The Saints are again wounded, this team just can’t seem to shake the injury bug, and unfortunately, it always seems to be key players that are missing time. But, at this stage, it doesn’t matter; one game back from the lead in the NFC South, the Saints need to start stacking victories.
These three matchups are the keys to securing a crucial victory.
Saints Rushing Attack Vs The Steelers Front Seven
Last week against the Ravens, the Saints offense crumbled when I couldn’t run the ball. It’s as simple as that. This offense goes as far as the running game will take them.
Against the Ravens it felt like as soon as it didn’t work on the first drives, Pete Carmichael caved and conceded that it wasn’t going to work, so we aren’t going to try.
That can’t happen this week, the Steelers on paper are relatively similar to the Ravens against the run. They have the personnel to execute the blueprint the Ravens showed last week to shut down the Saints rushing attack. Fast LBs, a big, experienced, and disciplined defensive front.
The Steelers enter Week Ten ranked seventh in the NFL in YPC given up (4.2 YPC) and will be getting reigning defensive player of the year, DE T.J. Watt, back after he tore his peck earlier in the season.
The Saints will also be without two of their starting offensive line, which adds to the level of difficulty this week, but they have to find a way to be the bully we’ve seen in previous weeks.
That does not mean running Alvin Kamara up the gut 20 times. That means actually using Taysom Hill, running QB Power (arguably the league’s most effective play), and not giving up if it doesn’t work the first time.
We saw what the Andy Dalton-led offense looked like last week without a running game. We can’t see it again this week in a game the Saints can’t afford to lose.
Saints Defense Vs Fundamentals
The Saints actually had a good plan on Monday night vs. Lamar Jackson, but the fundamentals of defense let them down, Tackling and coverage.
The defense had 13 missed tackles on against the Ravens, which is a problem that has plagued the team all season. Many of those looked to be when the defense tried to corral Jackson.
The Saints blitz Lamar more than they have any other QB this season. I think the plan worked the problem was the execution. There were several times when Lamar should have been sacked or stopped for minimal gain, but the defense missed him. One play that springs to mind as an example Marcus Davenport came screaming off the edge and had Jackson for a sack but aimed high. Jackson slipped the sack and rushed for a first down (for reference, 4:20 in the 2nd quarter).
There were other examples of this all game.
The final issue was blown coverages. It looked like the Saints defense blew several against the Ravens, where players either didn’t know their assignment or couldn’t get lined up in time to execute it,
This should not be happening this far into a season, especially with the amount of experience the Saints have in the secondary. These coverage errors led to the Ravens first touchdown and plenty of first-down passes, some on big third downs.
The Saints will be without Marshon Lattimore again this week and could be without Marcus Maye and P.J. Williams as well this weekend. Meaning the depth of this secondary will again be tested.
The Steelers offense is not a good one on paper, so giving them free big plays through missed tackles and blown coverages is a recipe for a long, frustrating game for the Saints.
Saints Defense And Turnovers.
If the Saints do play disciplined coverage, that should lead to turnovers.
The Saints still only have two interceptions on the season; only the Giants have fewer. That is putrid production from a secondary which such talent, The team as a whole only has seven takeaways, with one of those coming on special teams. Seven takeaways ranks second to last in the league, tied with the Dolphins and Commanders. Only the Raiders have less (5).
This is one of the main reasons for the team’s slump this year. They are last in the league in turnover differential at -10.
This week the defense squares off with rookie QB Kenny Pickett, a player the Saints were rumored to have really liked in the draft this past season.
If you look at his numbers so far this season, PFF has charted how he does against pressure, no pressure, blitzed, and not blitzed.
It makes for interesting reading. Usually, QBs, especially rookies, perform better with a clean un-pressured pocket. It’s clear that’s not the case with Pickett.
So far, Pickett has thrown seven of his eight interceptions when he’s had a clean pocket. That’s a sign when a team makes Pickett read the defense and make the right decisions, he isn’t, and it forces the ball into windows that aren’t there.
It looks like sending four rushers, even if they aren’t being that effective ( and I think they would be), and making Pickett decide where to go with the ball with plenty of players in coverage could be a recipe for success this Sunday.
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