It’s week 5 of the NFL season and the 2-2 Washington Football Team will be facing a 2-2 New Orleans Saints team at home in FedEx Field this Sunday at 1pm. Though these teams rarely meet, their last matchup was in 2018 and resulted in a 43-18 route of Washington and a game where Drew Brees set the all-time passing yards record. The overall record of these matchups is more balanced though, with each team winning the same number of games against the other since 2012.
The Saints are undergoing major transition on offense. Captained by Drew Brees since 2006, this is the first year that another QB will be starting the season. Ostensibly, that QB is Jameis Winston, but Taysom Hill has been taking snaps at QB as more of a read-option rushing threat with QB upside. Other than Drew Brees, the one constant for the Saints has been a top 5 offensive line. This year is no different, but the OL is dealing with injuries, as starting Center Erik McCoy and LT Terron Armstead are out with injury.
The Achilles Heel of the Saints used to be the defense, particularly under DC Rob Ryan. Ryan’s departure in 2015 and the promotion from within of Dennis Allen to the DC position coincided with a gradual improvement of the Saints defense. Every year since then, their defense has seemed to take another step forward, to the point that the Saints were primarily a defensive team in 2020 (and the 2nd highest-ranked defensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders, behind only the Steelers). The Saints are stacked with All Pro or Pro Bowl talent at all levels of the defense, including DE Cam Jordan, LB Demario Davis, and CB Marshon Lattimore.
I asked Chris Conner of Canal Street Chronicles five questions to better understand the state of the Saints and what to look for in this game.
1) How has the Saints offense changed in the first year post Brees? As part of this, why is Alvin Kamara averaging only half as many receptions per game compared to the last 4 seasons?
Well this question is really difficult to answer until you see the offensive line healthy and the return of Michael Thomas. Sean Payton has talked openly recently about just doing whatever it takes to win football games. With their current injury situation, that has involved a run-heavy scheme with Jameis having some opportunities to stretch the field. It also appears that when the Saints get into the redzone, Taysom Hill will be used even more than in past seasons. We’ll have to see how much of that is temporary. Defenses will have to prepare for New Orleans differently once the O-Line and WR room gets healthy, which should change the overall approach in some areas.
In regards to Kamara, it appears to be a balance of Payton using AK in more of a workhorse role to start and teams just keying in on plays where he’s a primary target.
2) What do you think about Jameis Winston so far and how does he measure up as a potential franchise QB? Does he have a future in New Orleans?
Similar to the question before I think we’ll have our answers after the bye week in regards to just how far Jameis can go in New Orleans. It’s a weird situation because you have to judge him in one light because the games are being played, no one wants to hear the excuses. But you also have to be fair in regards to the time it takes to build a relationship and the weapons that are currently missing.
I think Winston has done a pretty good job honestly. He’s taken care of the football and has been the game manager the team has needed him to be to start the season. When the deep shots have been there, Jameis has let the ball fly and is connecting at a really good level. The leadership has been there, and he’s saying all the right things, just a matter of how consistent he continues to be and how his performances elevate. At some point, New Orleans will need him to win a football game that will require a high amount of throwing attempts. I still believe the Saints are ultimately keeping their eyes on Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and maybe Deshaun Watson with Jameis as a backup plan, but I truly hope Jameis continues to shred old narratives and is the franchise’s signal-caller for years to come.
3) Tell us about the Saints defense. How do they like to play, where are they strongest and weakest, and what do you think of Saints DC Dennis Allen?
The Saints defense starts with their ability to stop the run, getting teams into long conversion distances and then putting pressure on the quarterback. Over the past few seasons, NOLA has been able to generate a lot of that pressure with their front four. But after losing Trey Hendrickson and currently missing David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport --- that hasn’t been the easiest quest. I’d say they’re strongest currently in the secondary as Marshon Lattimore has played exceptionally well. They’ve gotten good production out of rookie CB Paulson Adebo and the recently acquired and talented Bradley Roby’s role is increasing. They have one of the best range safeties in football with Marcus Williams. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has been solid once again out of the slot and Malcolm Jenkins hasn’t shown any glimpse of falling off veteran’s cliff yet.
