Saints vs. Giants: Five Key Matchups

We’ll look at some of the major matchups that will need to go in the Saints’ favor if they’re to pull off the upset against the New York Giants.

Saints fans and fantasy football addicts remember well the 2015 matchup between the Saints and the Giants, a game featuring an NFL record combined 13 touchdown throws.  Drew Brees accounted for seven of those, also tying an NFL record.  Brees finished the day 39 of 50 for 505 yards.

On the other side, Eli Manning lit it up with 350 yards after going 30 of 41 for 6 TDs and 0 INTs.

Only two interceptions marred the day for Brees as the Black and Gold survived the air raid with a last second field goal from Kai Forbath to end the game with the Saints on top 52-49.  With gaudy numbers all around, there was little to be said for the performance of either team’s defense.

That’s sure to change when the Saints head to the Big Apple this time around.  This isn’t the same defensive line the Saints faced in 2015.

That brings us to the first match-up the Saints will need to win to come out on top against the Giants.

Drew Brees and the Saint offensive line will have to fend off a ferocious pass rush to give him time to be effective.

Brees and the Offensive Line

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Just as the story last season was Brees’ age, the questions just keep coming and the 37 year-old keeps answering them.  In week one’s matchup against the Oakland Raiders Brees was simply stellar.  Drew finished the day 28 of 42 for 423 yards and 4 TDs with 0 INTs.

The offensive line, which had been a major question mark heading into week one, performed well above expectations and limited the Raiders to one sack and a few rushes and hits.  That was against one of the best pass rushers in the game, Khalil Mack.

The Giants present a different test for Brees and company.  During last season’s score-fest, Big Blue was without leading pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, who was still recovering from a self-inflicted fireworks injury.  In the offseason, they brought in highly sought after free agent pass rusher Olivier Vernon.

In week one action, the Cowboys effectively neutralized the Giants’ pass rush, but the Dallas offensive line is one of the better units in the NFL.  The challenge for the Saints will be with Terron Armstead and Zach Strief being able to answer the call and give Brees time to work his magic.

The offensive line must also do a better job of run blocking this week.  Andrus Peat looked good in week one at left guard and the rotation of Jahri Evans and Senio Kelemete seemed to work at right guard in pass protection, but the Saints need to do a better job of opening holes for Mark Ingram to make play action a viable option.

It will further be incumbent upon Drew to pay attention to the countdown clock in his head and get throws out quickly.  As we’ve seen, Brees having a good or even great day doesn’t guarantee a Saints win but it will certainly help keep us in the game.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins are outstanding cornerbacks but Cooks, Snead, and Thomas should pass this test.

Saints’ Receivers vs. Giants’ Secondary

Aug 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of a preseason game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of a preseason game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints receiving corps had a huge day against Oakland in week one.  Snead had 9 catches for 172 yards and a TD, Cooks 6 for 143 and 2 TDs and rookie Michael Thomas contributed 6 receptions for 58 yards.

Facing off against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, red hot free agent signing Janoris Jenkins, and first round rookie Eli Apple will be a task.  But if the offensive line can get Brees some time in the pocket, you can expect another big day for the Saints’ wideouts.

All eyes will be on the Saints’ secondary this week as they look to overcome a shaky week one performance and play without number one CB Delvin Breaux.

Saints’ Secondary vs. Giants’ Receivers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Crabtree

NEW ORLEANS, LA – SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Crabtree

This will likely be the biggest challenge the Saints face in this week 2 contest.  Having lost Delvin Breaux for at least six weeks, the Saints are scrambling to put together a group to try to limit arguably one of the better receiving corps in the NFL.

Led by the third-year phenomenon out of LSU, Odell Beckham, Jr. and seven-year veteran Victor Cruz, this group of wideouts has always found ways to make Eli Manning look good if not great.  Beckham, or ‘OBJ’ as he’s called throughout the league, is a freak of nature, making one-handed catches that have become his trademark with startling regularity.

