The New Orleans Saints look to rebound from a disappointing home loss last week when they travel to face 2-2 Washington this afternoon. Last week's loss to the New York Giants was the only game that the Saints have played at home so far this season.
What was most shocking about the defeat was the collapse of their normally formidable defense. The Saints have fallen to 11th in total defense, mainly because of 485 yards given up to the lowly Giants.
Over 400 yards of New York's output came through the air. The Saints still have one of the league's most formidable defenses against the run, but look to rebound against the pass.
New Orleans will need to do it against a Washington offense that ranks 20th in total yardage, but has averaged over 25 points per game. Washington ranks 19th in both rushing and passing production, but is a lowly 31st in third-down conversions.
Veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington's opening day starter, suffered a hip injury that will keep him out for at least half the season. Fourth-year QB Taylor Heinicke has started the last three games in his place. Heinicke got his first career start in Washington's playoff loss last year.
The Saints performed poorly against a lightly regarded quarterback in New York's Daniel Jones last week. Will they rebound against another overlooked passer this afternoon?
SAINTS PASS DEFENSE VS. WASHINGTON PASSING ATTACK
New Orleans Pass Defense
Last Sunday's performance plummeted the Saints to 26th in the NFL against the pass. New Orleans is allowing an average of 283 yards/game through the air, numbers skewed by coverage breakdowns against the Giants.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed 63% of their attempts against the Saints. However, New Orleans has intercepted 7 passes, second most in the league.
Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore leads the New Orleans coverage unit. Lattimore had an off day, by his standards, against the Giants, but still has an interception and has allowed less than 53% completion percentage when targeted this season. One of the league's top corners, he’s capable of shadowing an opponent's best wideout and taking him out of the game.
Complementing Lattimore at the other corner is Paulson Adebo, a rookie third-round pick. Adebo has gotten targeted frequently but has held up well. He’s intercepted one pass and allowed 63% success rate when targeted.
New Orleans traded for CB Bradley Roby late last month. Roby performed well in place of an injured Lattimore during a week 2 loss at Carolina, but has had limited playing time since.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has developed into one of the league's best slot corners and is allowing only 54% completion percentage when targeted. He is also used effectively as a blitzer off the edge, along with safeties Malcolm Jenkins and P.J. Williams.
Jenkins, Gardner-Johnson, and FS Marcus Williams make up a talented and versatile trio of safeties. Williams, who has 2 interceptions, has terrific range and anticipation on the back end. Jenkins and Gardner-Johnson are used all over the field.
The Saints linebackers play a pivotal role in the team's aggressive defensive schemes. All-Pro LB Demario Davis is a devastating blitzer but just as valuable in coverage. Rookie LB Pete Werner has teamed with Davis effectively in coverage, while Kaden Elliss and Zack Baun are better utilized as extra blitzers.
Pressure is key for the entire defense. The Saints have six sacks and 27 QB hits so far, but weren't able to generate consistent pressure on Giants QB Daniel Jones last week. Without Davenport and Onyemata, the other defensive linemen must create disruption to hurry opposing quarterbacks.
Veteran Pro Bowl DE Cameron Jordan has been an unfair scapegoat among the fans after a down year in 2020 and slow start this season. Jordan doesn't have a sack, but has recorded a team-high 10 pressures and six QB knockdowns.
Rookie DE Payton Turner is off to an impressive start to his career. Turner has a sack and 7 pressures in three games and is developing into a force opposite Jordan. Underrated DE Tanoh Kpassagnon leads the unit with 2 sacks. Carl Granderson provides depth along the edge even without Davenport.
Onyemata is the team’s best interior rusher. Without him, Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach have gotten decent push up the middle but need to be more consistent. Kpassagnon has also moved inside in some alignments.
Washington Passing Game
Taylor Heinicke has completed 69.5% of his throws for 960 yards with 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions so far. Heinicke has adequate arm strength and has good mobility. He also throws risky passes when pressured.
Washington has protected their quarterback well, allowing only 4 sacks in four contests. Their pass protection may suffer because of a season-ending injury to Pro Bowl RG Brandon Scherff. They have a strong left side with LG Ereck Flowers and LT Charles Leno Jr., but rookie RT Sam Cosmi could be vulnerable without the steady Scherff beside him.
Heinicke has a deep crew of pass catchers, but that depth will be tested today because of several injuries. Star TE Logan Thomas was placed on injured reserve this week. He’ll be replaced by blocking TE Ricky Seals-Jones. Wideouts Dyami Brown and Cam Sims have also been ruled out with injuries.
Antonio Gibson, the team's leading rusher, is questionable with a shin injury. Even if he plays, expect increased snaps from RB J.D. McKissic, a productive receiver out of the backfield. Explosive WR Curtis Samuel, who the Saints know well from his days with the Carolina Panthers, will be a game-time decision with a groin injury.
Samuel's presence would add a versatile dimension to Washington's offense, but Heinicke still has a couple dangerous receivers at his disposal. Veteran WR Adam Humphries is a reliable possession receiver with the speed to beat defenses deep.
Third-year WR Terry McLaurin is Washington's most dangerous offensive weapon.
Capable of beating defenses in multiple ways, McLaurin leads the team with 25 receptions for 354 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has two 100-Yd receiving games this year and had eight games of at least 80 yards receiving in 2020.
What To Watch
New Orleans looks to bounce back from an abysmal defensive performance against the Giants. It must start with their pass rush. Washington has protected their quarterback well, but the absence of Scherff could affect the entire blocking scheme.
The Saints are at their best when their talented front creates disruption up front. Ends Cam Jordan, Payton Turner, and Tanoh Kpassagnon must win their outside matchups against tackles Leno and Cosmi to pressure Heinicke into rushed throws.
A thinned Washington receiving corps can still present a danger, especially if Samuel can play. McLaurin is perhaps the NFL's most overlooked receiver, but has the ability to take over a game if Lattimore, Adebo, and Roby falter.
The Saints will match Lattimore up on McLaurin whenever possible. Expect New Orleans to blitz Davis and their linebackers inside in the absence of Scherff, hoping to get their defensive ends in one-on-one matchups on the edge.