Many prognosticators entering 2021 predicated the New Orleans Saints to drop in the standings predicted because of several offseason personnel losses. The retirement of QB Drew Brees created questions offensively, but the Saints also lost six major contributors on the defensive side of the ball.
It’s been that defense that has carried the team to a 2-1 start. The Saints have struggled offensively, but come into a week four matchup against the 0-3 New York Giants with one of the strongest defenses in the league.
New Orleans ranks sixth in total defense, third in points allowed, and second in red-zone defense. They've been one of the best teams against the run for the last four seasons. Their performance against the pass over the last two years has elevated this unit to an elite level.
The Giants come into this matchup with an 18th ranked offense. New York spent the offseason surrounding third-year QB Daniel Jones with receiving weapons to bolster a 29th ranked passing game in 2020. They also got back dynamic RB Saquon Barkley, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.
Once upon a time, the Saints fired up a raucous Superdome crowd with an intimidating defense. In their first game in their building this season because of the evacuation caused by Hurricane Ida, New Orleans has the personnel to recreate the same kind of environment.
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE VS. GIANTS PASSING ATTACK
New Orleans Pass Defense
The Saints have the NFL's 15th ranked pass defense after three weeks. They lead the league with six interceptions and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 61% of their passes. Those numbers would be even more imposing if not for a week two hiccup in allowing Carolina QB Sam Darnold over 300 yards.
Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore is off to perhaps the best start of his five-year career. Lattimore has given up only 46% completion percentage when targeted and has one interception. He missed the week two loss to the Panthers after thumb surgery, but rebounded to play every defensive snap last week against New England.
Lattimore's ability to eliminate an opponent's top receiver allows the defense to be more aggressive. His presence forces the opposition to target other areas of the field. The rest of the New Orleans secondary has been up to the challenge, especially rookie CB Paulson Adebo.
Adebo, a third-round pick from Stanford, is a tall and physical corner with excellent coverage skills. He’s allowed less than 61% completion percentage when targeted so far and has held his own against quality receivers.
Veteran CB Bradley Roby has been with the team for just a couple weeks after his trade from Houston. Roby is a quality corner with plenty of starting experience. Lattimore, Adebo, and Roby make up a terrific trio, while third-year defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson provides exemplary slot coverage.
Gardner-Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins, and Marcus Williams are a trio of playmaking safeties. Williams has outstanding range and anticipation from his free safety spot. Jenkins brings veteran leadership and excellent vision. Gardner-Johnson is one of the defense's most versatile players. P.J. Williams provides adequate depth at either safety or slot corner.
All-Pro LB Demario Davis is best known as a run-stopper, but is also one of the league's best linebackers in pass defense. Davis is a devastating blitzer, but also an elite athlete capable of staying with tight ends down the field or tracking down a back out of the backfield.
Rookie LB Pete Werner, a second-round selection, saw his first NFL action last week. Werner is an excellent athlete that elevates the coverage abilities of the linebacking corps. Zack Baun and Kaden Elliss are still improving in coverage, but give the unit depth and versatility.
Heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks makes the life of New Orleans defensive backs easier. The Saints have six sacks so far, but have registered 21 QB hits and several more pressures.
Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen runs an aggressive scheme and won't hesitate to blitz his linebackers and defensive backs. The defense has enough talent up front that it isn't necessary to blitz to create disruption.
Rookie DE Payton Turner, the team's first-round pick, has gotten off to an impressive start. Pro Bowl DE Cam Jordan has yet to record a sack, but had caused chaos from the edge. Offseason free-agent addition Tanoh Kpassagnon leads the team with two sacks, while DE Carl Granderson strengthens edge depth.
New York Passing Game
The Giants are averaging 243 yards/game through the air over the first three games, ranking 17th in the league. Third-year QB Daniel Jones has shown improved accuracy and is completing 65.4% of his passes. Jones has yet to throw an interception, but only has two passing touchdowns.
New York focused on giving their quarterback a better crew of pass catchers this offseason. They used a first-round draft choice on WR Kadarius Toney and added WR Kenny Golladay and TE Kyle Rudolph in free agency.
Jones will be without wideouts Sterling Shepard, the team's leading receiver, and Darius Slayton because of hamstring injuries. Golladay and Rudolph will play even larger roles, along with Toney, who is an explosive playmaker.
Former first-round pick TE Evan Engram, a Pro Bowler last season, has had a quiet start to the year. Wideouts Collin Johnson and speedy deep threat John Ross will also see increased snaps. Explosive RB Saquon Barkley, who is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, has nine catches but for just 56 yards so far.
The biggest factor impeding Jones’ development continues to be poor pass protection. Jones has been sacked eight times, hit 18 times, and hurried on several other throws.
Right tackle Nate Solder is a quality veteran and C Billy Price is a sound technician. However, RG Will Hernandez is a better run blocker and the left side of the Giants line is a mess.
What to Watch
Dennis Allen's defenses have had problems against mobile quarterbacks in the past. The edge rushers from New Orleans will have to maintain positioning to keep him from breaking containment, but have the athleticism to heavily pressure Jones from the outside.
Jones has thrown no interceptions this year, but New Orleans will look to pressure him into sacks and rushed throws. Lattimore, Adebo, and Roby look to have a favorable matchup against New York wideouts Golladay, Toney, and Johnson, but will be challenged to continue their standout play.
Look for the Giants to involve Barkley, Rudolph, and Engram more as receivers. Demario Davis and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson are outstanding in coverage, but Baun has struggled in that capacity. Werner should see more coverage snaps this week after a promising debut.
Daniel Jones is an intermediate passer. New Orleans has the personnel to disrupt his timing and clamp down on his receivers underneath. This defense also has the talent to make plays that sends the Superdome crowd into a frenzy, making life even more difficult for the Giants offense.