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Saints Run Defense vs. Giants Rushing Attack

A top-ranked New Orleans run defense squares off against electric New York running back Saquon Barkley in a week 4 matchup.

The newly renamed Caesars Superdome will see it's first full-capacity NFL game this Sunday since a Wild-Card playoff game on January 5, 2020 between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings.

New Orleans (2-1) has been out of the city since evacuating in late August before the arrival of Hurricane Ida. They've officially played one home game, but that was in Jacksonville because of damage caused by Ida. All nine of the team’s home games in 2020 were played with no crowds or at limited capacity because of COVID-19 mandates.

The Saints host the 0-3 New York Giants. New Orleans has a winning record because of a strong defense. They rank sixth in total yardage allowed, and only two teams have given up fewer points. 

The Saints are especially stingy in the red zone. They've allowed opponents to score just two touchdowns in six trips inside their 20-yard line, best in the league.

New York enters the game ranked 18th in total offense and 24th in points scored after three contests. That's slightly better than last season, when the Giants ranked near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories.

A major reason for the improvement is the return of star RB Saquon Barkley, who missed most of 2020 with an ACL injury.

The Giants need to get their explosive back involved to reduce the pressure on third-year QB Daniel Jones. That may be a tough task, considering the Saints have had one of the NFL's best run defenses over the last four seasons.

SAINTS RUN DEFENSE VS. GIANTS RUSHING ATTACK

New Orleans Rush Defense

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is tackled by the New Orleans Saints defense. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is tackled by the New Orleans Saints defense. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints have limited 39 of their last 57 opponents under 100 yards rushing, including all three of their games this year. They rank third against the run so far, allowing only 60 yards per game and 2.8 per rush. Their aggressive attack starts with a formidable group up front.

New Orleans will be without suspended star DT David Onyemata for three more games, but an unheralded group of defensive tackles have been stout in the middle.

Third-year DT Shy Tuttle is quietly off to a strong start to the year. Tackles Malcolm Roach and Christian Ringo have provided quality interior play, while DE/DT Tanoh Kpassagnon has also been used at tackle.

Kpassagnon is part of an incredible defensive end group that not only pressures the passer, but crashes inside against the run. Veteran DE Cam Jordan is among the league's best edge players as a run defender. Even without injured DE Marcus Davenport, rookie first-round choice Payton Turner and Carl Granderson have played extremely well against opposing rushing attacks.

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LB Demario Davis needs to be mentioned more as one of the NFL's best defensive players. Davis is the team’s leading tackler, a role he’s held over the previous three years. He has three of the Saints 15 tackles for loss and plays with elite anticipation, positioning, and athleticism.

Veteran LB Kwon Alexander remains on injured reserve, but the Saints strengthened their depth here over the offseason. Second-year LB Zack Baun has had some issues in coverage, but has proven to be a strong run defender with an explosive burst to the ball. Kaden Elliss is off to the best start of his three-year career, and rookie LB Pete Werner adds even more athletic depth.

There isn't a secondary in the NFL that swarms to the ball better than the Saints in run support. Veteran S Malcolm Jenkins and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson are extremely disruptive near the line of scrimmage, allowing New Orleans to overwhelm blocking up front. Cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo, and FS Marcus Williams are outstanding tacklers in the open field.

New York Rushing Attack

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) carries the ball past New Orleans safety Marcus Williams (43). Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) carries the ball past New Orleans safety Marcus Williams (43). Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants have averaged 108 yards/game and 4.3 per carry so far, ranking 12th in the league. Saquon Barkley is one of the NFL's most dynamic running backs, but hasn't yet had a breakout performance this season.

Barkley has 134 yards rushing so far and is averaging just 3.4/carry. He runs with underrated power between the tackles, but is best off-tackle and in open space, where his gamebreaking speed can take over a game. Barkley is the team’s workhorse runner. Backups Devontae Booker and Elijhaa Penny have a combined ten rushes for 27 yards between them.

Barkley might be still be building his confidence after last year's knee injury, but the Giants haven't done him any favors up front. New York's reshuffled offensive line hasn't gotten push at the line of scrimmage. Will Hernandez and RT Nate Solder have been serviceable on the right side, but the entire line has failed to open up lanes for their runners.

QB Daniel Jones is actually the team's leading rusher with 161 yards. Some of his yardage has come on scrambles after pass protection has broken down, but Jones is effective on designed runs. He has the type of mobility and athleticism that has given the New Orleans defense problems in recent years.

What to Watch

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) runs as New Orleans Saints safeties Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Marcus Williams (43) defend. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) runs as New Orleans Saints safeties Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Marcus Williams (43) defend. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY 

Not many teams have been able to run the ball on the Saints, who look to have another significant edge in this one. New York will be desperate to get Barkley going because he's their best weapon and they need balance for Jones and the passing game.

Look for New Orleans to attack the edge to prevent Barkley or Jones from playing to their outside rushing strengths. Barkley is a dangerous back capable of turning the momentum of a game in an instant. The Saints must win interior battles to alter Barkley's course, but also need proper positioning to prevent cutback runs.

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