The Giants will try to break their two-game losing streak and retain a share of the NFC East lead when they visit the New Orleans Saints Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Losses to San Francisco and Philadelphia the last two weeks have left the Giants at 6-4. New Orleans, which is coming off its bye week, is 7-3, including 4-0 at home. The Saints won their last two games. The Giants lead the series, 14-11, but have lost the last three meetings and their last three games in the Superdome. But they are 9-3 in regular season games played indoors under Tom Coughlin.
The Saints have had the NFL's most prolific offense through the first 11 weeks of the season. They lead the NFL in total yards (436.9 a game), passing yards (319.4), first downs (24.5), third down conversion (53.3 with 72 success in 135 opportunities) and are second in scoring (31.3 points per game).
New Orleans replaced five starters on offense from their 2010 team and added key contributors like running backs Darren Sproles and first-round draft choice Mark Ingram. Second-year tight end Jimmy Graham leads the NFC with 62 receptions, and Sproles is right behind him with 60.
The Saints are an explosive offensive team that uses multiple personnel combinations and formations. They line up with three wide receivers 40 percent of the time and with two running backs on 60 percent of their snaps. They also employ three tight ends and two fullbacks. Because Graham and Sproles are so versatile, New Orleans has used four wide receivers on one play all season. The Saints like to play at a fast tempo and will use the no-huddle at any point in a game (except, of course, when they're trying to bleed the clock). They've had 46 passes gain more than 20 yards.
Quarterback Drew Brees is having another superb season. He has completed 299 of 422 passes (70.9 percent) for 3,326 yards, 23 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of 101.3. He leads the NFL in attempts, completions and yardage, is second in completion percentage and third in passer rating. Brees is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season yardage record of 5,084 in 1984 (he finished 15 yards shy in 2008), he has at least 20 completions in 30 consecutive games and his streak of 37 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass is the second-longest in history to Johnny Unitas' 47.
New Orleans has impressive depth at running back, where three players - Sproles, Ingram and Pierre Thomas - have run for at least 340 yards and two touchdowns. Sproles has been tremendous, averaging 6.8 yards a carry and six catches a game. He has scored five touchdowns. The Saints try to isolate him in space, where he is a dynamic performer. Thomas has the strength and durability to be an every-down back and is second on the team with an average of 4.7 yards a carry. Ingram has been used as a short-yardage back and leads New Orleans with 93 rushing attempts. Since spending the first seven games on the physically unable to perform list, Chris Ivory has made this a more formidable group with 85 rushing yards in the last two games.
Fullback Jed Collins is a good blocker who will get the ball near the goal line. He has also caught six passes. Korey Hall has been in uniform when second tight end David Thomas was not. Thomas missed five games with a concussion and went on injured reserve last week with a second concussion. When Hall plays, he is used as an extra blocker when the Saints line up with three backs behind Brees.
Tight ends Graham, Thomas and John Gilmore all played. Graham played four years at the University of Miami – on the basketball team. He played just one season of football. But he is an athletic and explosive player who leads all NFL tight ends in receptions and yards (873) and has scored six touchdowns. He finds holes in zone defenses and is a powerful runner after catching the ball. Gilmore is a big-bodied blocker who is used in the Saints' heavy run package. Matthew Higgins was signed off the practice squad to replace Thomas.
Brees also gets to throw to a talented and versatile group of wide receivers. Marques Colston leads the unit with 42 catches for 589 yards and three scores, despite missing two games with a broken collarbone he suffered in the season opener. He is a big, strong target with a huge strike zone. Devery Henderson is the fastest wideout. He is averaging 17.7 yards a catch and has the Saints' long reception this season, 79 yards. Lance Moore is a possession receiver who factors all over the middle of the field. He makes excellent adjustments and has strong hands. Robert Meachem is strong enough to produce on short and intermediate passes and fast enough to run deep routes. Moore and Meachem have combined for seven touchdowns.
