View the Saints starters for this weeks game at MetLife Stadium
The Giants take on the Saints this week at Metlife Stadium. New Orleans will be the most efficient and explosive offense the Giants have faced this season, but also the most vulnerable defense. Here's what I saw watching their first three games on the coaches' tape.
When the Saints have the ball…
The Spotlight: Drew Brees
It was a pleasure watching Drew Brees, and he is still clearly one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League. First and foremost, he is extremely accurate. He sees the field and anticipates at an elite level. He knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball based on coverage and delivers it quickly and on time. He can move defensive backs with his shoulders and head movement. It will be a challenge for James Bettcher and the Giants defensive players to deal with the mental part of Brees' skill set all game long.
He just knows the game. He knows where his guys are going to be. He knows his offense. He knows where to throw the ball. I don’t know a lot of quarterbacks that throw the ball to where it should be and not to their receiver. Safety Landon Collins
Physically, Brees never had an elite level arm, but even closing in on age 40, it is still strong enough with his anticipation to throw out routes to the sideline in the 15-yard range. Where Brees starts to struggle with his accuracy is when he has to push it farther down the field outside the numbers. He can still do it but especially when on the move, the accuracy isn't where it is on other throws. He excels on throws over the middle, where he can find open windows and put the ball over the heads of linebackers with players going down the seam and on crossing routes.
Brees' pocket presence, feel and movement is still excellent. He can sense the rush and is very good at stepping up in the pocket and away from the rush to buy himself extra time while keeping his eyes downfield. It is important to pressure him. If he is allowed to sit in the pocket, he will find an open receiver.
You got to get in his face, try to limit his vision, but at the same time he has good pocket presence and he knows how to work in the pocket. Just presents a challenge for us to try to go out there and do that and get in his face and try to block his vision a little bit. Linebacker Alec Ogletree on Drew Brees
Brees has had issues with interceptions in past seasons, but this year he has protected the football and thrown no interceptions. None of his passes have been close to being picked off.
Inside the Numbers: Drew Brees has the highest passer rating (112.1) of any quarterback that has faced the Giants in the Super Bowl era (minimum 200 attempts). He is 5-2 against the Giants, with a 67% completion percentage, 311 yards per game, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Matchup: Alvin Kamara vs. Giants linebackers
Alvin Kamara is the Saints' matchup nightmare. He will line up everywhere on the field: as a running back in the backfield and as a receiver in the slot or outside. He runs routes like a wide receiver. The Saints try to get him in advantageous man to man matchups against opposing linebackers, who have no chance of covering him in the open field. They will try to get him the ball going down the field, but he is also a big part of the Saints screen game.
As a runner, Kamara is extremely fast and elusive, but is also decisive in attacking the hole with the ball in his hand. Against the Falcons in Week Three, Kamara ran primarily outside, but in the first two games he went between the tackles as well. In space, he is very difficult to tackle and can quickly turn a short gain into a big play. There's very little he can't do.
Inside the Numbers: Kamara' 30 receptions is the most by any running back in the first three games of the season in the Super Bowl Era. Kamara had 31 touches for 190 scrimmage yards against Atlanta, far more than the 17 he had in Week One and the 19 he had in Week Two.
They use him all over the field. He can line up at wide receiver, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. They look to get him the ball. He’s going to get his touches, so he’s special when he has the ball. He’s able to turn a small gain to a big gain and just like I said, it takes everybody to get to the ball and make a tackle. Linebacker Alec Ogletree on Alvin Kamara
Offensive Scheme and Tendencies
• Without running back Mark Ingram, who is serving a league suspension, the Saints are a passing team. They pass the ball a whopping 68% of the time. This is not a product of game situation or score. In the first halves of games, they actually pass the ball more, 70.4% of the time. The Giants linebackers and defensive backs will be challenged all game long, and their defensive line will be given many chances to get after the quarterback.
Inside the Numbers: According to Stats Inc, the average NFL team will run the ball 48.6% of the time on first down. The Saints run it just 34% of the time on first down. The Saints are the second-best first-down team in the league, averaging 7.74 yards per play. No team has a higher percentage of their first down plays (64%) go for four or more yards. It's no coincidence the Saints have the seventh-highest second-down conversion rate (39%) in the NFL.
• Sean Payton's Saints have always been one of the best screen teams in the league and it is no different in 2018. Aside from using Kamara in screen situations from the backfield or when lined up as a receiver, they will also use other receivers and tight ends on those plays. They disguise them extremely well, so the Giants will have to be disciplined in rushing up the field, and then flow to the ball once it is out of Brees' hands.
• Michael Thomas is a legitimate number one receiver in the NFL. He is not a traditional burner (4.57 40-yard dash at the combine), but he has the frame (6'3 205 pounds), catch radius, strength, hands and route running ability to give defenses nightmares. He is Brees' go-to target down the field. He has caught a ludicrous 95% of his targets this season (38 receptions) and is adept at finding the holes in zone defenses in the middle of the field. He is the type of big target Brees can go to with confidence throughout the game.
Inside the Numbers: Michael Thomas is running more and more of his routes from the slot. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, 45% of his targets and 32% of his receptions have come from the slot this year, far more than his first two seasons in the league.
They’re going to move him, put him all over the field and there’s special plays that are designed to get him touches just like Kamara and it might be in the slot, it might be the X in the back side of the three-by-one, a few times it’s the Z outside to the three receiver side. I think anywhere they put him you got to be aware he’s a focal point and there’s some things designed for him that are going to come in the game. Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher
• The Saints have specific ways they want to use Ted Ginn Jr.'s speed. They will use him on end-arounds, jet sweeps, screens and deep down the field as a speed receiver. Once defensive backs give him space, they'll use him on some of those stops and comebacks outside.
