There is newfound hope around this New Orleans Saints season, for that to continue they need a strong performance on Monday night when the 5-3 Baltimore Ravens come to town. There are three key matchups the Saints need to be on the right side of on Monday night for that hope to continue.
Alvin Kamara Vs Roquan Smith And Patrick Queen
The Saints offense runs best when their best gets the ball early and often. Since Andy Dalton has taken over at QB for the Saints that’s happened, he’s fed Alvin Kamara as much as possible. With Dalton as the starter, Kamara has played four games and is averaging 17.75 rush attempts per game and 8.5 targets per game. Pretty much 25 touches per game. He’s amassed 323 rushing yards and 268 receiving, an average of 80.75 yards rushing and 67 receiving yards per game, equally 147.75 scrimmage yards per game.
What that should illustrate is how effective Alvin Kamara has been this season with Dalton starting.
The Ravens on paper have two very good Alvin Kamara erasers (if there is such a thing). Right in time, the Ravens traded for Roquan Smith from the Chicago Bears, Smith is one of the better coverage LBs in the league and one of very few LBs in the league with the athletic profile to match up with Kamara. (4.51 40 time)
Since entering the league Smith has 8 interceptions and 11 PBUs, whilst only allowing 3 touchdowns in his coverage, equalling an 83.6 passer rating when targeted, that number is even more impressive this season sitting at a 69.0 passer rating allowed when targeted.
His expected starting partner Patrick Queen is no slouch either, running a 4.5 40 time, however, a fast 40 does not mean you are an elite coverage player at LB. he’s been a bit more streaky in converge so far in his NFL career. In his NFL career so far he has allowed 6 touchdowns whilst in converge and has 2 interceptions and 3 PBUs, equalling a 108.5 passer rating when targeted. He’s faired slightly better so far this season by only allowing a 92.7 passer rating when targeted.
Despite this improvement, he’s been targeted a lot in the passing game, so far this season he’s been targeted 46 times, surrendering 38 receptions for 387 yards, a massive 279 yards of those have come after the catch. Something we’ve seen all of Kamara’s career is he is smooth and effective as anyone after the catch.
This is a really interesting matchup for Kamara this week, both Lbs have the athletic profile to keep up with AK and both are used in coverage a lot, Kamara against an LB is a matchup the Saints will always target but they might have to tread carefully this week, especially against Smith.
Saints Run Defense Vs Lamar Jackson
Anyone who’s watched the Saints indecent year knows that this defense, as good as it’s been against the run, has struggled massively against mobile QBs. Well, that will be tested again this week against the best running QB in the league, Lamar Jackson.
This season Jackson 553 rushing yards at an average of 7.4 yards per rushing attempt. His 553 rushing yards are 140 yards more than the Saints leading rusher ( Alvin Kamara).
In their two matchups this season against rushing mobile QBs, the Saints defense allowed Marcus Mariota to rush for 72 yards on 12 attempts (6 YPC) and Kyler Murray rushed for 30 yards on 7 attempts (4.2 YPC).
This might not sound too bad, however, to combat the threat of these QBs rushing, the Saints have to deploy a much more conservative pass rush plan, that focuses more on keeping the QB in the pocket and less on sacking the QB. In both those games combined they pressured the QB 13 times, in the Raiders game alone the Saints had 22 pressures.
This defense goes as the pass rush does, if the front 7 are getting after the QB the Saints defense effectively they are far better than if they are not, that’s not groundbreaking information but it doesn’t make it any less true.
The final, unfortunate consequence of the additional attention the defense is paying these QBs is that the RBs on those teams seem to have more success than they might have usually. Take the two games mentioned earlier Cordarrelle Patterson rushed for 120 yards at 5.4 YPC and Eno Benjamin rushed for 92 yards at 7.6 YPC.
There is one way the Saints can turn the tide in their favour against Lamar’s rushing ability, forcing fumbles. Jackson has already fumbled 4 times this season on running plays, in his 4 seasons prior to this year he averages 10.75 fumbles per year on rushing plays.
This has to be an area the Saints attack with Jackson on Monday, but with great care, one failed attempt at striping the ball could allow Jackson to break free for a massive gain.
Saints Slot Defender/s Vs Mark Andrews
The Ravens are fairly thin on receiving threats, however, they do have the best receiving threat at TE in the league outside of Travis Kelce, in Mark Andrews.
To add to Lamar’s elite running ability he is also one if not the best passer in the intermediate area of the field (10-19 yards). So far this year Jackson has completed 66.7% of his passes when throwing between this yardage, for 502 yards,4 touchdowns and zero interceptions. These throws have averaged 11.4 yards per attempt.
If we look just specifically at the intermediate middle part of the field Jackson is completing 65.5% of his throws for 292 yards, 2 touchdowns and zero interceptions ( 10.1 yards per attempt). The reason I highlight this particular area of the field is this is where Mark Andrews does much of his damage, he’s one of the best players at attacking the seams in the NFL.
Andrews has run 66.4% of his snaps from the slo0 so far this season, so it’s going to be interesting to see who the Saints use to cover the slot this week, it sounds like Marshon Lattimore will be out again this week. Leaving Paulson Adebo and Alontae Taylor to start at outside corner.
Andrews is a bit banged up he was listed yesterday as a DNP at Thursday’s practice, Ravens HC John Harbaugh has said that Andrew’s injuries are not serious, but anytime someone is listed as DNP, with multiple injuries ( shoulder and ankle in Andrews case) it is something worth monitoring.
Leaving Chris Harris Jr, Justin Evans and P.J. Williams ( who’s expected to activated off IR this week) as the most logical options. Harris and Evans have both struggled so far this year, although Harris had a much better game last week, he is still one of the oldest starting DBs in the league.
P.J. Williams has had success in the slot previously but has since transitioned to playing more safety than CB. Personally, I’d still be tempted to give with Williams there this week, due to his more physical style of play and being the bigger of the three players.
Size does matter in this matchup, Andrews is a monster standing 6” 5 and weighing 247lbs per PFF. which is why you’d usually find a safety matched up on someone of this size. The Saints biggest coverage player would be safety Marcus Maye, but that would still be a size disadvantage and Andrews would likely relish the matchup from a coverage standpoint. This plan would mean Tyrann Mathieu would have to play more snaps as the deep safety has proven to not be the best way to deploy him so far this season.
Therefore as a hybrid safety/CB for me, P.J. Williams looks to be the best option 1 on 1, however, with the Ravens lack of weapons on the outside I’d expect Andrews to be double-teamed plenty this game.
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