The Saints have the most complete offensive line the Giants have faced this season. It is a big, physical, tough-minded group that is led by what is probably the NFL's best guard tandem in Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. Some scouts believe Nicks is not only the league's finest guard, but one of the NFL's top 10 players. He is a violent, powerful player who excels in both run and pass blocking. Evans has made 91 consecutive starts and played in the last two Pro Bowls. He is big and agile and can out-duel many of the league's defensive tackles. Jermon Bushrod is an athletic and improving left tackle. Brian de la Puente had zero snaps from the line of scrimmage prior to this season but has become a smart and aware center. Right tackle Zach Strief is a first-year starter who missed five games with a knee injury. He has played well in the two games since his return. Charles Brown started in his place, but has since been placed on injured reserve. Pat McQuistan is used as an extra tight end and blocker.
The Saints are ranked 20th in yards allowed (361.4 a game) and are tied for 20th in points given up (22.8). They are 19th defending the run (121.5), but they've allowed an NFL-worst 5.2 yards a carry. They are also 19th against the pass (239.9). In four home games, their opponents converted only 28.5 percent of their third-down opportunities.
In an era when pressuring quarterbacks is a way of life in the NFL, the Saints' aggressive, attacking defense blitzes more than any team in the league. The defense benefits from an outstanding kickoff team; 81 percent of opposition drives start at or inside the 20-yard line after a New Orleans kickoff. The Saints M.O. is to jump ahead, force the opposition to work with a long field and have their zealous crowd create a din that challenges opposing offenses to operate efficiently.
Rookie Cameron Jordan has started every game at left end and has demonstrated that he is going to be a terrific player. He doesn't yet have a sack, but Jordan is an attacker who chases the ball and competes on every play. Sedrick Ellis is a tough and active defensive tackle. Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers share the nose tackle position. Rogers is an exceptional player with the quickness to shoot through gaps at the snap of the ball. Franklin is a strong anchor vs. the run and a powerful pass rusher. Right end Will Smith is an experienced and clever player with 59.5 career sacks – 4.5 this year – and 19 forced fumbles. Junior Galette, Tom Johnson and Jeff Charleston are all productive as backups or in the sub defenses.
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma did not practice Saturday and is listed as questionable for the game because of a left knee injury that has forced him to miss three games. A three-time Pro Bowler, Vilma is instinctive and athletic and he gets everyone on the field lined up correctly. Jo-Lonn Dunbar is normally the strongside linebacker, but he moves to the middle when Vilma is off the field. Dunbar is an attacker who can make a mess of the opposing team's run game. Scott Shanle is the regular weakside linebacker, but he shifts to the strong side when Dunbar plays inside. Shanle reads schemes quickly and pursues with high effort. Jonathan Casillas plays the weak side when Vilma's absence triggers a shuffle. He is the Saints' best blitzing linebacker. Will Herring and rookie Martez Wilson also contribute in several packages.
Two-time Pro Bowl safety Roman Harper tops the Saints in tackles with 79 (56 solo) and leads all NFL defensive backs with a team-high 6.5 sacks. An excellent player in the box, Harper is quick to read and react and shut down the run game. He is seldom used in coverage. Free safety Malcolm Jenkins is a converted corner who is second on the team with 70 tackles (43 solo). He maintains tight man-to-man coverage. Isa Abdul-Quddus plays in sub packages. Left cornerback Jabari Greer has broken up 18 passes, a team-high. He is an excellent player with superb coverage skills. Right corner Tracy Porter missed two early games with a calf injury, but he is an alert player with good range. Patrick Robinson is valuable in sub packages and Leigh Torrence is best in zone defenses.
Sproles is yet another dangerous return man the Giants must try to shut down. He is averaging 26.5 yards on 24 kickoff returns, including a 57-yarder, and he has a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. Kicker John Kasay is a 21-year veteran who has made 22 of 27 field goal attempts, including two of four from 50 or more yards. Thomas Morstead is second in the NFL with a 42.5-yard net punting average and his 42 touchbacks as the Saints' kickoff man lead the league; 71.8 percent of his kickoffs in the Superdome are touchbacks.
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