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Saints Run Defense vs. Titans Rushing Attack

New Orleans will face a stiff challenge on the road against a physical Tennessee team this Sunday.  Can a top-ranked Saints run defense eliminate the Titans balance without All-Pro RB Derrick Henry?
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The New Orleans Saints look to get back on the winning track when they travel to play the 7-2 Tennessee Titans this Sunday. New Orleans dropped to 5-3 when they were upset at home by the Atlanta Falcons last week. It snapped the team's three-game winning streak.

The Saints come into this game with the league's 11th ranked defense, allowing 347 yards per game.

This season, New Orleans has been vulnerable to the pass, including several big plays against the Falcons. They hold top-five rankings in rush defense, points allowed, turnovers forced, third-down percentage, and red-zone defense.

The Saints take on a physical Titans team who holds a commanding lead in the AFC South. Tennessee averages 356.8 yards of total offense per game, ranking 15th in the league. The Titans are ranked 6th in scoring at28.3 points/game. They have eclipsed 30 points four times this year and in three of their past five contests.

For the last four years, Tennessee's offense has been paced by the amazing production of monstrous RB Derrick Henry, who became just the eighth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in 2020.

Henry leads the NFL with 937 rushing yards and ten touchdowns this season but was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago with a foot injury. Without him, the Titans pulled out an impressive road win against the Los Angeles Rams last week.

How will Tennessee's offense fare against the NFL's best rush defense without the league's most intimidating runner?

SAINTS RUN DEFENSE VS. TITANS RUSHING ATTACK

New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) tackles Seattle running back Alex Collins (41). Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) tackles Seattle running back Alex Collins (41). Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY

New Orleans Run Defense

The Saints lead the NFL in run defense, allowing less than 74 yards per outing. They surrender a paltry 3.2 yards per rush, also best in the league. Only one of the Saints' first eight opponents has managed over 100 yards on the ground.

New Orleans dominates opposing run blocking up front, controlling the line of scrimmage, and plugging any rushing gaps. Their defensive tackles get great penetration at the snap to disrupt running backs. The return of DT David Onyemata two weeks ago elevated this unit to an even more formidable level.

Defensive ends Marcus Davenport, Cam Jordan, and Tanoh Kpassagnon are spectacular run defenders. They not only close off the edge but explode down on a runner to stop in their tracks.

New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) tackles Jacksonville running back Nathan Cottrell (31). Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) tackles Jacksonville running back Nathan Cottrell (31). Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have 41 tackles for loss, among the highest in the league. Their defensive line causes disruption and ties up blockers, allowing the linebackers and defensive backs swarm to ball carriers in a frenzy.

All-Pro LB Demario Davis is arguably having the best season of his ten-year career. Davis leads the team with 9 stops for loss and is well on his way to a fifth straight year with over 100 tackles. He has elite vision and play recognition, with the spectacular athleticism to chase down plays all over the field.

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Kwon Alexander and rookie Pete Werner complement Davis at linebacker.  Alexander is an athletic defender who’s active around the line of scrimmage and outstanding in the open field. Werner is developing into a terrific every down linebacker. He has solid awareness, good athleticism, and explodes to the ball carrier.

Veteran S Malcolm Jenkins is second on the team in tackles and is often used as an extra defender at the line of scrimmage.

Versatile defensive backs Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (injured) and P.J. Williams are also extremely active in the tackle box. At the same time, cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, and Bradley Roby aggressively cut down runners at the line of scrimmage.

Tennessee Rushing Attack

Tennessee Titans running back Adrian Peterson (8) runs for a touchdown. © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee Titans running back Adrian Peterson (8) runs for a touchdown. © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Titans' ground game has averaged 139 yards/game, ranking fourth in the league. Most of that production was over the first eight games with Henry pounding defenses. Henry has 219 of the team’s 261 carries by a running back this season.

After Henry's injury, the Titans signed 36-year-old RB Adrian Peterson to bolster the running game. Peterson is one of the most decorated backs in league history. His 14,841 career rushing yards are ranked fifth on the NFL's all-time rushing list. Peterson is still an effective and extremely physical runner, even in his 15th season.

With Henry carrying the load, backup RB Jeremy McNichols hasn't seen many touches. This season, McNichols has 14 carries for 62 yards, with 24 yards coming last week against the Rams.

At 5’9” and 205-Lbs., McNichols doesn't have the physical style of either Henry or Peterson. He has good elusiveness in the open field and is a valuable receiver out of the backfield. The Titans have another big back in 6’1” 236-Lb. D'Onta Foreman to provide depth.

Tennessee has an offensive line without great athleticism, but they maul opponents with brute physicality in the trenches.

Most of their rushing success comes over the left side behind LT Taylor Lewan and LG Rodger Saffold.  Lewan has a knee injury that caused him to sit out last week and has his status in question for this Sunday.

What to Watch

New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and linebacker Demario Davis (56) celebrate against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and linebacker Demario Davis (56) celebrate against the Tennessee Titans. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have stifled opposing running games with a combination of power, athleticism, and positioning on defense. Few offenses can match the power of the Titans, who will present a physical challenge on every play.

Without Derrick Henry, the Titans managed just 69 rushing yards against the Rams with a combination of Peterson, McNichols, and Freeman. Tennessee remained committed to running game ball, attempting 26 rushes against Los Angeles.

The Saints must also be wary of the athletic ability of Titans QB Ryan Tannehill, an area where their defense has struggled. Tannehill is the team’s second-leading rusher, with 168 yards and four touchdowns.

New Orleans must match Tennessee's physical play on every down and eliminate the run to force the Titans out of their balanced comfort zone. The ability to do so will reduce the play-action threat of Tannehill and their passing attack. 

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