The New Orleans Saints play their second straight road game this week, traveling north to face the 1-2 New York Giants. The New Orleans defense, so improved a year ago, has struggled for the most part this season. They've given up the most points in the NFL thus far, and rank 30th in the league in total yardage. They oppose a New York offense that ranks 24th, and has scored an average of just 18 points per game. Despite their middle of the pack offensive numbers, the Giants have quite a bit of ability at the skill positions, and present a big test against a Saints defense that looks far from playoff caliber. Today, we have a look at how the New Orleans defense stacks up against their upcoming opponent.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE vs. GIANTS RUN OFFENSE
The Saints run defense was one of the team's biggest perceived areas of concern heading into the 2018 season. They have held up well against opposing rushers though, ranking 6th against the run and giving up only 3 yards per rush, best mark in the league. Linebackers Demario Davis and A.J. Klein have done a solid job of diagnosing the run, then flowing through traffic to make the play. The Saints defensive line has been stout against the run, winning the point of attack and disrupting the opposing blocking. Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison has been out of the lineup the last two weeks with injury, but looks to return this week. Taylor Stallworth has stepped in and has given the team solid play inside along with Sheldon Rankins, but fellow tackle David Onyemata has struggled. Ends Cam Jordan and Alex Okafor play the run as well as any edge defenders in the NFL, and the Saints secondary swarms to the ball carrier well. Among the few things they've done right on the back end this year.
The Giants used the second overall pick in this spring's draft to select dynamic Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. As a team, the Giants have run for just under four yards per rush and rank 25th in rushing yards. Barkley has run for 216 yards and a 4.7 average, and seems on the verge of breaking out. He has the skillset equal to any of the game's top runners, and will present a big threat to this New Orleans defense. The New York offensive line has been leaky in it's pass protection, but has done well enough in it's run blocking to open up creases for their talented back.
~ Matchup to Watch: Saints LB's vs. Barkley ~
Barkley already has one 100-yd rushing performance to his credit, and it was against a fine Jaguar defense in week one. He followed that up by catching 14 passes for 80 yards against Dallas in week two, and an 82 yard rushing output last week against a good Texans defense. The New Orleans linebackers have managed to control backs coming out of the backfield in the passing game, and the defense as a whole has done well preventing big runs. They have yet to face the type of all-around gamebreaking ability that they will see from Barkley. If the struggling New Orleans secondary is to focus their coverage on New York's outside receivers, as expected, then the onus falls on the team's linebackers to try and contain Barkley. Manti Te'o will miss his second straight game with injury, but Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone are the best two athletes among the linebacking unit. Klein and Craig Robertson also figure into the mix for the most challenging match up to date for this unit.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. GIANTS PASS OFFENSE
Simply put, the New Orleans defense has been abysmal against the pass, giving up 333 yards per game through the air. They have given up more plays over 40 yards than any other team in the NFL, and the ten passing scores they've surrendered are the second worst in the league. The secondary, thought to be a strength, has been particularly awful. Pro bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore is playing better after a rocky start, but fellow corners Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams have allowed opposing receivers to look like Hall of Famers. To make matters worse, defensive back Patrick Robinson was placed on injured reserve earlier this week for an ankle injury. The team has worked out a number of defensive backs, including former Redskin and Raider starter David Amerson, former Buccaneers reserve Josh Robinson, and former Saint Sterling Moore, but has yet to sign anyone other than practice squad addition Arrion Springs. Safety play hasn't been much better for the Saints. Free safety Marcus Williams has the team's only interception in three games, but like Lattimore had gotten off to a slow start. Vonn Bell's play has regressed badly, and offseason free agent signee Kurt Coleman has done little to solidify deep coverage. New Orleans has not gotten a consistent pass rush up front to help their beleaguered secondary. Cameron Jordan is tied for the NFL sack lead with 4, and is the unquestioned leader of the defense. Marcus Davenport, who has been limited this week with a hip injury but is expected to play, recorded his first career sack last week and is improving with each game. Sheldon Rankins (1 sack) has given the defense a solid interior pass rush early in games, but the defense in general has done a poor job at getting opposing passers on the ground once they move away from the initial rush. That has bought the extra time necessary for an already shaky secondary to break down further.
The Giants average 267 yards passing per game, ranking 17th in the league rankings. Quarterback Eli Manning, a potential future Hall of Famer, has completed nearly 74% of his passes, but has only thrown for 3 touchdowns, along with an interception. Manning has one of the league's elite wideouts to throw to in Odell Beckham Jr. After missing all but four games with injury last season, the 25-yr old Beckham has returned with a force, catching 24 passes so far for 271 yards, but has yet to catch a touchdown. He is flanked by third year receiver Sterling Shephard, who is off to a bit of a slow start but has 14 receptions for 152 yards and a score. New York's offense was dealt a big blow when last year's number one draft choice, tight end Evan Engram, sustained a knee injury that will sideline him at least a few weeks. Engram's targets will be taken by Rhett Ellison, who does have a touchdown reception and operates well through the intermediate routes, but lacks the athleticism of Engram to threaten a defense down the field. The Giants have struggled to protect their 37-yr old quarterback, allowing Manning to be sacked 12 times so far, and often heavily pressured. New York benched their 2015 top draft choice, right tackle Ereck Flowers, in favor of Chad Wheeler, and veteran left tackle Nate Solder has had his struggles as well. Manning has been sacked 10 times in the last two games, and most heavily pressured from the edge, which could spell disaster against talented outside rushers Jordan, Davenport, and Okafor.
~ Key Matchups: Marshon Lattimore/Ken Crawley vs. Odell Beckham/Sterling Shepard ~
The Saints have claimed that much of their issues in the secondary have been because of a lack of communication. While that may be true, many times they are getting beat badly in their one on one battles, therefore not allowing the time for any pass rush up front to have an effect on the play. Lattimore often locks on to the opponent's top receiver. He started last week lining up across from the Falcons Julio Jones. He switched over to Calvin Ridley midway through the game after Ridley tore Saints coverage apart, but Atlanta was intent on targeting P.J. Williams and Crawley. Don't be surprised to see the same approach this Sunday, with Lattimore often locked on to Beckham in a marquee showdown between two physical and athletic stars. That leaves the talented Shepard in the coverage of Crawley and Williams. Regardless of the cornerback and safety assignments, the Saints coverage must hold up off the snap at least initially to allow a chance for their pass rush to get to Manning.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The New York Giants have not scored over 30 points since the 2015 season finale (a 35-30 loss to the Eagles), a span of 35 games. The Saints pass rushers should be able to beat the New York offensive line, potentially causing Eli Manning a long day of harassment. Pressuring Manning usually equals multiple turnovers, but the quarterback has taken good care of the football this year despite constant duress. New Orleans must find a way to create big plays, a key to their success a year ago. They must find a way to limit the impact of Saquon Barkley by beating the blocking up front and closing down cutback lanes, while also containing him in the open field as a receiver. The Saints pass coverage at the snap, along with better communication over the top must be better. Coordinator Dennis Allen may have his cornerbacks get more physical at the snap, in hopes that Beckham and Shepard would be held up an extra second getting into their routes. Doing so could allow the New Orleans pass rush the time to disrupt Manning, forcing him into mistakes that the Saints defense has yet to cause this season.
What is the Saints most important match up against the Giants?
This poll is closed
Lattimore/Crawley vs. Beckham/Shepard
Saints LB's vs. Barkley
Cam/Davenport/Okafor vs. Giants OT's
Rankins vs. Giants interior line
Improved safety play