The 5-8 New York Giants travel to the 6-7 New Orleans Saints in a game with wild-card consequences. The Giants are on a three-game winning streak, with Tommy DeVito fresh off earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week. The Saints just beat the hapless Panthers, 28-6.
New Orleans is in a three-way record tie for first place in the NFC South with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons, but the Saints are third in the pecking order. New Orleans plays next Thursday in Los Angeles against the Rams, another team on the Giants’ schedule that is vying for a Wild Card spot.
New Orleans ranks 15th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 21.9 points per game. They’re 13th in total offensive yards, averaging 337.5 yards per game, with 233 yards via passing (14th in the NFL). They rank 20th in the NFL with an average of 104.5 yards on the ground.
Starting quarterback Derek Carr was knocked out of a couple of games this season but started last week and will start against the Giants. He has thrown for 2,880 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with a 66.4% completion rate and an average of 6.9 yards per attempt.
Skilled position players
The leading receiver on the Saints is the second-year star in the making, Chris Olave, who is currently battling an ankle injury. He has 72 catches on 116 targets for 918 yards and four touchdowns. The second leading receiver is running back Alvin Kamara - one of the best weapons out of the backfield in the league. Kamara has 63 catches on 73 targets for 402 yards and a touchdown.
Kamara missed the season’s first three games with a suspension but quickly ingratiated himself with Carr, who targeted him 14 times in Week 4; somehow, Kamara only earned 33 yards on the 13 attempts he secured. Still, he remains a true weapon for the Saints’ offense, even if he finished with -11 receiving yards last week.
With Michael Thomas on Injured Reserve and speedster Rasheed Shaheed missing the last couple of games, rookie A.T. Perry and Lynn Bowden have rounded out the Saints’ 11 personnel package. Bowden was a college quarterback at Kentucky before switching to wide receiver and bouncing around the league. Perry is a strong, big-bodied, receiver with five catches for 119 yards and a touchdown this season.
Shaheed changes this offense. His presence and field-stretching ability allow Olave more space underneath. It remains to be seen if he’ll suit up with his thigh injury, but he returned to practice on Wednesday.
The tight end position is very interesting for the Saints. New Orleans runs 11 personnel 58% of the time, 12 personnel 18% of the time, and 10 personnel 18% of the time. Juwan Johnson was supposed to be the starting tight end, who, Carr said during training camp, would have a break-out season.
Through 10 games, he has 20 catches for 152 yards with a touchdown. Third-string tight end, Jimmy Graham, has more touchdowns on the season. At 37 years old, Graham has four catches on the year - three are touchdowns.
Foster Moreau also sees the football field often. He’s played 402 snaps this year. He’s caught 15 of 16 targets for 151 yards and a touchdown; the lone drop was a would-be touchdown to seal a victory in the final moments against the Raiders - his former team.
Still, the player to circle - classified as a tight end - is Taysom Hill, who plays quarterback and running back for the Saints. Hill, who missed the last game with a few ailments (foot/non-throwing hand), has 26 catches for 229 yards with one receiving touchdown, 346 yards rushing with four touchdowns (4.9 YPC), and 72 yards passing with a touchdown on five completions.
Hill fundamentally changes what the Saints can do offensively. He had two rushing touchdowns in 2021 against the Giants but did throw a bad interception to James Bradberry, which helped spark a comeback.
Kamara leads the team in rushing with 564 yards and five touchdowns (3.9 YPC). The Saints signed Jamaal Williams to be a hammer for the offense next to Kamara, but his role is minimal. He did spend some of the season on the I.R., but he only has 190 scoreless yards while averaging just three yards per carry.
Saints offensive line
On paper, the Saints have a solid offensive line. Their starters are Ryan Ramczyk at right tackle, Cesar Ruiz at right guard, Erik McCoy at center, James Hurst at left guard, and Andrus Peat at left tackle, who is filling in for Trevor Penning.
All of the linemen listed above are top 50 picks other than Hurst, who was undrafted in 2014. McCoy is the only one above (other than Hurst) who wasn’t selected in the first round. Carr has only been sacked 25 times this season, one less than Brock Purdy and just above Jared Goff. According to Pro Football Focus, Carr has only allowed ten fault pressures and three sacks this season.
Peat has allowed the most pressures with 26, Ramczyk allowed 25, Ruiz and McCoy both 22, and Hurst 18. Penning allowed 19 in just two games. One of the rotational interior offensive linemen is former New York Giant Max Garcia; he’s played 279 snaps this season for the Saints.
Get after Carr and make him uncomfortable. Several NFL players have stated that hitting Carr alters his transmission. The more hits Carr takes, the more hesitant and indecisive he becomes, and his feet turn happy. This is not me saying this, but Joey Bosa, and, more recently, Bruce Irvin, who stated that he knew Carr would get “rattled.”
“I played with him in Oakland, so I know when you get around him, he gets rattled,” Irvin said. “He’s a hell of a player, but we knew if we got around him, we could rattle him a little bit.
In 2021, Bosa said this:
“We knew once we hit him a few times, he really gets shook.”
I’m not besmirching Carr - I would be frightened, too - but Wink Martindale prides himself on applying pressure to break the pipes of the offense and dictating to said offense; I expect that to continue, especially if the Giants can be efficient on first and second downs.
The Giants will be in a hostile - weather-controlled - environment. New York should attempt to create free rushers on third-and-medium plus by loading the line of scrimmage with the safety either shaded toward the three-receiver side versus 3x1 sets or shaded over Olave in 2x2 sets, with Deonte Banks on Olave anytime when he’s outside.
Disguising the blitz will be critical. Carr has thrown for 1,034 yards with six touchdowns, three interceptions, and an average of 7.7 yards per attempt when blitzed this season. According to Pro Football Focus, he has eight big-time throws when blitzed this year. Wasting blockers is a key result of some of Martindale’s alignments, and the Giants should attempt to do that or force Kamara in for six-man protections.
If Hill does play, the Giants will likely respond to his packages with BASE beef, which should include Dexter Lawrence, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and A’Shawn Robinson as the three down linemen.
Bobby Okereke and Micah McFadden are playing exceptional football, but they haven’t seen a receiving back like Kamara since Christian McCaffrey in Week 3. McFadden has done better in space this season, but this is still an exploitable matchup for the Saints. Expect the Giants to use the ‘fiddle’ technique on Kamara in obvious passing situations.
The fiddle technique is an inside-out coverage against a running back who leaks out of the backfield. The Giants have used it this season.
The Giants will continue to run their three-technique twist with Jihad Ward behind Dexter Lawrence and either Azeez Ojulari or Kayvon Thibodeaux when they do only rush four. Lawrence, if healthy, could dictate and force a ramshackle Carr; the quarterback is clearly in more discomfort than usual when he takes hits, so Lawrence and the two edge rushers, as well as the secondary pieces, could have a field day if they can get home against Carr.
Playing in New Orleans is difficult, but the Giants are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. The Saints are functional on offense, and their defense has talent, but the Giants can win this football game. They’re confident, their offensive line is much sturdier than earlier in the season, and the team has bought into Tommy DeVito.
The Giants are at a disadvantage with the short week, including travel, but the Saints play Thursday night in Los Angeles - an important game for them regarding the wild-card race. New Orleans is in no position to overlook an opponent, especially not one who won three games in a row, but I would not be surprised to see the Giants handle business in the Big Easy. Expect more pinched finger emojis, Sopranos memes, and discussion around chicken cutlets if that does happen on Sunday.