The Saints are thoroughly in win-now mode, yes, they are only one game back from the division lead, but they must start taking advantage of that and winning games.
I think there are three key matchups for the Saints must win on Sunday.
Hunter Renfrow and Davante Adams Vs Saints Slot Defender/S
With Bradley Roby on IR the Saints options for slot defenders are not great. Generally, Justin Evans and Chris Harris Jr have been the options.
Per PFF whilst covering the slot, these are their stats:
Justin Evans– 77 coverage snaps, 20 targets, 15 receptions for 165 yards, 85 of those yards have been after the catch. One touchdown allowed, passer rating when targeted of 115.6
Chris Harris Jr– 38 coverage snaps, 8 targets, 8 receptions for 72 yards, 41 of those yards have been after the catch. Zero touchdowns given up, passer rating when targeted 104.2.
That does not make for pleasant reading when the Saints have Davante Adams and Hunter Renfrow next up on the schedule.
When playing in the slot:
Hunter Renfrow– 77.3% of his targets this year have been when he’s is lined up in the slot. 17 targets, 12 receptions for 111 yards, 51 of those yards are after the catch, he’s forced 4 missed tackles so far this year and 5 of his catches have resulted in first downs.
Renfrow has fumbled twice however and Raiders QB Derek Carr has thrown an interception when targeting him in the slot.
The key thing with Renfrow is limiting the yards after the catch., which is something this Saints secondary has really struggled with. Renfrow’s average depth of target in the slot is 5.2, if the Saints limit the YAC that number 5 yards a catch is far more manageable.
Davante Adams -is a different situation altogether.
Only 27.6% of his snaps have been played from the slot, but has been targeted 16 times, and made 15 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown, the one incompletion was an interception. Adams has been a monster after the catch, 97 of his yards have been YAC. He’s also forced 6 missed tackles from the slot and 9 of these 15 catches have resulted in a first down.
Adams is a different situation because the hope is that Marshon Lattimore will be back and should shadow Adams, even when he goes into the slot. Lattimore doesn’t always follow his man into the slot, but I think that’s a must in this game if Lattimore plays.
I’d also like the see the Saints give rookie Alontae Taylor a run in the slot, ideally you would keep him on the outside, Roby’s injury could force their hand. At this stage you need your best players in the secondary on the field, however, they achieve that it doesn’t matter.
I can’t face another week of Justin Evans getting picked on in coverage.
Right Side Of The Saints Line Vs Maxx Crosby
Maxx Crosby is a game wrecker, truly one of the elite players in the league at his position. He is everything the Saints want Marcus Davenport to be, big, physical, long, athletic and flat-out dominant.
Per PFF Crosby has totalled 30 QB pressures this season (including sacks) which he has 6 of. His 30 total pressures is the fifth most in the NFL. He’s also a demon in run defense, Crosby has totalled 19 defensive stops in the run game ( Defensive Stops mean – tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense) that is second most in the league across all defensive positions, not just defensive lineman.
He primarily lines up on the left side of the defensive line, which for the Saints would be Ryan Ramczyk and Cesar Ruiz’s side of the line. This should be the stronger side of the line for the Saints and Ryan Ramczyk needs to show why he’s the highest-paid RT in the league this game.
Rookie contract Ramczyk would stonewall his opponent in these matchups which is why the Saints quickly locked up the former first-round pick to a massive contract. However, Ram has struggled more than usual since suffering a significant knee injury that cause him to miss time last season. The repercussion of that was described this offseason. It was explained early in training camp that Ramczyk would likely be on a ‘load management plan for the rest of his career to make sure his knee holds up.
So far that has worked with him taking every Wednesday off in practice, meaning Ramczyk has played every snap for the Saints, however, he has not been as dominant in pass protection as you would usually expect.
Next to him is the new and improved Cesar Ruiz I discussed his massive improvement in more detail here – Three Up/Down After the Saints Dismal Loss on Thursday Night (whodathype.com)
Whether it’s Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston starting at QB it’s shown that pressure can derail this offense and throw off all timing and rhythm. It’s also caused plenty of turnovers.
Either way, you slice it the Saints have the talent to limit Crosby however they must have a plan for him going into Sunday’s game, otherwise, he could be an absolute game-wrecker.
Saints Run Defense Vs Josh Jacobs
Josh Jacobs has looked like one of the best backs in the league in recent weeks, if not the best. In his last three games, he has rushed for 441 yards and scored six rushing touchdowns.
Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem for the Saints since 2017 their defense has been a top 2 unit in the league against the run. However, this year that is not the case, so far, they have allowed 4.6 YPC, which ranks 19th in the league.
They have also given up several massive run plays, Kenneth Walker ran for a 69-yard touchdown, Eno Benjamin had a 45-yard run for the Cardinals last week etc… these were plays you simply haven’t seen from the Saints run defense for several years.
There’s one very easy statistic that shows the issues the Saints are having. Below is the starting defensive line’s average depth of tackle in the run game:
- Marcus Davenport (3.2 yards)
- Shy Tuttle (3.8 yards)
- David Onyemata (4 yards)
- Cameron Jordan (1.2 yards)
What this shows is three of the starting defensive line are getting pushed back significantly against the run last season all three were around 2 yards. Cam is still doing what he’s always done and playing stout strong run defense the problem is with the rest of the line.
Honestly, I don’t know what the coaches can do to fix this, this stat shows it could be a player problem so without adding more talent this could just be the reality of this season’s unit.
If you want to look at this in a cheerier light, then you could argue they’ve shown before to be a dominant line against the run with the same players, so they could turn it around, I hope that’s the case.
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