The New Orleans Saints aren't a team we spend a great deal of time studying here at Big Blue View. With the Giants playing the Saints this wee we turned to SB Nation's Canal Street Chronicles for the scoop on this week's opponent. Jean-Rene Ella answers our "Five questions."
Ed: The Saints started the season 0-3 and looked headed for an awful year. Now, they have won three of four. What has been the difference, and how good do you really think this team is?
Jean-Rene: The biggest difference has been the defense creating turnovers and finally getting to the quarterback. Although New Orleans' offense has amassed a lot of (useless) total yards (4th in the NFL with 2771) the Saints have been uncharacteristically mediocre where it really matters offensively as they are only 15th in scoring offense (23.0 ppg). However, defensively, although their overall rankings are pretty lousy, the Saints have started playing pretty well in the past four games. Through the first three games of the season (0-3), New Orleans had a
combined four sacks, three takeaways and nine quarterback hits. In their last four games (3-1), they have 12 sacks, seven takeaways and 21 quarterback hits. In the last two games alone, defensive end Cam Jordan, the best player on the Saints' defense, has recorded five sacks (he had only one sack in the first five games) and it seems the rest of the defensive unit is following his lead.
How good are the Saints? I see New Orleans as a 7-9 or 8-8 team at best. Youth and inexperience on defense combined with a lack of true playmakers on offense are the main reasons why. A good example of the team's mediocrity is last Sunday's game at Indy: the Saints led the Colts 27-0 in the third quarter, but had to hang on for dear life to beat Indy 27-21. The reason? Brees and the offense momentarily went into the witness protection program from the middle of the third quarter until the last possession of the game. In my opinion, this is an average team, but they can cause a lot of problems to any opponent when they're "on."
Ed: There is a lot of speculation about the future of Sean Payton in New Orleans. Where does that situation stand right now, and do you expect Payton to be with the Saints beyond this season?
Jean-Rene: There are several factors at play in this situation. First, Payton still has two years remaining on his contract with the Saints, meaning that the only way(s) he wouldn't be in New Orleans until after the 2017 season would be if a) the Saints fire him this offseason. b) The Saints trade him to another team for some form of compensation. c) He decides to retire to West Virginia (fun fact: Payton is currently dating a former Miss West Virginia).
I don't see the Saints firing Payton, he has obviously built a lot of equity within the organization. I don't think a team would trade for him, simply because the compensation is usually quite steep (see Gruden from the Raiders to the Bucs, when I believe that Tampa Bay gave up two first round picks and two second round picks). Finally, Payton isn't retiring anytime soon.
So I think that Payton will be in New Orleans as long as he feels like the team has a chance to compete for the playoffs and for a Super Bowl. Although 2014 and the beginning of 2015 have been poor, we can't forget that the Saints were in the divisional round of the playoffs just two short seasons ago. With the rebuilding of the defense and the team as a whole showing some promise, my opinion is that Payton will be with the Saints for at least another two years and then he and the organization will assess whether or not to continue their partnership.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants roster NOT NAMED ODELL BECKHAM and put him in the Saints lineup, who would it be? Why?
Jean-Rene: I will sound like the LSU homer that I am, but this is not just a homer-based pick, but a real need for the Saints: It would be Rueben Randle.
Yes, all eyes are on OBJ, but Randle has quietly had a really good season so far (26 catches on 37 targets, 329 yards and two touchdowns). He has caught 41% of the passes thrown his way and averages 12.7 yards per catch (Beckham Jr. averages 12.5 ypc and has a 39 percentcatching efficiency so far this season).
With Jimmy Graham gone, the Saints have cruelly missed having a big receiver with good hands that would be a reliable number one target for Drew Brees. Former receiving corps ace Marques Colston is clearly on his last NFL leg, young receiver Willie Snead is emerging as a good slot-like, possession receiver and Brandin Cooks has been hit-or-miss all year, proving to be more of a number two guy than one who can consistently beat double-teams or the opponent's best corner. Randle would fit perfectly in Payton's pass-happy offense as the big, go-to target for Drew Brees on money downs.
Ed: Who are a couple of young players, or under-the-radar guys, we don't know much about but should watch for on Sunday?
Jean-Rene: First, the aforementioned Willie Snead. Not many know that the second-year undrafted free agent wide receiver leads the Saints in receiving yards (461 ahead of Cooks' 444) and is second in targets (45, behind Cooks' 58). Snead has been a pleasant surprise. He was one of those training camp feel-good stories, a guy everyone wanted to see make the team. We didn't know that he was actually going to play such a crucial role in the regular season. On third downs on Sunday, Brees will often look to Snead ahead of Brandin Cooks or Marques Colston, that's how impactful he has been through seven games.
On the other side of the ball, although I'm not sure how much he still is under the radar, look for No. 44, rookie defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha out of Washington. He has been an absolute hit as a draft selection and he's only scratching the surface rushing the passer (four sacks), forcing fumbles (four on the season thus far), tackling like a long-haired demon on special teams. He's part of the defensive youth movement in New Orleans and is everywhere on the field. He'll be hard to miss on Sunday.
Ed: You are game-planning against the Saints. How would you attack them on both sides of the ball?
Jean-Rene: When attacking the Saints' defense, it's almost all about passing the ball deep and preferably on Brandon Browner's side of the field, because it's either going to be completed or it's going to be defensive holding, defensive pass interference, defensive ... something. New Orleans allows 275.7 passing yards per game (26th in the NFL) and these aren't cheap garbage time yards, because the Saints haven't been ahead enough in games for opposing teams to just "chuck it." The secondary has been a patchwork unit with a lot of injuries that forced guys like first-year NFL cornerback Delvin Breaux and rookie corner Damian Swann to play and start earlier than the Saints had planned. Breaux has played remarkably well, despite a few busts in coverage, but the continuity simply hasn't been there and you can rest assured that there will be passing lanes and passing yards to be had for the Giants.
When defending against Brees, the biggest thing is to keep everything in front of you and try to avoid big plays. Teams that have given fits to Brees and the Saints' offense over the years have usually played deep cover-two and forced New Orleans to throw underneath and need long drives to score. Brees and Payton often get impatient when they can't complete a long ball quickly enough and will take chances in tight coverage. As you can imagine, doing that has led to costly interceptions and sometimes game-changing turnovers against the Saints over the years.
Now that his shoulder seems to be truly healthy again, we have seen Brees throw deep and take shots accurately. In the friendly confines of the Mercedes Benz Superdome, you can bet on seeing at least two or three deep balls (maybe more), usually to Cooks or to second-year wide receiver Brandon Coleman. If the Giants can avoid getting burned on those, they'll have a great shot at containing a Saints offense that hasn't been all that in-sync all year.
Thanks to Jean-Rene for the insight.