• Brees doesn't have a Jimmy Graham-caliber receiver at tight end, but he likes to throw to them nonetheless. Veterans Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson have been productive this year and average 11.2 and 12.3 yards per reception, respectively. These are not guys Brees will dump the ball down to. He'll hit both on seam routes down the field and on deep crossing routes if the safeties and linebackers aren't fulfilling their assignments or losing in one on one coverage.
• The Saints offensive line is playing great football. Pro Football Focus has them ranked as the 7th-best pass blocking unit in the NFL. Left tackle Terron Armstead is playing at a Pro Bowl level, and second-year right tackle Ryan Ramczyk is also playing well. Their starting left guard, Andrus Peat, missed last week's game with an ankle injury after being listed as questionable for the game and being limited in practice during the week.
When the Giants Have the Ball…
The Spotlight: Cameron Jordan
Jordan is the Saints best individual pass rusher. He will line up almost exclusively over the opposing team's right tackle, where he has racked up four sacks already this season after tallying 13 in 2017. His four sacks tie him for the league lead. He doesn't win with dynamic speed and quickness off the edge. Instead, he'll win with power, technique, hand usage, and veteran savvy. He also sets the edge well in the run game. It will be Chad Wheeler's job to block him, only a week after he gave up three sacks to J.J. Watt. I would expect the Giants' scheme to not put him on an island in pass protection on too many plays. Jordan is the best player on the Saints defense and the Giants have to make sure he does not wreck the game.
Inside the Numbers: Pro Football Focus has Jordan ranked as the 10th-best edge rusher in the league so far this season, with better play against the run than the pass. Aside from his four sacks, Pro Football Focus also credits him with six quarterback hurries.
The Matchup: Marshon Lattimore vs. Odell Beckham Jr.
Lattimore is last year's defensive rookie of the year, and he is the Saints' best cover cornerback. His play, however, has dropped off from what he was able to do as a rookie. According to Pro Football Focus, he was beaten by Mike Evans and the Buccaneers in the first week for four catches on six passes thrown his way for 115 yards and a touchdown. Since then, Lattimore has allowed six catches on six targets for 60 yards.
Lattimore will likely find himself on Odell Beckham Jr. and could follow him around for much of the game, especially with the injury to Patrick Robinson. Beckham presented Lattimore with his defensive rookie of the year award at the NFL Awards ceremony last season. Lattimore has as much talent as any cornerback in the league, and how he is able to cover Odell Beckham Jr. could go a long way in determining who wins this game.
Inside the Numbers: Lattimore has just a 61.9 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus this season, after earning a grade of 89.6 last season. According to PFF's tracking, he has not broken up a pass yet this season, and has allowed 77 yards after the catch due to poor tackling. Opposing quarterbacks have a 146.5 rating when throwing in his direction.
I think he was the defensive rookie of the year last year, I presented him the award, so I know that he’s very, very good. Even watching film, he’s just different. I don’t know the word – not sturdy, but he’s just very balanced, and he’s very good. We’ve got a challenge ahead of us, I don’t know exactly if it’s going to be a match up, if he’s following you here, there, this that and the other, but we have a challenge ahead of us, but I know we’re all up for it. Odell Beckham Jr. on Lattimore
Defensive Scheme and Tendencies
• Saints Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen runs a 4-3 defense that has struggled this season, giving up the third-most yards per game (421) and the most points per game in the NFL. Their rush defense has been strong, allowing only three yards per carry. Big plays have been a big problem for the Saints secondary, with DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and Calvin Ridley all catching long touchdown passes down the field.
Inside the Numbers: The Saints have allowed five pass plays of 40 or more yards this year, more than any other team in the NFL that has played only three games. Their 10.2 passing yards allowed per play is worst in the league.
• The Saints played a lot of man to man defense Week One against Tampa Bay, and their cornerbacks were beaten deep often. They were either beaten off the line, or fell prey to double moves. They were victimized by back shoulder catches as well. The Saints went to more zone defense the last couple of weeks (and struggled with that, too) but still played a fair amount of press man. They mix up their coverages, but play mostly single-high safety and will put their cornerbacks on an island. The Saints' deep safeties have not given the cornerbacks much help either, not getting over the top where they are supposed to be on many plays.
• Last week New Orleans lost cornerback Patrick Robinson, who had been playing the slot. Ken Crawley, who had been benched for P.J. Williams, went in for Robinson. The Saints could go with Williams in the slot this week, or try safety Vonn Bell, who has played there some on early downs this season.
Inside the Numbers: Williams and Crawley are the two lowest-graded defenders on the Saints roster by Pro Football Focus. Pro Football Focus has Williams is the lowest-graded cornerback in football, while Crawley is 10th worst.
• The Saints do want to pressure the quarterback. Cameron Jordan is their best individual pass rusher, but they have other young interior rushers like Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata. Alex Okafor is a solid right defensive end that excels against the run. Rookie Marcus Davenport is physically impressive but raw and wins more with length and power than anything else at this point in his career.
Yeah, they definitely pop out on tape. They’re fast, they’re a physical team. They’ve got some great linebackers over there, great defensive linemen over there. We’ve faced great defenses before. We got to continue to just work on ourselves, and continue to come in every single day and work hard. I think everything else will take care of itself. Running back Saquon Barkley
• The Saints rush defense has been its best feature. They will play eight men in the box and lead the NFL giving up only three yards per carry.
They do a good job. They like to play a lot of single safety and have a safety down so they’re pretty big up front in their D-Line and stuff. They do a good job against the run and we just got to be able to find the run game, but also see if we can hit some plays in the pass game as well. QB Eli Manning