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Inside Week 10: Saints Passing Attack vs. Titans Pass Defense

Can New Orleans QB Trevor Siemian and a crew of inconsistent receivers move the ball against a physical and disruptive Tennessee defense?
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For fans of the New Orleans Saints over the last 16 years, 2021 has been a culture shock. Since head coach Sean Payton took over the franchise in 2006, the team has had a historically productive offense centered around one of the best passing attacks in NFL history.

Payton's offenses held a top-five ranking in passing yardage in each of his first 11 years with the team. Over the last few seasons, the Saints success has been built around offensive balance and a disruptive defense.

New Orleans (5-3) enters today’s game at the 7-2 Tennessee Titans with the league's 28th ranked offense. Their passing attack has been particularly unproductive.

QB Jameis Winston will miss the rest of the year with a knee injury, WR Michael Thomas won't play a down this season. The Saints also come into this game without dynamic RB Alvin Kamara and dominant LT Terron Armstead.

They’ll take on a Titans team with the league's 19th ranked defense, giving up an average of 366 yards per game.

Tennessee has won five straight contests. That includes two games where they held the high-powered attacks of the Rams and Chiefs to a combined 19 points.

SAINTS PASSING ATTACK VS. TITANS PASS DEFENSE

New Orleans Passing Game

New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian (15) makes a throw against the Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY 

New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian (15) makes a throw against the Atlanta Falcons. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY 

Only the Chicago Bears average less than the Saints 191.6 yards per game through the air. In one of the year's most surprising statistics, New Orleans ranks just 29th in the league in passing attempts.

Trevor Siemian will again get the start in place of the injured Winston. Siemian's 41 pass throws in last week's comeback effort against Atlanta were the most by the Saints in a game this season. Despite several drops, he threw for 249 yards and two scores.

Siemian has an adequate arm and decent mobility. He’s shown the ability to execute Payton's game plan, but needs a much better contribution from his receivers.

The Saints crew of pass catchers are arguably the worst in the league. Third-year WR Deonte Harris leads the team with 323 yards receiving, scoring twice on 21 receptions despite missing nearly two full games. Harris has gamebreaking speed, but is also the best route runner among the wideouts.

Second-year WR Marquez Callaway hasn't made the huge jump in production that many projected after a strong training camp.

Callaway has 309 yards on 22 receptions and is tied for the team lead with 4 touchdowns. He has the skills to be a productive receiver, but needs to get more consistent separation.

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Deonte Harris (11) against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Deonte Harris (11) against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Fourth-year WR Tre'Quan Smith has the most experience in the team's system. After missing the first five games, Smith has just 7 catches for 97 yards in three contests. He has good size and speed, but cannot get consistent separation from man coverage and doesn't perform well in traffic.

Veteran wideouts Kenny Stills and Kevin White have the speed to be deep threats, but haven't stepped up for a team desperate for playmakers.

Versatile RB/WR Ty Montgomery is a capable intermediate target, but will likely be used more at running back because of the injury to Alvin Kamara.

The tight ends have been even worse than the wideouts. Adam Trautman has been plagued by drops and lack of separation. Converted wideout Juwan Johnson has seen his snaps reduced and was inactive last week. Garrett Griffin is just an extra blocker.

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Making matters worse for the Saints is that they'll be without Kamara, their leading receiver and the league's most dangerous offensive weapon. Veteran RB Mark Ingram will handle the brunt of the rushing duties. Ingram is also a valuable weapon on screens and check-down passes.

Offensive weapon Taysom Hill should see increased snaps at quarterback as a change of pace to Siemian. Payton could also use Hill as a short yardage receiver, besides his abilities as a runner.

The Saints must protect Siemian well to give his receivers as much time as possible to get open. New Orleans quarterbacks have been sacked 13 times this season, but were heavily pressured early in the year. Pass protection has been much better in recent weeks, except for one critical breakdown last week against the Falcons.

Starting LT Terron Armstead will be sidelined this week with a knee injury. Veteran James Hurst will fill Armstead's spot, with Calvin Throckmorton stepping in at left guard.

All-Pro RT Ryan Ramczyk has been inconsistent at times, but still one of the best in the game. C Erik McCoy and RG Cesar Ruiz join Throckmorton with the responsibility of providing a clean interior pocket.

Tennessee Pass Defense

Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (98) pressures Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) and forces him to throw an interception. © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (98) pressures Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) and forces him to throw an interception. © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Titans surrender an average of 266 yards/game through the air, ranking 24th in the league. They've allowed three 300-yard passers and six outings of at least 285 yards, with quarterbacks completing 63% of their attempts against them.

Former Saint Janoris Jenkins is the team’s top cornerback. Jenkins is a proven ball-hawk who has yet to have an interception this season and has allowed 68% completion percentage when targeted.

Second-year CB Kristian Fulton was activated off injured reserve this week and will likely start. Fulton has an interception and has surrendered just 44% completion rate against him this season. Chris Jackson and rookie Elijah Molden gives Tennessee a deep and athletic crew of corners.

Safety Kevin Byard is one of the NFL's most underrated defensive playmakers. Byard has five of the team’s 9 interceptions and leads the Titans with 11 passes broken up. He’s complemented by athletic and physical Amani Hooker on the back end.

Tennessee ILB David Long, their leading tackler, will miss this week with a hamstring injury. Fellow ILB Rashaan Evans is a game-time decision with an ankle injury. 

Linebackers Jayon Brown and promising rookie Monty Rice will see increased snaps. Both are physical players with good athleticism and are solid in coverage.

Tennessee runs a base 3-4 defense with big and disruptive pass rushers. The Titans have 23 sacks and 60 QB hits this season. Edge rusher Harold Landry has a team-high 9 takedowns and is complemented by the explosive Bud Dupree on the other edge.

Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry are a pair of huge and disruptive linemen up front. They've combined for 10.5 sacks and 25 QB hits, including 4.5 sacks and 7 hits on the Rams Matt Stafford last week.

What to Watch

New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian (15) drops back top pass against Tampa. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian (15) drops back top pass against Tampa. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee pinched their rushers inside and heavily pressured Stafford in shutting down an explosive Los Angeles attack last Sunday. The result was five sacks, 13 registered pressures, and 2 interceptions.

To combat this, look for the Saints to move Siemian out of the pocket on half roll-outs with two trailing receivers and a deep option. Expect New Orleans to use Ingram on screens and Harris on quick routes to slow the pass rush and get the ball out of Siemian's hands quickly.

The Saints wideouts must make plays and hold on to the ball, especially without Kamara in the lineup. They’ll need to win their matchups at the line of scrimmage to get quick separation for New Orleans to establish a fast and rhythmic attack.