New Orleans Saints

Looking Ahead: New Orleans Saints

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Let’s take an in-depth look at the Green Bay Packers’ next opponent – the New Orleans Saints.

The Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints are gearing up for their Week 3, Sunday night showdown in NOLA. At 2-0, the Packers are red hot and have one of the most electrifying offenses in the league but it’s a different story for the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints started the season off on a somewhat positive note. During their Week 1, home matchup with the Buccaneers, it was obvious that the Bucs were having some growing pains and the Saints were able to capitalize on mistakes in some crucial moments. It looked sloppy but the Saints won 34-23.

The Saints looked much better in the first quarter against the Raiders on Monday night. The offense netted 10 points on their first two drives, while the defense seemed to have an answer for the Jon Gruden scheme until the game-script expired.

The Raiders found the balance that we’ve come to expect of Gruden’s offenses. After intercepting Drew Brees late in the second quarter, the Raiders brought the score to a 17-17 tie, heading into the break. The Silver and Black picked up where they left off, scoring 17 points again in the second half and closing out the game with scores on six of their seven drives through the final three quarters.

The Saints weren’t able to keep pace with the Raiders. They didn’t capitalize on an embarrassing Jalen Richard fumble and only mounted one second-half scoring drive. The result was a 34-24 decision in favor of the Raiders. While the Raiders may have won the game, neither team looked good in this matchup and I found myself asking “who’s going to lose this game?” rather than “who’s going to win”.

The New Orleans Saints have looked sloppy for their second consecutive game. They may be scoring points but it doesn’t look pretty. This team isn’t meeting expectations and change surely awaits, but for now, the Saints are what they are. Let’s dive into exactly what they are.

 

Offensive Gameplan

Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been tied at the hip for fifteen years. They’ve been operating largely the same offense during that time, aside from the Taysom Hill wrinkle. Payton likes single-back formations with his quarterback under-center but isn’t afraid of empty-gun formations when the situation calls for it.

Payton is well-known for dictating the tempo of the game. He subs personnel packages almost every play, lulling the defense to sleep with his substitutions, then, hitting the defense with a no-huddle, consistently leading to chunk plays.

Payton establishes the zone-run early and allows Alvin Kamara to use the entire field. That sets up play-action – the backbone of the Saints’ passing attack. The team also has a lot of success running screens, even outside of potential blitz situations.

This offense has been productive for years, evident in Brees’ 12 Pro-Bowl nominations with the Saints, though it started to slow down toward the end of last year. That decline has continued into the 2020 season.

Considering that Michael Thomas is sidelined with a high-ankle sprain, that trend is likely to continue for at least a few weeks. With Thomas out, Tre’Quan Smith has seen the most snaps at wide receiver. He doesn’t have the talent of a number-one receiver, but he is 6’ 2”, 210-pounds and by far the best blocking receiver available.

Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook will be the top receiving targets again this week, with potential for Emmanuel Sanders to break-out in his number-two receiver role.

Defensive Gameplan

Dennis Allen is the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator and has been since taking over for Rob Ryan in 2015. You may remember Allen for his time as head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 2012-2014. Oh, you don’t remember that? Don’t worry. Neither does anybody else. He went 8-28 before being fired midseason in 2014.

Allen has had much more success as a defensive coordinator. He took over the Saints’ mess of a defense and turned it into an efficient machine. Allen technically operates out of a base 4-3 alignment but that designation is outdated, especially when it comes to the Saints.

The New Orleans Saints have only played three snaps in base alignment, all of them during week one. That may be due to Zack Baun’s unavailability. After an injury-riddled preseason, Baun finally dressed for Monday night’s showdown but only participated on special teams. Once he gets up to speed, we may see him hanging around on the weakside near the line of scrimmage, providing pressure off the edge.

On the line of scrimmage, we see a heavy rotation between five defensive tackles and three defensive ends. Three-time All-Pro selection Cameron Jordan is the one to watch, though he’s been quiet so far this season.

