I’ve been looking at some of the recent Saints games to get an insight into how the team is performing so far and their strategic approach.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
After getting taken apart by Andy Dalton last week, the Jets face an even more formidable foe this week in the form of perennial pro bowler Drew Brees. Brees is having another great season, but he’s yet another quarterback whose statistical output drops precipitously when he’s under pressure. His completion percentage drops to 50% and his QB rating is almost 40 points lower than when not pressured.
The good news is that while Brees is renowned for being decisive and accurate, he doesn’t habitually get rid of the ball as early and often as Dalton. In fact, he holds the ball longer than 2.5 of the time on 52% of his throws, 10th most in the league. Where Brees excels, despite his short stature, is in moving his feet within the pocket to create lanes, so if the Jets can collapse the pocket and fill lanes, perhaps they can disrupt Brees from emulating his usual level of performance. Pressure will also be on the secondary to do a better job of jamming at the line and jumping routes, otherwise Brees will get rid of the ball early and have success in doing so.
The Saints have scored more than 25 points in five straight games, but the Jets are statistically easily the best defense they have faced so far. The Jets rank 6th, whereas all seven teams they’ve faced so far are 14th or lower.
The strength of the Saints line in recent times has been its guards. They’ve invested a lot of money in Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs to try and mitigate the amount of pressure up the middle while their philosophy has been to assist their tackles by chipping edge rushers to try and prevent pressure coming off the edge. Evans is a four time pro bowler, but is having a down year in the running game, probably connected to the hip injury which has caused him to miss one game and has him listed as questionable this week. Grubbs was a pro bowler back in 2011 and continues to be one of the better linemen in the league at getting out in front of a screen pass.
At right tackle, Zach Streif has good numbers although he is left on an island less than a lot of tackles. He’s developed into his role well though. By contrast, the left tackle Charles Brown is a potential weak spot. Brown won a three-way battle in preseason that involved former Jet Jason Smith. He leads the team with six penalties and four sacks given up.
Center Brian De La Puente is athletic and benefits from being in between two great players. Off the bench, two undrafted players, second year man Bryce Harris and rookie Tim Lelito have each started a game and occasionally get reps as extra tight ends. Lelito really struggled when he replaced Evans against the Cardinals in week three, surrendering eight total pressures including three sacks.
The Saints running game isn’t the main feature of their offense, but their backs still play a key role. Pierre Thomas is their lead back, but he’s averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in their 25th ranked rush attack. He has caught 32 passes though. Darren Sproles (36 catches) remains a key option in the passing attack, but has only carried 15 times since week two. Mark Ingram (who had been dealing with a turf toe injury) hasn’t played much so far this year, but is now healthy.
Fullback Jed Collins is mainly a blocker, with just 12 touches in seven games so far this season.
The Saints’ most dangerous weapon – tight end Jimmy Graham – played just 19 snaps last week as he deals with a partially torn plantar fascia in his foot. However, he was still pretty effective (two touchdowns) as they limited him to the two minute drill and red zone activity. They threw the ball on 17 of those plays. Veteran Ben Watson, now 32, is past his prime, but did catch three passes as the starter last week.
The Saints have plenty of receiving threats at wideout too. 6-5 former Hofstra product Marques Colston is still a big threat and he’s been starting along with rookie fifth rounder Kenny Stills. After a slow start, Stills has three touchdowns in the last two games. On the bench, they have slot/possession receiver Lance Moore, second year man Nick Toon (the son of Jets legend Al Toon) and Robert Meachem, who returned to the Saints this year after a terrible season with the Chargers where he fell out of favor and barely played in the second half of the year. The three of them have combined for just 13 catches so far, though.
The Saints defense has turned things around this year, led by the pass rushing of Cameron Jordan. They play both 4-3 and 3-4 formations with Jordan moving all over the place. Veteran Broderick Bunkley is listed as the starter at nose tackle, but hasn’t played much this season due to a calf strain. He did start last week, but played just 26 of 72 snaps. In his absence, third round rookie John Jenkins – a 360-pounder – did a solid job. The other starter on the line is Akiem Hicks – last year’s third rounder – who is more of a run stopper than pass rusher. The main backups are undrafted rookie Glenn Foster and veteran Tom Johnson, both of whom are listed as under 290 pounds.
The media are making a big deal of the fact that former Jet Jonathan Vilma has been activated from the short-term injured reserve list, but the truth is he’s been a shadow of his former self these past few years. Curtis Lofton is their leader now, playing every snap, but he is also second in the league with 11 missed tackles. David Hawthorne, the former Seahawk, lines up alongside him.
On the outside, the Saints have Parys Haralson, who had 21.5 sacks with the 49ers from 2006 to 2012, but it’s been the guy on the other side – Junior Galette – who has made more of an impact as a pass rusher this year. He has four sacks, one short of his career best five last season. They have some experience among their backups with Keyunta Dawson outside and Will Herring and Ramon Humber inside, but none have played much this year.
They would be even stronger on the outside, but veteran Will Smith and offseason pickup Victor Butler are both on injured reserve.
At safety, both starters – this year’s first pick Kenny Vacarro and former first rounder (albeit as a cornerback) Malcolm Jenkins – are listed as questionable with a concussion and a knee respectively. Vacarro has been good in run support when he comes into the box.
At cornerback, Jabari Greer typically plays on the right and Keenan Lewis on the left. Greer was targeted by the Bears a few weeks ago, to the tune of eight catches for over 120 yards. Lewis, the former Steeler, has three interceptions, including two in the last two games.
The Saints nickel package involves Rafael Bush entering the game to play the deep safety role while one of the other safeties comes up to play the slot.
In reserve, they have some experience with Chris Carr at cornerback and Roman Harper at safety. Harper had been starting but then hurt his knee and only returned to practice this week.
Thomas Morstead is one of the better punters in the NFL, having allowed just 80 return yards through seven games. He also does a good job on kickoffs. Garrett Hartley is the placekicker and he’s made 14 of 18 field goals. Three of those misses were from beyond 40 yards, but he hasn’t even attempted one from 50. These numbers benefit from the Saints playing in a dome, too, so they might not see the same kind of success on a November’s day in New Jersey.
Sproles is the key to the Saints’ return game, although his longest return of the year is just 32 yards. He’s always a threat to avoid the first man on a punt return though. In terms of coverage, they don’t have any players with more than three solo tackles. Overall, their special teams unit ranks 5th according to PFF but dropped from 14th to 19th on Football Outsiders last week.
I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the game!
Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.