Know Your Foe: New Orleans Saints

There are two unenviable truths as it pertains to the New Orleans Saints. One, they were hosed out of an opportunity to go to last year’s Super Bowl. Two, that loss still stings, yes, to this day. Trust me, I was in the New Orleans airport headed to the senior bowl the very next day after the NFC championship and that loss lingered like a bad odor. Months later, it feels as if it still lingers and it’s going to be a while before everyone forgets about that loss. As such, the Texans will be walking into one of the more raucous environments they’ve ever encountered to start a season. The flip side is that if the Texans take a lead or punch back early, there’s going to be a high level of angst in that building.

Whereas the Texans have made significant changes up and down the roster/starting lineup since the end of last season, the Saints have truly stayed status quo. If my math is correct, the Saints could have as few as five new starters combined. (In contrast, the Texans could have as many as five new starters on OFFENSE that began training camp a few weeks ago.) Saints quarterback Drew Brees runs the show, but behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the Saints running game flourished last year. Yet, it was in the backfield where there was a significant change for the Saints. Longtime star running back Mark Ingram was not re-signed, leaving the talented Alvin Kamara with a ton more on his already full plate.

Defensively, the Saints have some of the best young talent in the league and they were completely dominant against the run last year. They allowed just a shade over 80 yards rushing per game, but they’re going to miss emerging star Sheldon Rankins, who suffered an Achilles injury late in the 2018 season. He was brought off the PUP list a week ago, but he won’t be ready to play for a few weeks.

Without further ado, let’s get to Know Monday night’s foe: the New Orleans Saints.

2018 schedule - record 13-3

L, Tampa Bay 48-40

W, Cleveland 21-18

W, @ Atlanta 43-37

W, @ New York Giants 33-18

W, Washington 43-19

W, @ Baltimore 24-23

W, @ Minnesota 30-20

W, Los Angeles Rams 45-35

W, @ Cincinnati 51-14

W, Philadelphia 48-7

W, Atlanta 31-17

L, @ Dallas 13-10

W, @ Tampa Bay 28]14

W, @ Carolina 12-9

W, Pittsburgh 31-28

L, Carolina 33-14

Playoffs:

W, Philadelphia 20-14

L, Los Angeles Rams 26-23

Saints offense (in 2018):

Rushing yards per game - 126.6 ypg (6th in the NFL)

Passing yards per game - 252.6 ypg (12th)

Total offense per game - 379.2 ypg (8th)

Turnovers lost - 16 (7 INT, 9 fumbles lost) - tied for 3rd fewest (with Texans) in the NFL

Projected Saints starting offense for Monday night vs. Texans:

QB - Drew Brees

RB - Alvin Kamara

FB - Zach Line

WR - Michael Thomas

WR - Ted Ginn

TE - JARED COOK

LT - Terron Armstead

LG - Andrus Peat

C - ERIK McCOY (rookie)

RG - Larry Warford

RT - Ryan Ramczyk

Other key offensive pieces:

WR - Tre’Quan Smith

WR - Austin Carr

RB - LATAVIUS MURRAY

OW - Taysom Hill

Key offensive pieces lost:

C - Max Unger (retired)

RB - Mark Ingram (Baltimore)

**All caps indicates a 2019 addition

Keys to stopping the Saints offense:

1. Figure out the right way to stop the Alvin Kamara option route. The Rams finally found a way to slow down Kamara in the NFC championship game in the second half and that was a key reason why they won that game.

2. The Saints and Drew Brees utilized all of their tight ends in the past, but Jared Cook is a Jimmy Graham-like weapon. Safety Tashaun Gipson has a history of solid play against great tight ends but how the Saints are going to use Cook could be an issue for Gipson.

3. Stop the run with consistent gap management and discipline. The Saints were sixth in the league last year in rushing offense and that front can move people off the ball. The flip side is that the Texans rush defense was outstanding as well last year, so it should be a physical battle up front.

4. Push Drew Brees at his feet and make him throw over the top of a consistent interior pass rush push.

5. Make star receiver Michael Thomas have to work to get his catches. Be physical at the line of scrimmage. Be physical with him at the catch point. Take a page from Marshon Lattimore’s book facing his teammate in training camp.

6. Know if offensive weapon Taysom Hill is in the game, where he is and what damage he can do from that position. Then, defuse the weapon.

Saints defense (in 2018):

Rushing yards allowed per game - 80.2 ypg (2nd in the NFL)

Passing yards allowed per game - 268.9 ypg (29th)

Total offense allowed per game - 349.1 ypg (14th)

Turnovers generated - 24 (12 INT, 12 Fumbles recovered) - 13th in the NFL

Projected Saints starting defense for Monday night vs. Texans:

DE - Cameron Jordan

NT - MALCOM BROWN

DT - MARIO EDWARDS JR.

DE - Marcus Davenport

SLB - A.J. Klein

MLB - KIKO ALONSO

WLB - Demario Davis

CB - Eli Apple

S - Vonn Bell

S - Marcus Williams

CB - Marshon Lattimore

Other key defensive pieces:

Nickel - P.J. Williams

S - Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

DE - Trey Hendrickson

DT - Taylor Stallworth

WLB - CRAIG ROBERTSON

**All caps indicates a 2019 addition

Keys to winning vs. the Saints defense:

1. Peel back layers to the passing game. Short, medium, long. Right, middle and left. Hit ‘em all and stretch the Saints secondary to its limits.

2. Com-mun-i-cate!! The Texans front hasn’t been together long, like say five days, I think. So, with a raucous crowd, some talented edge rushers and a creative defensive coordinator, expect to see some serious Saints stuff coming at that offensive front. The communication must be on point from center Nick Martin out to the edges, to quarterback Deshaun Watson and through the backfield in pass protection.

3. Take a deep shot early. It doesn’t matter who, but let one of the Texans pass catchers stretch the defense on the first drive and take a shot. I’d love to see it be Will Fuller V because he can outrun anyone in a Saints jersey (or anyone else in the league for that matter). In my estimation, it puts the fear in the Saints secondary that the Texans will be aggressive all game long and allows Watson to get all of that pent-up early game energy out with one heave.

4. Test the Saints middle in the run game. Sheldon Rankins is the Saints’ version of D.J. Reader but he more than likely won’t play as he continues to rehab from an Achilles injury late in the 2018 season. So, attack his backups, so to speak.

5. Play slot games. It’s New Orleans, right? So, spin ‘em a bit.

The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/1/2019)

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