Another player that’s been quiet is linebacker, Demario Davis. I highlighted Davis as a potential free-agent for the Packers a few weeks ago but after seeing him so far this year, I may have to change my tune. Davis hasn’t missed a snap yet in 2020 but still hasn’t impacted the game much. He’s not playing anywhere near his first-team All-Pro status from last year. Davis hasn’t been great in coverage but he does have one sack from his 23 blitz opportunities.

Speaking of blitzing – Allen loves to blitz his linebackers. He was able to scheme three sacks on Derek Carr in the first quarter, Monday night. Now that Baun is in the fold, we may see him blitz even more, even when the situation doesn’t call for it.

Three Keys Factors for the Saints

  1. Nickel and Dime Usage

The Saints have played so many fifth and sixth defensive back snaps that it’s time to call the 4-2 nickel their base alignment. As I stated earlier, that may be due to Baun’s absence. The secondary is a strength for the Saints and Allen is probably just trying to get his best 11 on the field.

Marshon Lattimore gets all the attention as the listed number-one cornerback but Malcolm Jenkins deserves most of the praise. He’s been operating in the box as the de-facto weakside linebacker – stopping the run, rushing the passer, and covering backs, slot receivers, and tight ends. He’s doing it all and hasn’t stepped off the field.

Marcus Williams has also played every snap, while Janoris Jenkins has done a fine job shutting down his side of the field. Chauncy Gardener-Jones has seen starting snaps at nickel, while Patrick Robinson and P.J. Williams have seen plenty of time in third-safety roles. This secondary is the only thing keeping the New Orleans Saints’ defense competitive.

  1. Questions on the Offensive Line

For the first two weeks of the season the starting offensive line has been listed as follows, from left to right – Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Erik McCoy, Nick Easton, and Ryan Ramczyk. Armstead, McCoy, and Ramczyk are all performing like Pro-Bowlers so far this year and have played every snap.

Peat and Easton are merely average. Caesar Ruiz was drafted in the first-round this past April and finally saw action in six plays on Monday night. He played as well as a guy can play for a small sample size. Ruiz was injured for most of the preseason but was drafted to start at guard and potentially compete with McCoy for starting center duties.

Ruiz might get his first start against the Packers on Sunday, while Peat and Easton battle it out for the other guard spot. Ruiz saw five of his snaps on the right side on Monday but typically, the team’s best pass blockers are on the left side, even at guard. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out. The future of the Saints offensive line looks pretty good.

  1. Drew Brees is a Game-manager

Brees has been the face of the New Orleans Saints’ organization for a decade and a half but at 41-years old, he’s a shell of his former self. He lacks the arm strength necessary to deal the ball downfield and he’s much less consistent than he used to be. His struggles are becoming more obvious by the week.

Brees’ primary responsibility should now be to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, and let them do what they do. If Payton doesn’t adapt the offense around his aging quarterback, there’s a chance the whole offense could implode.

That could open the door for Jameis Winston, who was brought in to be the number-two quarterback. He’s had varying amounts of success in the past and if Brees can’t get the job done, we may see Jameis take control of the offense before season’s end.

 

One last note on the Saints is that they have plenty of fight in them. They never let off the gas against the Bucs during week one, and when they were down 10 points with just over a minute to play on Monday night, they were still efficiently operating a two-minute offense – down to the last second.

This is a team that’s used to reaching the playoffs and we still need to respect the intangibles that are present on the Saints sideline and in their locker room. However valuable intangibles are, it still takes talent to put a decent product on the field and the Saints simply don’t have enough right now.

At 1-1, the New Orleans Saints fall into the category of average. An aging scheme and roster have this team in a bit of a lull. Sure, there are pieces to work with but as long as the Saints are tied to Drew Brees and his $25 million per year, they’re trending in the wrong direction.

I was initially concerned about the Packers matchup with the Saints, in New Orleans, but given what I’ve seen on the field, and the fact that home-field advantage is a non-factor right now, I’m much less concerned. I expect the Green Bay Packers to cruise through the New Orleans Saints.

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