The New Orleans Saints travel to face the Tennessee Titans this Sunday in an important contest for both squads. The Saints own an 11-3 record, but must win their last two games (both on the road) for their best chance at one of the NFC's top two postseason spots and a first round bye. The Titans come into the game with an 8-6 record. They had won four straight games before last week's home loss to the Houston Texans and now must win their final two contests to grab an AFC playoff bid.
New Orleans has been on an offensive roll, having scored at least 34 points in four of the last five games. They average 27 points per contest, fifth best in the league, and average a ninth-best 373 yards per outing. Tennessee will counter with a defense that allows 362 total yards per game, ranking 19th, but surrenders just under 20 points/game to rank eighth.
Here is how the two units measure up against one another.
SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. TITANS PASS DEFENSE
The New Orleans passing attack is 7th in the league at an average of 264 yards per game. Quarterback Drew Brees has averaged over 302 yards/game in the eight full contests he's played in 2019 though. He has eclipsed the 300-Yd barrier five times while throwing 21 touchdown passes and just 4 interceptions. Brees has benefited from outstanding pass protection. He and Teddy Bridgewater have been sacked only 20 times this season and not once in the last three ballgames. Pro Bowl selection Terron Armstead and ludacris Pro Bowl snub Ryan Ramczyk form an elite pair of offensive tackles that have quieted the NFL's best edge rushers. Inside, the Saints have allowed their quarterbacks a clean pocket to survey the coverage and progress through their reads.
The primary target of those reads is typically fourth year wideout Michael Thomas, who leads the NFL with 133 receptions for 1,552 yards and has scored 8 touchdowns. Thomas has hauled in an eye-popping 83.6% of his targets and sits just 11 catches short of setting a new NFL record for receptions in a single season. Running back Alvin Kamara has 73 catches, second on the team, for 485 yards and a score but hasn't been quite as dynamic as a receiver that he's been in his first two seasons. Tight end Jared Cook has rounded into everything the team expected when they inked him to a lucrative free agent contract this offseason though. Cook has 38 receptions for 577 yards and six touchdowns while providing the perfect compliment to Thomas and Kamara for the team's passing attack.
New Orleans gets little in the way of big numbers from their other receivers, but they have made some nice plays in crucial moments. Backup quarterback and Jack-of-all-trades Taysom Hill has been a bigger threat as a receiver than a runner in 2019, and has earned Brees' trust down the field. Hill has 16 catches, but five have gone for touchdowns. Wideouts Tre'Quan Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. have combined for just 41 receptions and 576 yards, but have contributed six scores.
The Tennessee pass defense is 25th in the NFL, surrendering 258 yards per contest. The Titans allow opposing passers to complete 65% of their throws and have allowed four 300-Yd passers this season. They have sacked opposing quarterbacks 36 times, led by 9 from edge rusher Harold Landry, 4 from fellow edge Kamalei Correa, and 3 from defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Struggles to pressure the passer have left their thin but talented secondary vulnerable at times.
Cornerback Logan Ryan is the Titans' best defensive back. He and free safety Kevin Byard each have 4 of the team's 13 interceptions. Cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Tye Smith are talented, but have struggled at times since replacing the injured Malcom Butler and former Saint Kenny Vaccaro can be stiff in man coverage. The Titans linebackers are not household names, but do have the athleticism to challenge opposing backs and tight ends in pass coverage.
Matchup to Watch:
Michael Thomas vs. Logan Ryan
Thomas is probably the sharpest route runner in the NFL today. That, combined with his physicality and incredible hands make him nearly unstoppable through short and intermediate routes. Ryan has made plays all over the field for the Tennessee defense this season. He leads the team with 102 tackles and 17 passes defensed, while also forcing 4 fumbles and notching 3.5 quarterback sacks. He will likely shadow Thomas in most alignments
SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. TITANS RUN DEFENSE
The Saints running attack starts with a dominating offensive line that controls the line of scrimmage. Left guard Nick Easton has been terrific since replacing the injured Andrus Peat, and rookie center Erik McCoy has been magnificent as both a run and pass blocker, but right guard Larry Warford may miss this game with a knee injury. The interior line has not only opened up initial holes, but also vital cutback lanes for their talented runners.
Alvin Kamara is the Saints' leading rusher with 678 yards but just one touchdown. Latavius Murray has provided a lethal 1-2 punch to Kamara, picking up 562 yards on the ground and scoring 5 touchdowns. Both New Orleans backs are a big part of the offensive game plan, both as runners and as receivers. They will present a deadly challenge to the Tennessee linebackers.
The Titans give up 104 yards per game on the ground, ranking 13th in the league. Their secondary supports the run very well, but the Tennessee front seven has often been moved off the point of attack. Defensive tackles Casey and Jeffery Simmons, the Titans' 1st round draft choice this spring, must win their matchups up front to allow linebackers Correa, Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown, and Wesley Woodyard to freelance in the open field.
Matchup to Watch:
Erik McCoy vs. Jurrell Casey/Jeffery Simmons
McCoy has played at a Pro Bowl level in starting every game as a rookie. He, Easton, and Warford have been crucial to the ability of Kamara and Murray to get into the open field quickly.
Simmons looks like an emerging star at defensive tackle after missing the first six games. He has 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss so far, and teams up with Casey to form a formidable tandem in the middle.
Controlling this talented pair of tackles will give Kamara and Murray a distinct advantage against the Titans linebackers.
Which is the most critical match up for the Saints offensive success against the Titans?
This poll is closed
Terron Armstead/Ryan Ramczyk vs. Harold Landry/Kamalei Correa
Easton/McCoy/Warford vs. Casey/Simmons
Michael Thomas vs. Logan Ryan
Jared Cook vs. Kenny Vaccaro/Titans LB's
Alvin Kamara/Latavius Murray vs. Titans LB's