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Saints look to take a bite out of the Big Apple

Zach Strief
September 29, 2018 - 2:42 pm

One week into the season there were plenty of fears that the Saints may not be sitting in a position to win three straight, in week 4.  The Saints rebounded from their week one loss to the Bucs by taking down the Browns, and the hated Falcons.  Next up, a road trip to play the hometown kid, Eli Manning, and the rest of the New York Giants.  MetLife Stadium has not been kind to the Black & Gold.  Losses in 2016 and 2012 have proven New Jersey to be an unwelcoming host for the Saints.  

Offensively, the Saints have rarely looked better than they have through three weeks.  They are averaging nearly 35 point per game.  The only real blemish so far are 4 fumbles in the first 2 weeks.  Drew Brees is playing at an unworldly level completing over 80% of his passes and averaging 359 yards per game without throwing an interception in any of his 129 pass attempts.  Michael Thomas has broken the NFL record for receptions through 3 games with 38, and Alvin Kamara is on pace to score 16 touchdowns.  

Defensively, some issues have reared their head.  The thing that has been difficult for me all week, when discussing the defense, is I’m actually excited about what the defense has done this season.  

The front 7 has, in my opinion, played very well.  A.J. Klein is showing to be more comfortable in the scheme and has had his two of his best games as a Saint.  Cam Jordon leads the NFL in sacks, and Sheldon Rankins is proving to be much improved, making a huge difference early in the season.  

The Saints have struggled, however, to keep the ball from flying over their head.  Fortunately, this is fixable.  Communication has been noted by all involved as a problem in coverage so far, and that is a fixable offense.  However, that HAS to get fixed quickly.  

The Saints have been fortunate to overcome some high scoring games, but that won’t fly against some of the better teams in the NFL.  Teams the Saints expected to beat when the season began, and still expect to beat today.  They are facing a Giants team that has plenty of weapons to strain a defense.

Eli Manning had a tremendous game in Houston last week going 25/29 for 297 yards vs. the Texans.  He spent the whole game under duress and picked apart a very talented defense, all while running for his life.  The Giants offense features Odell Beckham Jr., a player Saints fans know well after his college career at LSU.  As he returns from an ankle fracture that kept him out last season, you can see his confidence rebuilding week by week.  Beckham has yet to have the breakaway plays that he has become known for, but it’s only a matter of time before he starts again.  2nd overall pick Saquon Barkley has lived up to his reputation with the longest run in the NFL this season.  He also has been very active catching the ball out of the backfield with 21 receptions, good enough for 7th in the NFL.  However, 16 of the 21 catches have been behind the line of scrimmage, meaning he plays the life raft for Eli Manning’s sinking boat of protection.  Barkley will be a challenge to bring down, and many have failed as his 17 forced missed tackles indicate (more than Kamara).  This is an offense with all the skill players needed to succeed, but playing behind a line that has yet to do just that.  

Defensively the Giants will need their secondary to play their best game of the year.  Janoris Jenkins is a high-end corner, but he’s going to need help to deal with the Saints multi-pronged attack.  The Giants achilles heal this season has been their pass rush, and that is a losing formula when facing Drew Brees.  Brees currently is completing 85% of his passes when he isn’t pressured.  I think the Giants will be forced to dog and blitz him to be successful, and that also falls into the strengths of the Saints as Drew’s best passer rating comes while being blitzed (129.8).  Playing Drew Brees well has long been a question of whether you can get pressure with your front 4.  Without Olivier Vernon, who is again out this week with a high ankle sprain, this Giants front hasn’t shown the ability to do that.   

The Saints have not played well historically in MetLife.  They need to show substantial improvement in the secondary as much for their own confidence, as the success of the team.  When it’s all said and done, I don’t even think that getting into a shootout with the Saints is a winning formula for the Giants.  I look for New York to try and slow the game down and win with a running game and time of possession.  No one should want to play a shootout with the Saints right now.  Fortunately, I see the Saint’s defensive front up to the task.  Looking forward to another festive flight home after a Saints victory.    

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