The New Orleans Saints are coming off their best offensive performance of the young 2018 season, 534 total yards, last week in a 43-37 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons. They ride that momentum into New York this Sunday to take on the 1-2 Giants. New Orleans (2-1), still without suspended Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram, are playing their second consecutive game on the road. New York meanwhile, is coming off a 27-22 defeat of the Houston Texans for their first victory of the season. The Saints enter the game ranked 4th in the NFL in total offense, and their 104 points scored are second in the league. They take on a Giant defense that ranks 15th in total yardage, and have surrendered an average of 21 points per game. Let's have a look at some of the key matchups on the offensive side of the ball for New Orleans.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. GIANTS PASS DEFENSE
The Saints have the league's 3rd most productive passing attack, and possess two of the most feared receiving weapons in the NFL. Third year wideout Michael Thomas leads the league in both receptions (38, a league record after three games) and receiving yards (398), catching an amazing 95% of his 40 targets. Thomas overwhelms nearly all defensive backs with his size, strength, and route precision, while possessing strong hands to snatch the ball in traffic, and is skilled at creating yards after the catch. An even bigger threat to defenses in the open field is Alvin Kamara, last year's offensive rookie of the year. Kamara has 30 receptions, third in the league, and leads all NFL running backs with 289 receiving yards. Thomas and Kamara have accounted for 63.7% of the Saints passing yardage so far this season, mostly because of their incredible ability, but also in part due to a lack of consistency from the team's other receivers. Ted Ginn Jr. (135 yards, 2 touchdowns) and tight end Benjamin Watson (134 yards) are tied for third on the team with 12 receptions. No New Orleans target other than Thomas, Kamara, Ginn, and Watson have as many as five targets or 3 catches. Offseason acquisitions Cameron Meredith (free agent) and Tre'quan Smith (draft, 3rd round) have just 1 catch each, and must be more productive to increase the effectiveness of the passing attack. Delivering the ball of course, is one of the football's all-time greats, Drew Brees. The 18-yr. veteran broke the NFL record for career completions last week against the Falcons, and now sits just 418 yards away from passing Peyton Manning as the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader. Brees has completed 80% of his throws for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season, and has not thrown an interception. He combines his uncanny accuracy with a fiery competitiveness, bullying his way for two rushing scores in last Sunday's comeback in Atlanta. The New Orleans offensive line has only allowed their quarterback to be sacked five times, and has stood up well despite the team's pass-heavy attack.
New York ranks 13th in pass defense, a big improvement from their 31st ranking in the category a year ago. One reason for this though is the fact that the Giants faced limited passing attacks in the Jaguars and Cowboys within the first two games of the season. Last week against Houston, they surrendered 385 passing to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. New York has been missing two of it's best defensive players, cornerback Eli Apple (groin) and edge rusher Olivier Vernon (ankle), neither of whom are expected to play this Sunday. The Giants still have a number of capable defensive players, but have just four sacks and two interceptions on the young season. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins are dangerous playmakers on the back end, and linebacker Alec Ogletree is one of the most versatile defenders in the game. Donte Deayon has been playing for Apple at cornerback, a position that the Saints look to have a distinct advantage. Rookies Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill were added this offseason, along with free agents Connor Barwin and Mario Edwards, in hopes that they could combine with Vernon to increase New York's pressure from the edge after only 27 sacks last season. They have the strength and athleticism to challenge Saints tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, but the New Orleans line must also keep Brees free of inside pressure.
~ Key Matchup: Brees vs. Ogletree/Jenkins/Collins ~
Kamara and Thomas will each face stiff challenges from Ogletree and Janoris Jenkins in one on one matchups during the game, but they have both proven that they can be effective against any defense. Brees threw the ball to eight different receivers in last week's victory, completing touchdown passes to Meredith, Ginn, and fullback Zach Line. He was as sharp as he's ever been through his exemplary career last week and against Tampa Bay in week one, as the Saints put a combined 83 points on the scoreboard. During the week two win against Cleveland, Brees was just slightly off the mark at times (for him), missing a few easy scoring chances. With Ingram out of the lineup again, it's clear that Brees has to be at the very top of his game for the Saints offense to have success. Ogletree, Jenkins, and Landon Collins are dangerous playmakers who can turn a mistake into an instant defensive score if the offense is even slightly off.
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. GIANTS RUN DEFENSE
New Orleans continues to struggle running the football without Ingram. The team ranks just 28th in rushing yards, and is averaging less than four yards per carry. They had their best rushing output of the season against Atlanta, finishing with 143 yards on 27 attempts, but that was bolstered by a few big gains from Taysom Hill and Ginn. Kamara leads the team in rushing with just 141 yards, but does have two scores on the ground and has run for two 2-pt conversions. Both Jonathan Williams and Mike Gillislee have been extremely disappointing, and get no more than a few carries per game as a change of pace. The Saints have often brought Hill into the game in short yardage or close to the goal line, and he combines with Kamara to open up numerous rushing opportunities along the perimeter of defenses due to the athleticism of both players. Left guard Andrus Peat has missed the last two games with injury, and replacement Josh Leribeus has struggled along with center Max Unger and right guard Larry Warford to open up interior running lanes.
The Giants are 18th against the run, and have given up 4.6 yards per rush. Damon Harrison and Kerry Wynn form one of the league's better run defending duos up front, and Alec Ogletree was obtained in an offseason trade to upgrade the team's linebacking play. New York prevented Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette and Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott from having big games against them, but neither present the open field threat that they will face in Kamara.
~ Key Matchups: New Orleans offensive line vs. New York defensive front ~
The Saints had their best rushing success of the year by attacking the edge of the Atlanta defense with the run, rather than the up the middle. They were able to get Kamara, Hill, and Ginn in space, averaging over five yards per rush. The same approach may work best for the New Orleans offense this game. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison is a strong run defender inside, but the Giants edge defenders, despite good size, are better suited for pass rushing roles. The athletic Saints line needs to get to the second level of the New York defense to neutralize Ogletree and Collins, allowing Kamara some additional space on runs and screens.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Historically, the Saints offense has struggled to put points on the board when they travel to New York to face either the Giants or Jets. The continued struggles of the New Orleans pass defense puts additional pressure on their offense to be nearly flawless in their execution. The Saints will get Thomas and Kamara involved early and often, but the success of players like Watson, Meredith, or Josh Hill in the middle of the field will be paramount to keeping the Giant defense off balance and out of position. The Saints bring a far more explosive offense than New York has faced in Jacksonville, Dallas, or Houston to begin the year. New Orleans will need to get on the board early to dictate the pace of the game and slightly reduce the pressure on their reeling defense. Continued aggressive and mistake-free play should be the formula for an important road win against what looks to be an overmatched opponent.
Which is the Saints biggest offensive key against the Giants defense?
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Michael Thomas vs. Janoris Jenkins
Alvin Kamara vs. Alec Ogletree
Drew Brees vs. Alec Ogletree/Landon Collins
Terron Armstead/Ryan Ramczyk vs. Lorenzo Carter/Connor Barwin/Mario Edwards
Saints interior line vs. Damon Harrison