We are just under a week away from what feels like an exciting season ahead for the New Orleans Saints. With all the new acquisitions to the team from the front office to the coaching staff and all the way over to the players, it almost feels like a new regime awaits in the Bayou.
The team’s first test of this season will be against the Derrick Henry led Tennessee Titans. A team that seems to be in a similar spot as the Saints just in the opposing conference. Mike Vrabel’s unit hasn’t been any sort of a push over since he’s been head coach. His squad has multiple playoff appearances as well as attaining the #1 seed in the AFC just a few years ago. Similarly, to the Saints, the team took a step back last year matching their record of 7-10. Both teams will look to rebound from this early, which makes week one such a critical matchup.
Since we cover the Saints here (duh), we're going to break down the three keys to a Saints victory in week one and detail what they must do to come out on top next Sunday.
1. Stop the run
As easy as this may sound, especially from a Saints unit who has been atop the NFL in this category for some years, it became a glaring weakness as of last year. Last season, the team ranked in the bottom 20 in total rushing yards allowed and in the bottom half of the league in yards per carry. Something we aren’t used to. However, the bigger issue that could be is the turnover across the defensive line. Losing Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, Shy Tuttle and Kaden Elliss in free agency, could cause this team to continue that downtrend. The Saints did aid those positions by making some moves in free agency and in the draft but much of whom have little to no starting experience in the league. Not saying it won’t work, but a lot of unknown.
This week will indeed put the question to the test in facing Tennessee’s all-star running back Derrick Henry. Henry is the face of the Titans and for good reason. The All-Pro back currently ranks second among running backs in rushing yards since he was drafted in 2016. And standing at 6’3 250 lbs., you will feel every yard.
It will be incredibly crucial for the Saints to limit if they aren’t able to eliminate the run game versus the Titans. Doing so, will force Tennessee to win through the air which plays mightily into the Saints favor as the Titans depth at receiver isn’t great after DeAndre Hopkins.
2. Run the ball effectively
Now on the flip side of things, the Saints must be able to run effectively on offense as well. Tennessee’s run defense last season not only was the strongest unit on their team, but the number one unit in the entire league. The Titans allowed only 1307 yards on the ground last season. For comparison, their rivaled Houston Texans allowed more than double that number. The Jeffery Simmons led unit is not one to play with.
The Saints offensive line is entirely healthy to start the season, which is a good sign, however the same can’t be said in the running back room. Rookie running back Kendre Miller suffered a little bit of a setback earlier on in camp due to a hamstring injury which seems to still be lingering. This is the last thing you want when you already have Alvin Kamara serving his three-game suspension. The team will likely rely heavily on Jamaal Williams either way but if Miller can play it sure would help this unit a ton.
3. Play mistake free football/come out swinging
The single greatest advice you can give to any team and the most difficult thing to perform. In order for the Saints to win this game, they must come out the gates clean and finish the same way. Too often we’ve seen the Saints come out sloppy in week one (aside from the Green Bay butt whooping in ‘21). Last season we saw how off everything was in week one until the couple minutes in the fourth quarter. It was flat and just out of sync all around. On the offensive and defensive side of the ball, this team has the capabilities to be exactly who they want to be. Fly around, be smart and efficient and the rest will follow.
Hopefully we can see the Saints put one together and give fans some hope going forward into the season.