How will the Kwon Alexander fit into the New Orleans Saints' defense in the final eight regular-season games of 2020? After the team made the trade with San Francisco for the oft-injured but extremely talented linebacker, some wondered could he make a difference as the Saints enter the NFC playoff race.
I recalled what Sean Payton shared on his conference call with media shortly after the trade's announcement.
Alexander is here to compete with Alex Anzalone. Why?
Is it the player's availability? No. Anzalone has been somewhat healthy this year in comparison to the last several in New Orleans.
Is it his productivity? Let's look. First, examine Anzalone's defensive snap count. His role has diminished in the previous four games, 100% (Chargers), 83% (Panthers), 63% (Bears), and 44% (Buccaneers). He has made 14 total tackles and 7 solo tackles (0 against the Bucs) in those contests. As a whole, on his 78% of the Saints' defensive snaps, Anzalone notched 32 tackles and 2 TFL.
After 25 blitzes, he has not recorded a sack, pressure, nor hurry on a quarterback. Another point of contention for the linebacker could be in pass coverage. Anzalone has allowed 105 YAC to receivers, and his 5 missed tackles at 13.5% are a concern for the Saints. On Sunday night, Malcolm Jenkins and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson played closer to scrimmage as "pseudo" linebackers.
John Hendrix noted the Saints' utilization of the Anzalone in the Bucs' game: "The Saints rolled a bit more coverage out with Davis as the lone linebacker. Anzalone had two assisted tackles."
Now we turn our attention to Kwon Alexander. So what can he bring to New Orleans compared to what Anzalone could not in 2020? I recall John Madden and other old coaches would say, "you can't teach speed and height." Alexander definitely has the speed to cover running backs or tight ends. He has missed 11.8% of his tackles this year in San Francisco, but he's only given-up 37 YAC yards. No one gets far from Alexander.
Quarterbacks have targeted him 14 times, completed 8 passes for a 57.1% success rate for 41 yards.
Remember, Sean Payton said they had been in discussion with San Francisco for a while before executing the trade.
Early this season, a high-ankle sprain hampered Alexander and caused him to miss three games. There was growing frustration within the 49ers camp about Alexander's injuries since his arrival. New Orleans did their research and made the trade believing the linebacker will be able to contribute. Alexander is no longer on the exempt list and is eligible to play in Week 10's tilt against his old club, the San Franciso 49ers.
The Saints finally have an LSU product at linebacker. The 2016 season was his best while playing middle linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Alexander had 145 tackles, 1 INT, and a Pro Bowl nod.
New Orleans expects Kwon Alexander will bring more athleticism to the position and help the team against shifty running backs and large tight ends they will face in the home stretch of 2020.
Remember, the Saints have speedy and shifty running backs like Dalvin Cook (Vikings), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Chiefs), and Christian McCaffrey (Carolina) to contend with during the playoff race. Also, they will have visits from strong, fast, and solid pass-catching tight ends with Travis Kelce (Chiefs) and Kyle Rudolph (Vikings).
The Saints' hope is Alexander will make an immediate impact while still getting acclimated to Dennis Allen's defensive scheme and competing against Anzalone for playing time. Will he be the difference-maker New Orleans needs in the linebacking corps?
We shall see.
In Week 10, the San Francisco 49ers (4-5) vs. New Orleans Saints (6-2) game will be held at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, November 15, 2020, at 3:25 PM CST. The stadium will allow 6,000 people to be in attendance for the contest. Fox will broadcast the battle between two teams with a deep history from the days of stars like Joe Montana, Bobby Hebert, Aaron Brooks, Steve Young, Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, and Jerry Rice.