Previewing Saints Defense Against Colts Offense

Bob Rose

The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts cap off Week 15 of this season when the Saints host the Colts on Monday night in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. New Orleans is coming off a last-second 48-46 loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. The defeat dropped them to 10-3 and third place in the NFC playoff standings. New Orleans could still grab one of the top two spots and a first round postseason bye, but will need some help. Indianapolis enters this contest with a 6-7 record, having lost their last three games and five of their last six. The Colts are still in the AFC playoff race, but are two games back of a spot.

The most disappointing part about the Saints loss to San Francisco was the performance of their defense, who gave up season high totals in both yards (516) and points. Worse yet, New Orleans lost defensive end Marcus Davenport (foot) and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (ankle) for the rest of the year. The team had entered that game without injured linebackers Kiko Alonso and A.J. Klein, both of whom may also miss this contest with the Colts. They must now rebound against an Indianapolis offense desperate to stay in playoff contention.

New Orleans Defense

Nov 17, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is sacked by New Orleans Saints defensive linemen Cameron Jordan (94) and linebacker Demario Davis (56) in the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints defense has allowed an average of 22.8 points per game and ranks 13th in total yardage, giving up 338 yards per outing. Even with the absence of Davenport and Rankins, they have a deep and disruptive defensive line. New Orleans has sacked opposing quarterbacks 43 times this season, led by 13.5 from defensive end Cameron Jordan. Third year end Trey Hendrickson (4 sacks) will step into the starting spot vacated by Davenport. He will be backed up by Mario Edwards Jr., who has 2 sacks and has played well both inside and outside. The team will also likely promote rookie end Carl Granderson from the practice squad along with newly signed Noah Spence, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Despite Rankins’ injury, New Orleans can attack with a talented trio of tackles in Malcom Brown, Shy Tuttle, and David Onyemata along with Edwards.  The Saints interior talent has stonewalled opposing blockers, helping the defense to rank 5th against the run.  New Orleans allowed 162 rushing yards to the 49ers last week, but their incredible streak of now 39 consecutive games without allowing a 100-Yd rusher remains intact.

Dec 8, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (26) is tackled by New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (99) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers won, 48-46. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Their stout run defense is paced by linebacker Demario Davis, who leads the team with 95 tackles and has also added 3 sacks and an interception.  While Davis is one of the best every down defenders in the NFL, the other Saints’ linebackers struggled against San Francisco.  Craig Robertson and Stephone Anthony, who were often beaten to the edge against the run and caught out of position versus the pass, replaced Klein and Alonso. Klein looks likely to sit out once again, but Alonso is questionable to return.

The New Orleans secondary also had an off day against the 49ers, giving up 384 yards and five scores through the air.  The Saints rank 20th against the pass, allowing 244 yards/game and 24 touchdown passes while grabbing 11 interceptions. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is playing at a Pro Bowl level and has contained some of the league’s top wideouts.  Fellow corners Eli Apple and P.J. Williams have been victimized often in recent weeks though, and free safety Marcus Williams had a rough outing against the 49ers despite a standout year.  Safety Vonn Bell and rookie Chauncey Gardner-Johnson gives New Orleans a versatile defensive backfield, but the unit must rebound from a few inconsistent performances in recent weeks.

Indianapolis Offense

Dec 8, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA;Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) throws the ball to wide receiver Marcus Johnson (83) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts rank 22nd in total offense, averaging 341 yards and 22.8 points per game. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett averages 208 yards per game and has completed 63.2% of his throws for a passing attack that ranks 25th in the league.  Top wideout T.Y. Hilton is among the NFL’s most dangerous receivers but has missed the last two games with a calf injury and is questionable this week.  They placed promising rookie Parris Campbell on injured reserve with a broken foot, leaving Zach Pascal (35 receptions, 547 yards, 5 touchdowns) as their most productive threat at wide receiver. Indianapolis has an underrated tight end in Jack Doyle, who leads the Colts with 38 catches for 404 yards and 4 scores.  Running back Nyheim Hines is used often as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 38 passes for 294 yards.

Dec 8, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Indianapolis Colts offensive tackle Braden Smith (72) blocks for Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (25) during the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis rushing attack has produced 133 yards per contest, ranking 6th in the league.  Third year running back Marlon Mack leads the way with 900 yards and five scores. His production often allows the Colts to control the time of possession and sets up a play action passing game where Brissett excels.  The running game has helped Indianapolis protect their young quarterback, who has been sacked just 20 times this season.

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The Saints defensive line must be able to pressure Brissett, who has thrown 18 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions, into rushed throws or mistakes. With the absence of Davenport, the defensive tackles must play a more formidable role inside to free up Cam Jordan. Dominance up front would cover up potential shortcomings in the linebacking corps, especially if Alonso or Klein are again out. The Saints secondary must return to their form of earlier this season, with Lattimore likely taking on Hilton if he can play. The New Orleans defense was one of the NFL’s better units over the first 2/3 of the season and will be counted on for key victories down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Read: Previewing the Saints Offense Against the Colts Defense