New Orleans hosts the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football to cap off Week 5 of the 2020 season. The Saints come into the game with a 2-2 record, while the Chargers are at 1-3. Both teams have several injuries on each side of the ball. Some players on each side could be back for this contest, but could be game-time decisions.
This game is important for New Orleans because it is an opportunity to push back into a first-place tie in the NFC South, while the Chargers look to snap a three-game losing streak and stay in contention in the AFC West. Here are some of the key matchups to watch closest in this critical contest for both teams.
S MALCOLM JENKINS vs TE HUNTER HENRY
The Saints have been scorched by opposing tight ends this season, and the Chargers Hunter Henry is one of the league's biggest mismatches at the position. New Orleans fared better against Detroit's T.J. Hockenson last week than they had against other opposing tight ends this season, but Henry is a challenge for even the best defenses. Safety Malcolm Jenkins has been victimized the most among the Saints defensive backs. Jenkins has allowed opposing passers to complete 68% of their throws against his coverage, mostly with their tight ends, for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Henry has yet to reach the end zone this year, but has caught 18 passes for 245 yards.
New Orleans will use a combination of LB Demario Davis, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and perhaps even a cornerback along with Jenkins to contain Henry's impact. However, quarterbacks have heavily targeted the 32-Yr old Jenkins with great success in every contest so far this season, something the veteran safety must reverse to eliminate a major defensive weakness.
OTs TERRON ARMSTEAD/RYAN RAMCZYK vs. DE JOEY BOSA
Los Angeles will be without standout edge rusher Melvin Ingram, who is on injured reserve, but still has an elite outside pass rusher in Joey Bosa. The 6’5” 280-Lb Bosa has a rare combination of power and burst, making it difficult for even the best offensive linemen to handle. He has 17 QB pressures so far this season, and 3 of his team's six sacks.
New Orleans offensive tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead are the NFL's best duo at the position. Over the last three years, they have shut down the league's best pass rushers and helped Drew Brees be one of the league's least-sacked quarterbacks. Ramczyk left last week's game against the Lions with a concussion but has been a full participant in practices late this week. Armstead and Ramczyk must continue their high level of play against Bosa one-on-one, so the Saints interior line can focus on their inside blocking assignments on L.A. defensive tackles Jerry Tillery and Linval Joseph.
SAINTS CBs vs. WRs KEENAN ALLEN/MIKE WILLIAMS
Keenan Allen has consistently been among the better wideouts in the AFC and leads the Chargers with 32 receptions for 327 yards this season. Fellow WR Mike Williams has been a matchup nightmare for defenses throughout his career with his great size and deep-ball ability. Williams missed the last game with a hamstring injury but could be back in the lineup Monday night. With Williams limited, second-year receiver Jalen Guyton (5 catches, 125 yards, 2 touchdowns) has emerged as a capable deep threat. Allen is his team's best offensive threat, with his precise routes and ability after the catch, while Williams is one of the league's most underrated Number Two wideouts.
The Saints’ secondary is coming off their best statistical outing of the year, holding Detroit's Matthew Stafford to just 55% completion percentage and 191 net yards passing. They did it without Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, who both missed the game with injuries. Lattimore (hamstring) has been a limited participant in practice late in the week, while Jenkins (shoulder) will miss his second straight game. The two are among the league's better tandems of corners, but backups P.J. Williams and Patrick Robinson are likely to see a lot of action again this Monday. Robinson (1 interception, 2 passes defended), and Williams played well against a deep Detroit crew of wideouts. The entire New Orleans secondary will again be under the microscope to play well against a diverse Los Angeles passing attack and impressive rookie QB Justin Herbert.
WRs EMMANUEL SANDERS/TRE'QUAN SMITH vs. CBs CASEY HAYWARD/DESMOND KING
The Chargers defense ranks just 25th against the pass. They haven't been able to pressure quarterbacks consistently, outside of Bosa. Los Angeles is without injured Pro Bowlers CB Chris Harris Jr. and S Derwin James in the secondary. Los Angeles still has a top-tier corner in Casey Hayward and moved Pro Bowl safety Desmond King to cornerback to team with Michael Davis to shore up their coverage packages.
New Orleans has been without injured All-Pro WR Michael Thomas (ankle) for the previous three games. Thomas has been a limited practice participant this week but may again sit out for an extra week to get healthy. Saints wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith were finally able to provide QB Drew Brees a downfield threat against Detroit, combining for 13 catches and 147 yards with 2 touchdowns.
Running back Alvin Kamara is the top pass-catching option for New Orleans without Thomas and banged up TE Jared Cook. Sanders is developing good chemistry with Brees after a slow start in his first year with the Saints. He and Smith each have 14 receptions for a combined 368 yards and 4 touchdowns. Their ability to again be productive against a depleted Chargers secondary not only gives Brees a threat down the field but will also open up room underneath for Kamara to be more effective.
DEs CAM JORDAN/TREY HENDRICKSON vs. OTs TREY PIPKINS/SAM TEVI
Perennial Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan has gotten off to a slow start this season but notched his first sack of the year against Detroit last week. Hendrickson leads the Saints with 3 sacks and 9 QB pressures and is having a terrific year in place of the injured Marcus Davenport. New Orleans has 10 sacks so far this season but has failed to pressure opposing passers for stretches of games this year consistently.
Los Angeles quarterbacks have been sacked 8 times this season. Six of those sacks, along with several pressures, have come from opposing edge rushers. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and RG Trai Turner were both added this offseason to shore up the team's pass protection issues, but have played just one series together because of injuries. Neither Bulaga nor Turner will play again this week, so the L.A. offensive line will again be shorthanded against a deep New Orleans defensive line.
Tevi has played well at left tackle and will be lined up against Hendrickson most of the game. Pipkins has struggled at right tackle, however, and will be asked to contain Cam Jordan one-on-one while the reshuffled Chargers interior line must deal with a disruptive corps of New Orleans defensive tackles. The Saints have had their greatest defensive success when they’ve been able to pressure opposing backfields. Now facing a rookie quarterback, that recipe again looks like their best chance for victory on the defensive side of the ball.