The weakest spot could be at linebacker right now, as even though you have All Pro Demario Davis, they’re a different group when Kwon Alexander isn’t out there. They tried second-year pro Zack Baun in previous weeks to help fill in for Kwon’s absence and the early returns weren’t great. Rookie linebacker Pete Werner had a pretty good performance in week four against the Giants, he’d be a guy I keep my eyes on this weekend at that position.
Dennis Allen has really shown growth as a defensive coordinator as the defense climbed from historic lows to one of the best in football the past few seasons. At one point it felt like he had a tendency to either be too aggressive or too “cute” with his disguises. But he’s continued to impress from my perspective and is putting guys in the best position to succeed, I think he’ll land another head coaching opportunity real soon.
4) So far, the Saints have seemed to play their best games against their best opponents (blowing out the Packers and Patriots) and played down to the level of lesser opponents (losing to the Giants in OT). How do you explain this trend and does it worry you facing a Washington team that’s in the bottom half of most NFL power rankings?
The Saints have historically responded well to losses under Sean Payton, but ironically he’s played a role in some New Orleans low points. I could give you excuses about not having film for several guys the Giants exploded with on offense last weekend, but at the end of the day, they were up 21-10 in the fourth quarter at home against a 0-3 team. It was also the first home game of the season due to Hurricane Ida, the Saints had to find a way to win that football game. Missing several key players and overall lacking in identity offensively have been the biggest problems I’d suggest.
The Carolina game was overall weird, as NOLA was missing eight coaches due to COVID and the offensive line had the worst performance you may ever see that day. Somehow though, New Orleans hung around until late against what appears to be a pretty tough Panthers team. Payton has in turn done some odd things, but it’s hard to blame him because I’m not sure how many people would have predicted them even being 2-2 at this point with everything they’ve had to overcome.
I think right now the matchups tell the story in regards to the opponents I worry about. I think Taylor Heinicke as a dual-threat definitely poses its challenges, Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin are elite threats in my mind, but it’s the “other guys” that I think best hurt New Orleans defensively. I think Marshon Lattimore will play well enough against McLaurin. Without Logan Thomas and trying to work in Curtis Samuel, I’m not sure about the weapons Washington can throw out to win this game. Especially with the way WFT’s defense has been playing. Maybe JD McKissic has another great game? I surely respect Washington but unless the defensive line destroys New Orleans upfront, I’m not sure how worried to be with the way the matchups play out in a game I believe the WFT will need to score a bunch of points.
5) How would you gameplan to beat the Saints on both sides of the ball?
From an offensive gameplan perspective, I’d spread them out, get the football out quick, and dare their banged-up defensive line to get after Heinicke. Spread out JD and see if the Saints cover him whether it’s Demario Davis or Pete Werner on some option and wheel routes. Test New Orleans’s ability to run man coverage with your speed and get receivers other than McLaurin involved. Run some mesh concepts and see if Samuel and Dyami Brown can get involved early. I’m not saying it will 100 percent work, because as I mentioned earlier the Saints secondary is the backbone of their team in my eyes, but if the pass rush isn’t there, it won’t matter.
Defensively I’d key in completely on Alvin Kamara and pressure an offensive line missing Erik McCoy and Terron Armstead. I’d send multiple blitzes and make New Orleans prove they can pass the football at a higher volume, protect Jameis, and throw under pressure. I don’t want New Orleans putting together long drives and controlling the time of possession. In a lot of ways, this may be the final game the Saints play without a handful of key members. I expect that to be in the back of many heads as they try everything possible to pull out one more game under-manned. Either way, I’d rather see Jameis, an underwhelming receiving group, and Payton be the ones to make that happen, not Alvin Kamara.
As of right now, Vegas has the Saints as 2 point favorites over Washington. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
The Saints win by more than 2 points
The Saints win by 2 points or less or it’s a tie
Washington wins outright
As of right now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 43.5 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
44 points or more are scored (both sides combined)
43 points or fewer are scored (both sides combined)
If you could take one Saints player onto Washington’s roster and make him healthy, who would it be?
This poll is closed
2nd-Team All Pro LT Terron Armstead
1st-Team All Pro RT Ryan Ramczyk
1st-Team All Pro DE Cameron Jordan
1st-Team All Pro LB Demario Davis
3x Pro Bowl CB Marshon Lattimore
Other (specify in comments)