After starting the season 0-3, the New Orleans Saints have a wonderful opportunity to get back to .500 when they take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. However, that’s going to be slightly challenging, as the Chiefs are pretty good at Arrowhead. Since Andy Reid joined the team in 2013 as the head coach, the Chiefs are 19-7 at home and haven’t lost in over a year (Oct. 18 - Minnesota Vikings).
There’s a good bit of players already out for this matchup, and we’re all too familiar with some of the glaring areas of concern the Saints have. Here’s a few things that we’ll be paying close attention to after kickoff.
The Offensive Line
No Andrus Peat (groin) for this week should signal that Terron Armstead is ready to go, right? He’s ruled as questionable heading into Week 7, but said he’ll play if he can. There’s a bit of mystery surrounding his status, as he’s been dealing with a knee/quad issue. Head coach Sean Payton alluded to his status in late September saying that it was nothing serious or long-term.
“I won’t say last year’s injury caused what I’m dealing with. But it’s a similar issue,” Armstead told the media on Thursday.
The Chiefs pass rush desperately misses Justin Houston, as they sit second-to-last in the league with their seven sacks. However, they’re fifth in the NFL in defense with just 1,765 total yards allowed. They’re giving up 116.4 yards on the ground per contest currently, so the Saints may benefit from feeding Mark Ingram.
Not having Peat means Senio Kelemete should play at left guard again, and one of the ways to help control the tempo in such a hostile road environment would clearly be getting the running game going.
Drew Brees vs. the Chiefs secondary
The Chiefs powerful defense is highlighted by just giving up 236.6 yards per game through the air. Marcus Peters is widely considered the one that got away for many teams in the 2015 NFL Draft. Peters already has five interceptions on the season, and is emerging as one of the league’s top corners. Last week against the Oakland Raiders, Peters was targeted six times and allowed just 32 yards and grabbed an interception.
“Peters is playing as well as anybody in the league right now in the secondary. He’s (Peters) a very dangerous player and has exceptional skills, exceptional ball skills, great instincts, especially for a young player. He just seems to have a nose for the football and obviously he has a great group around him, he’s got great safeties and a great front seven that can apply pressure on the quarterback to force them to maybe get a ball out sooner than they want and obviously he’s there to make the plays. That whole unit, I mean there are other guys in that secondary that are ballhawks.”
Brees has thrown a pick in three straight games, and he’s going to have to be very meticulous on where he places the ball. I’d anticipate the Chiefs to drop more men in coverage, which will force Brees to dump it off short. However, the Chiefs have proved to be vulnerable (see the Steelers game). It’ll be interesting to see how the BMW trio (Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead) adjust and what routes are called for them.
The Saints cornerbacks
The team is down Sterling Moore (abdomen), which will put rookie Ken Crawley likely starting with veteran B.W. Webb. That also means that rookie De’Vante Harris should be active and serve as the third option with Brian Dixon as a last resort. If there was ever a game where the Saints pass rush should show up, it would be this one.
Alex Smith hasn’t exactly wowed in the yardage department, especially if you were to stack his games up to the top quarterbacks, but he’s been efficient in their three victories. In each of the wins against the San Diego Chargers, New York Jets, and Oakland Raiders, Smith carried a 71 percent accuracy or better.
As for the Saints passing defense, it isn’t pretty. Through their first five games, the Saints are ranked 31st in the league with their 301.6 passing yards allowed per game. Naturally, a stronger pass rush could help, but Smith is smart enough to get the ball out quick enough to avoid the Saints front line.