The 5-4 New Orleans Saints travel to take on the 4-6 Philadelphia Eagles in a week 11 battle of NFC playoff hopefuls. New Orleans has lost two straight, while Philadelphia has won two of their last three.
Each team is in second place in their respective divisions. Philadelphia is three games behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. The Saints sit a game back of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South.
New Orleans enters this game with a boatload of injuries on the offensive side. Explosive RB Alvin Kamara will miss his second straight game with a knee injury. They’ll also be without both Pro Bowl tackles, Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Offensive weapon Taysom Hill will be a game-time decision with a foot injury.
The Saints will also be without S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson along with defensive linemen Tanoh Kpassagnon, Payton Turner, and Malcolm Roach. Remember that this is a team that’s been without All-Pro WR Michael Thomas and K Wil Lutz all year and lost QB Jameis Winston to a season-ending knee injury three weeks ago.
New Orleans has dealt with several other injuries on both sides of the ball, along with other obstacles, all season. Here are some players to watch closely if they are going to overcome more personnel losses to emerge with this week 11 victory.
MARQUEZ CALLAWAY, WR
Many projected a big season for the second-year undrafted wideout after a strong training camp and promising rookie year. It hasn’t turned out that way for Callaway, who has 24 receptions for 346 yards and a team-high 5 touchdowns.
Those aren't bad numbers for a complementary weapon, but disappointing production for a player expected to be the top receiver with Thomas out.
The Saints passing attack ranks a lowly 31st in the NFL. Quarterbacks Winston and Trevor Siemian have been plagued by drops and inconsistent separation from their receivers.
The tight end position has been abysmal, but Callaway, Deonte Harris, and WR Tre'Quan Smith have both shown playmaking ability.
Philadelphia's defense ranks 13th against the pass, but their cornerbacks typically give a big cushion to prevent big plays. The Eagles have allowed five different receivers at least 90 yards against them. Opposing passers are completing 74% of their throws against Philadelphia coverage.
If Philadelphia plays the same loose coverage against New Orleans, it will be up to the receivers to make plays underneath to get QB Trevor Siemian into a rhythm.
Deonte Harris has emerged as the team's most reliable route runner. Callaway, Smith, and TE Adam Trautman also need to make plays to keep the offense from sputtering again.
BRETT MAHER, K
The 2021 revolving door at kicker continues for the Saints without Lutz. New Orleans released rookie K Brian Johnson after two missed extra points in a 2-point loss to the Titans. The 32-year-old Maher will be the fourth kicker the team has used this season.
Maher appeared in 29 regular season games for the Dallas Cowboys between 2018 and 2019, converting 68 of 69 extra points. He is the first player in NFL history to kick two field goals of over 60 yards, but is just 74.2% on career field goal percentage.
Johnson, Cody Parkey, and Aldrick Rosas combined to miss three of 12 field goals and five extra point misfires this season. Three of the last four Saints games have been decided by three points or fewer.
MARSHON LATTIMORE, CB
The Saints defense ranks 26th against the pass. Their secondary has shut down top receivers like Green Bay's Davante Adams, Robby Anderson of Carolina, Washington's Terry McLaurin, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett of Seattle, Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, and A.J. Brown of the Titans.
The Saints have also shown a disturbing trend of getting torched by mediocre quarterbacks and no-name receivers. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is the top player on a talented unit and often locks on to the opponent's best receiver.
Lattimore has an interception and is among the NFL leaders with 10 passes broken up. He's allowed just 55% completion percentage when targeted. He’ll likely be matched up on rookie WR DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia's leading receiver with 42 catches for 603 yards.
New Orleans struggled against rub routes and crossing patterns in their loss to Tennessee. Philadelphia runs a similar passing scheme with their wideouts. The Saints can best combat that by having their corners get physical at the line with the Eagles receivers to disrupt their release.
LANDON YOUNG, OT
As mentioned above, the Saints will be without a pair of Pro Bowl tackles in Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk. Veteran James Hurst has played extremely well at both guard and tackle. He’ll take Armstead's place at left tackle.
A starter at right tackle hasn't been announced, but we should see rookie T Landon Young in his first action of the year. Young, a sixth-round pick from Kentucky, has prototype size and good agility.
The entire New Orleans line will be tested by an Eagles defensive line that has 18 sacks, 49 QB hits, and has 40 tackles for loss. Ends Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, and Ryan Kerrigan are a disruptive trio that can wreck an offense.
New Orleans will try to help Young with double-teams when possible, but they’ll also have to contend with defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave inside.
The better Young and Hurst can handle edge assignments one-on-one, the more likely that the Saints will control the line of scrimmage for a balanced attack.
DAVID ONYEMATA, DT
Onyemata has been rather quiet statistically in his three outings back from a six-game suspension to start the year. He has 13 tackles and a fumble recovery, but no stops for loss, no sacks, and just five pressures.
The Saints are counting on Onyemata, their best interior rusher, to provide inside disruption. His ability to do so will cause an opponent to commit an extra blocker inside, creating more one-on-one matchups for ends Marcus Davenport, Cam Jordan, and Carl Granderson.
The entire Saints defensive front will face the challenge of a multi-faceted Philadelphia running game that ranks third in the league. The Eagles have eclipsed 200 rushing yards in two of their last three games.
Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts ripped a normally formidable New Orleans run defense with 115 yards on the ground last season. The Eagles rushed for 246 yards as a team in that matchup. It was the most the Saints had given up on the ground in 93 outings.
If Davenport and Jordan can win their outside matchups and maintain rush discipline, it will keep the athletic Hurts from getting outside containment. Onyemata and fellow DT Shy Tuttle must then get interior push to defuse inside runs and hurry Hurts from the pocket. It’s something they failed to do in a loss at Philadelphia last December.