The New Orleans Saints have won five straight games without the services of injured quarterback Drew Brees. While Brees has rehabbed his surgically repaired thumb, the offense has made the necessary plays and controlled the ball well to help insure victory. A major reason for the winning streak though, is due to the Saints defense, which has played at an elite level. The New Orleans defense has allowed an average of 21 points per game this season, ranking 11th in the league. During Brees' absence though, the Saints have given up just 18 points per contest, with many of those points coming with games already decided. New Orleans is sixth in total defense, and have forced 7 turnovers over the last five games. The 6-1 Saints now host the 3-3-1 Arizona Cardinals, who have won three straight on the strength of their aggressive offense. They have yet to have success against a defense with the talent that the Saints have on each level though.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. CARDINALS PASS OFFENSE
The 13th ranked New Orleans pass defense has allowed an average of 237 yards per game. Over the last month however, opponents have gained just 189 yards per game through the air. Even that number is inflated by the final two meaningless drives in last Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears and softer coverage late against Tampa Bay the week prior.
The New Orleans secondary has solidified after some early season struggles, and are bottling up opposing pass catchers. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple are playing shutdown football, and all but eliminating the opposition's best wideouts. Both Lattimore and Apple are playing at a Pro Bowl level, giving their defense the NFL's best coverage tandem. Complimenting Apple and Lattimore perfectly are safeties Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell. Williams has played with good anticipation on the back end, eliminating the big plays that plagued the team early on while creating some of his own. Bell is perhaps the NFL's most versatile safety, able to skillfully cover a slot receiver or tight end, while also assisting Williams well in deep coverage in some packages. Rookie defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has replaced the suspended P.J. Williams as the team's primary nickel back, and teams with Bell to provide solid coverage in the slot. The Saints secondary is made even more effective by the fact that the team has possibly the best defensive line in the league, and is able to consistently pressure the passer without having to bring extra rushers via the blitz. Defensive end Cameron Jordan has 7 of the defense's 20 sacks, and continues to be one of the most underrated defensive players in the NFL. Second year end Marcus Davenport is developing into nearly Jordan's equal as a terror to opposing quarterbacks. Davenport has 3 sacks, but leads the defense with 8 qb knockdowns and is second only to Jordan with 21 official pressures. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson seems poised to return to the lineup as well, after missing the last three games with a neck injury. Hendrickson has 3 sacks, plus 9 pressures, in just 4 games of action. He teams with Mario Edwards Jr. and undrafted rookie Carl Granderson to give the line a deep and skilled rotation along the edge. This line is equally capable of applying inside pressure on an opposing passer with their deep rotation of defensive tackles. Sheldon Rankins looks fully back to form from his Achilles injury last January, and has a sack and a number of pressures despite constant double teams. Malcom Brown and David Onyemata collapse pass pockets inside, forcing a number of off-target throws. The linebacking unit are all capable blitzers when called upon to do so, but have excelled at securing the intermediate zones in recent weeks, allowing very few uncontested throwing lanes underneath.
The Cardinals offense ranks just 19th in passing yardage, despite having the 8th most pass attempts in the league. First overall draft pick quarterback Kyler Murray has been streaky, like most rookie passers, but has the early look like a solid NFL signal caller. Murray has completed just shy of 64% of his passes for 1,768 yards with 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions so far, eclipsing the 300-yd. mark in three games. Murray's top target is ageless veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who at 36-yrs. old continues to play at a high level. Fitzgerald may not be the downfield threat he once was, but has caught 36 passes for 439 yards, 2 scores, and has two 100-yd. receiving games. Arizona's 2nd round pick in 2018, wideout Christian Kirk, is third on the team with 24 receptions for 242 yards despite missing the last three games with an ankle injury. Kirk's return may be a game time decision, as is running back David Johnson, who has also been slowed by ankle issues. Johnson is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, and has 30 catches for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns. Rookie wideouts KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella, along with vets Damiere Byrd and Pharoh Cooper, have good open field running skills but are not proven reliable receivers. Veteran tight ends Charles Clay and Maxx Williams are proven players, but have combined for just 16 catches and 173 yards and a score. The Cardinals have been inconsistent in protecting their young quarterback, allowing 23 sacks and causing Murray to be under constant duress. Jordan and Davenport, in particular, have got to get on Murray quickly by winning their match ups against Arizona tackles D.J. Humphries and Justin Murray to collapse the pocket against the athletic Cardinal quarterback.
Matchup to Watch:
Saints defensive backs vs. Cardinals wideouts
The big name battle will be Lattimore/Apple against the cagey Fitzgerald. Collectively, the two Saints corners have allowed less than 60% completion percentage against them, and have shut down some of the conference's top receivers. The entire Saints secondary must be up containing a Cardinals receiving corps capable of making plays in the open field. Their defensive backfield has made some game changing plays in recent weeks, a trend that must continue against Arizona's up-tempo attack.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE vs. CARDINALS RUN OFFENSE
The Saints possess the league's 9th ranked run defense, surrendering an average of 90 yards per game this season. The last four New Orleans opponents have failed to rush for 100 yards as a team, a benchmark that this defense has kept teams from reaching in 18 of their last 24 games. The Saints have not allowed an opposing running back to eclipse 100 yards since November 19, 2017, an impressive streak of 33 games. The New Orleans defensive line has wrecked opposing offensive lines, leaving running backs nowhere to go. Malcom Brown has led an impressive interior effort by the defensive tackles that continually push their way into the backfield. The dominance of the defensive line allows the New Orleans linebackers not only pursue more freely from sideline to sideline, but also fire into the backfield for big plays. Vastly underrated Demario Davis is playing at a level similar to some of the best at the position in franchise history. A.J. Klein, Kiko Alonso, and Craig Robertson have swarmed ball carriers and are always in a position to make plays.
Arizona has the league's 11th ranked rushing attack, averaging around 127 yards per game. David Johnson, who has 300 rushing yards and two scores, is one of the NFL's most productive backs when healthy. With him hobbled though, second year back Chase Edmonds exploded for 126 yards and 3 touchdowns against the New York Giants last week. Both Johnson and Edmonds are elusive backs once they get to the second level, so the onus will be on the New Orleans defensive tackles to get to them quickly to snuff a play out in it's infancy.
Matchup to Watch:
Demario Davis and A.J. Klein vs. Kyler Murray
The Saints defense has struggled a bit against mobile quarterbacks, giving up some big scrambles. The defensive line must continue to control the line of scrimmage as they have most of the season to shut down running lanes and bottle up Johnson and Edmonds. They must also maintain gap assignments in order to keep another athletic quarterback from beating them. Kyler Murray has 266 yards rushing, and moves around well to create extra time for his wideouts. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen will run some exotic coverage packages and disguise looks to try and confuse Arizona's rookie quarterback. Linebackers Demario Davis and A.J. Klein are both terrific blitzers, so will mix up rushes and coverage drops to fool Murray. Davis and Klein must also be up to the task of tracking down the quarterback quickly when he does break containment though. Doing so effectively will lessen the likelihood of a broken play becoming a big gain to either a receiver down the field, or with Murray's running ability. The New Orleans defense looks to have the advantage in several one on one matchups all over the field. A defensive roll that should continue if they maintain that intensity, but also their discipline.
What is the biggest key for the Saints defense against the Cardinals offense?
This poll is closed
Lattimore/Apple vs. Fitzgerald
The rest of the New Orleans secondary against the Cardinals other receivers.
Jordan/Davenport vs. Humphries/Murray
Davis/Klein vs. Kyler Murray
Saints DT's vs. David Johnson/Chase Edmonds