The Saints’ defensive backs are young.  Very young.  P.J. Williams, who sat out his rookie season is seeing his first action along with undrafted rookie free agents Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris.  In addition to these three, the Saints, only last week, added free agent Sterling Moore and just Tuesday signed B.W. Webb.  Webb is a former fourth round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys out of William and Mary and has shuffled around the NFL.  Drafted in 2013, the Saints will be his fourth team since.  The 26 year-old Moore has a similar history.

This patchwork crew will have their hands full against the Giants, and if they can’t match up, it could be the deciding factor in what’s sure to be another shoot out.

With a patchwork secondary going up against a top notch Giants receiving corps, it’s priority one for the Saints defensive line to put pressure on Eli Manning.

Saints’ Defensive Line vs. Giants’ Offensive Line

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Kasim Edebali (91) pressures Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) in the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Kasim Edebali (91) pressures Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) in the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

This was a sore point going into the most recent offseason, finding players and a system to put pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks.  The Saints addressed a glaring need on the interior of the defensive line by drafting Sheldon Rankins, but the need for an edge rusher went by the wayside.  A lot of faith was being put in second year pass rusher Hau’oli Kikaha being able to pick up the slack opposite the solid Cameron Jordan.  But he and Rankins were lost to injury in the offseason and preseason.

Seeing very little production in the preseason, the Saints bought in 30 year-old vet Paul Kruger to give a boost to the pass rush.  But still, in week one, the line could generate nothing in the way of pressure on Raiders’ QB Derek Carr and the result was a deflating loss.

If Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen doesn’t figure out some tricks to get to Eli Manning, the Black and Gold’s inexperienced secondary will be beaten badly.  Hopefully something will be figured out, some new blitz packages, better play from his players, better film study.  But giving Eli ample time in the pocket is a recipe for a loss.

The Saints D-line must also limit plays like the one against Oakland where rookie Jalen Richard gashed the Saints defense for a 75-yard TD run.  That was a collapse up front, in the middle and in the secondary.  The Saints looked terribly bush league in that moment.

The Saints’ punt and kick coverage have looked solid and Thomas Morstead is a given.  It’ll be up to rookie kicker Wil Lutz and some kind of return game to give the Who Dats a spark.

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders strong safety T.J. Carrie (38) celebrates after New Orleans Saints kicker Will Lutz (3) misses a 61 yard field goal attempt as time expires during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders defeated the Saints 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders strong safety T.J. Carrie (38) celebrates after New Orleans Saints kicker Will Lutz (3) misses a 61 yard field goal attempt as time expires during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders defeated the Saints 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

A hell of a lot was put on the shoulders of Wil Lutz in week one against the Raiders.  The kid has a very strong leg but he was thrown into the fire in this game.  He missed two field goals, one a fifty yard attempt which is a gimme for no NFL kicker.  And at the end of the game, he was asked to try a 61 yard game-winner.  No pressure, right?

Many in the Who Dat Nation and the press have been critical of Lutz.  I say give the kid a break.  That was a lot to expect in the first game of someone’s NFL career.  But in a close game a lot will be expected again.  He’ll have to come through.

The Saints’ return game against the Raiders was anemic.  Marcus Murphy didn’t fumble.  That’s a blessing.  But he did little else.  UFDA rookie Tommylee Lewis had provided a spark in preseason but didn’t see the field against Oakland.  Hopefully he’ll get his shot and hopefully he dazzles.  He could easily provide the spark the Saints need to pull this one out.

A lot has to come together to give the Saints a shot to pull this one off.  These are the biggest keys.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 11: A fan reacts during the third quarter as the Oakland Raiders take on the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 11, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA – SEPTEMBER 11: A fan reacts during the third quarter as the Oakland Raiders take on the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 11, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

No, it won’t be an old school NFL slugfest resembling a rugby scrum, but this game will most certainly be decided in the trenches.

The Saints’ offensive line must give Drew Brees time in the pocket and must work more effectively to set up a run game so play action works.

Similarly, the Saints’ defensive line absolutely has to get pressure on Eli Manning and must limit the Giants’ rushing attack.  If the Saints can win the trenches they can win this game.

This should make for a great game!

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