (very prematurely I might add), that this game could amount to being a very early look at Superbowl XLV. I believe that once again, the Saints’ offensive line and aggressive defense are going to be the difference in this one when it’s all said and done.
Offensively, the two teams are very similar. Both QBs have an arsenal of weapons to utilize through the air and on the ground and neither are afraid to use them. And because it’s going to be the third game of the preseason, I look for many of the starters to see a bit more action than they have in the previous two. With that said, this is how I see things shaping up.
Since Rivers will be without his big target, Vincent Jackson, I look for TE Antonio Gates to get most of the throws and RB Ryan Mathews to handle most of the load on the ground with Michael Tolbert backing him up. As for the Saints, we all know about their woes as of late at the running back position.
Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush are going to both see some, but limited, playing time I think. I expect to see more of Chris Ivory as well as the debut of Ladell Betts and DeShawn Wynn as they try to fight for a spot on the roster. I also expect (and look forward) to seeing more of the development of young WR Adrian Arrington, not behind the arm of Chase Daniel this time, but Patrick Ramsey.
The key for the Saints is going to be protecting whoever is playing quarterback (most likely Ramsey). With Chargers DB Antonio Cromartie no longer with the team, their defense is just that much less effective. If the Saints QB performance is on spot, then this should be another pleaser for the sold-out home crowd.