It feels like last year, all over again. The secondary is going down like flies. Delvin Breaux fractured his Fibula and will miss at least 6 weeks recovering. Besides Brees, Breaux is likely the most important player to this roster. Not only is he an elite player at his position, but it’s a position in which the Saints are sorely lacking depth.
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Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux (40) is carted off the field after an injury in the second half against the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a frustrating situation for Saints fans: at one point CB looked like the team’s deepest, strongest position. Now four expected contributors, including the top two and possible three players, are out. Kyle Wilson, who contributed solidly last year, was placed on IR early in the offseason. The Saints then released Keenan Lewis, the presumptive starter, with a hip injury. Damian Swann, last year’s standout nickel corner, is on IR with a core injury. Neither Wilson or Swann are expected to return this year, as Sheldon Rankins is expected to return from IR midway through the season. Only one player on IR can return each year.
To shore up a quickly thinning CB position, the Saints have signed 4th year CB B.W. Webb. Webb spent the last three years with the Cowboys, the Steelers, and the Titans, respectively. He has one career interception—against Drew Brees. Don’t let that get you too excited. Brees is an elite QB, but Saints fans know he has a propensity to turn the ball over. On this particular INT, Brees well overthrew Mark Ingram on a go route. To his credit, Webb played the route perfectly.
But Webb isn’t the sort of player that’s going to rake up a lot of interceptions. I flipped through some of his tape, mostly his most recent year at Tennessee. He lined up exclusively on the outside, and is likely a depth signing for the outside CBs. He tends to give a sizable cushion to his matchups, and, unfortunately, is not a sure tackler.
What likely drew the Saints’ interest was his sound coverage; he does not like to gamble, and takes away the big play before anything else. This does mean that he gives up a fair number of short receptions, but for a CB of his caliber you can’t expect the world. It’s telling that teams did not make a point to target Webb. With the exception of the Jets, who found some degree of success with Webb matched up against Brandon Marshall, teams left him relatively unchallenged. For a CB, there’s no better mark.
Webb’s deal is reportedly for one year. He’s only in his fourth year, but the Saints don’t seem to view him as a long term option. If he sees the field this year, and plays well, the team might bring him back to camp in the offseason. But with the amount of players the Saints should be getting back from injuries, I’d be surprised if he’s with the team next year.
I don’t expect Webb to see the field too soon. Honestly, I’d prefer it if he didn’t see the field at all. He’s nothing more than a serviceable backup. Ken Crawley had a rough game, but I’d expect the Saints to stick with their project player if they can. With Breaux out for some time, P.J. Williams and De’Vante Harris will likely handle the starting CB roles. The Saints have played Harris exclusively at the slot so far, but behind Williams he is the most capable player that the Saints can move outside. The Saints still may prefer to keep Harris covering the slot, where he’s shown comfort.
If so, look for Sterling Moore to step in as the second outside corner. Moore, rather than Webb, is who Saints fans should look to for hope in the secondary. Ken Crawley replaced Breaux when he went down against the Raiders, but I don’t expect him to get the starting nod moving forward. He’ll likely be the first off the bench. The Raiders’ 4th quarter comeback was made possible by their targeting Crawley. Simply put, he had a bad game. He’s still young, so I’m happy to keep him on the roster and develop him. But he was not ready to play on Sunday. Sterling Moore was inactive, presumably because he wasn’t yet up to date with the playbook.
Moore will almost certainly be active for next Sunday against the Giants, who like to force CBs onto the field by consistently lining up all of Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz. On paper, the Saints will have a tough time matching up with these three. But on paper, we had a tough time matching up with Khalil Mack, and we saw how that worked out. The offensive line surprised fans with it’s excellent play, and Payton managed to effectively gameplan for Mack. It’ll be interesting to see how Allen compensates for the lack of CB depth against the Giants’ deep group of talented receivers. It may be a shootout in NY.
After the Giants, Julio Jones comes to town. The Saints have had a good recent history against the Falcons, but between Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Justin Hardy, the secondary has two tough matchups in a row. With Keenan Allen’s ACL injury, the only dangerous receiver in the next weeks before Breaux’s expected return is Kelvin Benjamin. The Saints would love to steal a win from Carolina.