The first week of the NFL season is behind us now, and with this notion, we got a chance to see how the New Orleans Saints' run defense held up against the Atlanta Falcons. With that game in mind, we are able to assess how this unit should hold up in week 2 against another division rival the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In this article, I will cover how the Saints’ run defense handled Week 1, and then how it should perform in Week 2.
Week 1 run defense performance
Simply put, the Saints' run defense struggled mightily in week 1 against Atlanta. Cordarrelle Patterson gashed the front 7 most of the game, with 22 rushes for 120 yards and a touchdown, as well as Marcus Mariota having 12 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown. This was primarily due to a lack of ability to get off blockers at the line and make plays in the backfield, as this was clearly seen during passing downs as well with only 5 total pressures on the game. The Saints tried various rotations with the defensive tackle 2 spot, primarily Shy Tuttle and Kentavius Street, but neither of whom had exceptional games and were primarily utilized to take on blockers inside.
Struggling this mightily in Week 1 does not bode well, as while Patterson is a good quality running back, he does not grace the upper echelon per say. Slowing down Leonard Fournette, coming off a strong Week 1, will be a huge key for this unit as they need to work to improve and not get riddled with rushing yards like last week.
What should we expect in Week 2?
The expectations for Week 2 should be relatively high for this unit, as the Saints’ rushing defense has been notoriously strong against Tampa the last few years. In his 4 career games against the Saints with Tampa Bay, Leonard Fournette has never had more than 34 rushing yards in a game. Previous to that, Ronald Jones in 7 career games did not have more than 66 rushing yards in a game against the Saints. Obviously, Ronald Jones is gone now to the Kansas City Chiefs, so Fournette will have to take most of the brunt in the rush attack.
On the flip side, Fournette had a really strong performance last week against the Dallas Cowboys, which means he will be coming into this game with some momentum. Last week, he had 127 rushing yards on his 21 carries in the game (6 yards per carry).
The injuries across the Buccaneers offensive line may be a good sign for the Saints, as the Bucs are down Aaron Stinnie and Ryan Jensen for this week, as well as Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs being questionable entering the Thursday practice. In 22 career games against the Buccaneers, Cam Jordan has had a tackle for loss or more in all but 8 of those matchups and has generally been extremely productive against the franchise during the course of his career.
If the Saints are to stop the Buccaneers' rushing attack, or at least slow it, they will need big performances from Cam Jordan and Demario Davis, as well as improved performances from the interior defensive linemen (Shy Tuttle, David Onyemata, and Kentavius Street). The key is not necessarily completely shutting the run game down, as that is unlikely, but improving off of last week and holding them around or under 100 rushing yards in the game.