The 11-3 New Orleans Saints return to action this Sunday afternoon when they travel to face the 8-6 Tennessee Titans. The Saints currently hold the 3rd seed in the NFC playoff race and are chasing one of the conference's top two spots and a first round playoff bye. The Titans are currently outside looking in for an AFC playoff bid and must win their last two to continue their season.
The New Orleans defense returned to it's earlier season domination during a 34-7 pounding of the Indianapolis Colts last week. The unit has given up an average of 21.6 points and 329 yards per game, ranking 11th in the NFL. They have held six opponents to under 20 points and forced 19 turnovers this season. They take on a Titans offense that has averaged 24.2 points and 353 yards/game to rank 15th in the league. Tennessee has been much-improved on offense since the team benched quarterback Marcus Mariota at mid-season in favor of Ryan Tannehill. Since the change, the Titans have been as prolific as anyone in the league, averaging 30 points and 399 yards per game.
Here is how the New Orleans defense matches up against the improved Tennessee offense.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE vs. TITANS PASS OFFENSE
New Orleans comes into the game with the league's 17th ranked pass defense, allowing 238 yards/game through the air. The Saints have intercepted 11 passes and sacked opposing quarterbacks 44 times. The pressure up front is led by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is third in the league with 13.5 sacks. End Marcus Davenport and tackle Sheldon Rankins are both out for the year with injuries, but New Orleans is deep along their defensive line. End Trey Hendrickson has 4.5 sacks and will be spelled by Mario Edwards Jr., who will play both inside and outside, along with undrafted rookie Carl Granderson and Noah Spence. Inside, the Saints have a disruptive trio of tackles in Malcom Brown, David Onyemata, and Shy Tuttle to go along with Edwards that provide interior pressure to collapse a pass pocket. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen doesn't hesitate to mix in blitzes to bring additional pressure, often using linebacker Demario Davis or defensive backs Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and P.J. Williams in that capacity.
New Orleans recently added a Pro Bowl cornerback, picking up Janoris Jenkins from the waiver wire last week. Jenkins, who has 4 interceptions and 14 passes defensed in twelve games with the New York Giants, has 22 career pick-offs and six defensive touchdowns. He upgrades a cornerback depth chart that includes the highly erratic (at best) P.J. Williams and slumping Eli Apple at the position. Apple played closer to his early season form in last week's win over the Colts, and if he can consistently play at that level gives New Orleans a star-studded trio of corners with Marshon Lattimore and the addition of Jenkins. Lattimore is playing as well as any defensive back in the league, and has shut down some of the league's better wideouts. He will likely shadow an emerging star in Titans rookie receiver A.J. Brown.
The safety spot could be an area of concern for the Saints. Free safety Marcus Williams has played up to his All-Rookie form of 2017, but injuries are starting to take a toll at the position. Vonn Bell will miss his second straight game with a knee injury and rookie Saquan Hampton was placed on injured reserve this week. Fellow rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has played at a high level but left last week with a concussion and is questionable for this game. The team may press veteran D.J Swearinger into action, who was signed earlier this week.
Tennessee's passing game ranks 20th in the league with an average of 222 yards per outing. That production has gone significantly up though, since the Titans replaced the disappointing Mariota with Ryan Tannehill in Week Seven. Tannehill has won 6 of his 8 starts, completing over 71% of his throws while averaging 266 yards/game and throwing 17 touchdown passes with 6 interceptions. Tannehill has sparked a big play passing attack centered around A.J. Brown, a rookie 2nd round pick. Brown has 47 receptions for 893 yards and 7 scores, averaging 19 yards per catch. Brown has gone over 100 yards receiving in four of the team's last five games. Wideout Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith have combined for 69 receptions for 893 yards and 4 touchdowns as complimentary targets to Brown.
Tennessee quarterbacks have been sacked 51 times this year, including 26 on Tannehill. Powerful right tackle Jack Conklin has engulfed power rushers along the edge and faces a key matchup against Cam Jordan. Left tackle Taylor Lewan is equally effective, and the Saints hope that Hendrickson or Edwards will be able to disrupt the Tennessee passer in place of Davenport.
Matchup to Watch:
Marshon Lattimore vs. A.J. Brown
The talented Brown has become one of the top up-and-coming receivers in the league. Lattimore has more than held his own against some of the NFL's top talent and will once again be asked to contain the opponent's top threat. Apple and Jenkins must hold up in their coverage assignments as well, particularly to overcome a shorthanded safety spot.
The Saints pass rush must be able to pressure Tannehill, something they were not able to do against the Colts' Jacoby Brissett last week without blitzing. The ability to put Tannehill on the ground or make him rush his throws means that the Saints secondary will not have to hold up in coverage for as long. It has been the best recipe for success for Dennis Allen and his defense in 2019.
SAINTS RUN DEFENSE vs. TITANS RUN OFFENSE
The Saints defense allow opponents just 90 rush yards per game, ranking 4th in the NFL. They have not surrendered a 100-Yd rushing performance by a running back in their last 40 games and have held eight of their opponents to less than 100 yards rushing this season. The Saints defensive tackles are among the NFL's most underrated units. Even without Rankins, the squad has both the talent and depth to create disruption inside. That havoc allows the New Orleans linebackers to knife through gaps and create big plays. Demario Davis has been one of the NFL's best linebackers. That unit struggled a bit earlier this month though, due to injuries to Kiko Alonso and A.J. Klein. Alonso continues to be out with a thigh injury but Klein returned last week to solidify both run assignments and pass coverage duties.
Matchup to Watch:
Saints DT's vs. Titans interior offensive line
Teams that have given the Saints some trouble on the ground have done so with misdirection or zone blocking off-tackle. The Tennessee running attack flourishes with an inside power assault to take full advantage of Henry's skillset. The New Orleans defensive tackles have been outstanding most of the season. They will not only be crucial against the Tennessee running game, but must also provide pressure against Tannehill and the Titans passing attack inside.
What is the biggest match up for the New Orleans defense against the Titans offense?
This poll is closed
Saints LB's vs. Derrick Henry
Marshon Lattimore vs. A.J. Brown
Saints DT's vs. Titans interior O-line
Saints DE's vs. Titans OT's
Eli Apple/Janoris Jenkins vs. Corey Davis/Tajae Sharpe