Did anyone honestly think that the Saints would be 4-1 when Drew Brees went off the field against the Rams? Because I didn’t. But guess what? They are and they look good doing it. Another good performance at home last Sunday helped people gain more faith in Teddy Bridgewater, looking like he knows the playbook, understands this offense and Sean Payton calling more expansive plays. Combine this with a brilliant defense and you got yourself a team on a roll. Next up is the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road, let’s have a look into their players in more detail.
With Nick Foles getting injured in his first start of his Jacksonville career, 6th round rookie Gardner Minshew was thrown into the mix. Not much around the NFL was known about the QB from Washington State when he stepped onto the field in week one, but he has shown himself to be a more than capable starter for this offense. 1,279 passing yards with a 9/1 TD to Interception ratio are solid numbers, completion % of 66.7, also a number which reflects well on a rookie.
Minshew has filled in valiantly. Some areas where he can lack is holding on to the ball too long and failing to avoid sacks. With an average offensive line in front of him, releasing quicker is something he must do. He has already been sacked 12 times and his completion % drops when under duress. Getting pressure is one thing the Saints Defensive line have done extremely well so far this season, so this is an area they will be looking to exploit.
Receiving the ball from the rookie is LSU product DJ Chark. The second rounder appears to be on his way to a breakout season. 27 receptions for 485 yards plus 5 TDs so far for Chark, he is really having a good year and is one of Minshew’s favourite targets. Speed with lots of yards after catch have allowed Chark to break free on multiple occasions, making people miss and getting large chunk plays. The Saints had early season issues with giving up chunk yards, although this appears to have been addressed in the last few weeks, they certainly will have their work cut out. I am assuming that Marshon Lattimore will be covering Chark in the majority of circumstances but will require safety help for those deep shots. If Lattimore can continue his form from the last two games, it could be a tough day for Chark.
On the opposite side to DJ is Chris Conley. A wideout in his 5th season, he offers a different type of threat to Chark. More physical at the line and used for those third down situations in need of completions, Conley has an average of 17.4 yards per catch. With half the yards of Chark but on half the catches, Conley has been productive but not the no.1 by any stretch. I feel that the Jaguars will target him more, with Eli Apple in coverage, especially after Marshon Lattimore has shutdown receivers recently.
A player the state of Louisiana knows all about is Leonard Fournette. He will offer a threat in both the run and pass game for the Jags. Fournette is by far and away the leading rusher for Jacksonville with 512 yards on the year off 95 attempts, however, with the Saints extremely strong run defense, they will probably look to him in a similar way the Saints use Alvin Kamara. Dump offs, screens, short passes with the ability to get yards after the catch. The line backer corps will have to be well aware of the threat he poses and I’m sure they will be up to the task.
Turning the page to Defense and it isn’t the “Sacksonville” squad of which it has been of recent times. Working more as an overall unit rather than individual they spread the plays around. They have given up a lot of yardage so far this year, will Christian McCaffrey having a monster game last weekend. A few “injuries” and controversies have hampered them somewhat. However, there are a few big players to discuss.
I will get Jalen Ramsey out of the way first and foremost. One of the better cornerbacks in the league, it has been well known that Ramsey wants out of Jacksonville. Recent games have seen him out with a “back injury”. Whether or not this is true, only he will know but he is back to limited practise this week so he may see the field on Sunday. Following his heart to heart with the owner, it appears he will play and cover Michael Thomas, CGM will be hoping he isn’t at full tilt to take advantage, potentially another huge game for the Saints leader receiver.
Defensive End Calais Campbell is certainly a threat. A physical player he has the joint most sacks on this defense so far with 3 plus a hand in 4.5 tackles for a loss. An experienced pro who will have his work cut out with the Saints offensive line.
Josh Allen at Linebacker is the joint highest sack getter with Campbell with 3. Again, protection but the offensive line will need to be strong but with how they have been performing this season, they should cope well.
A big match-up in this game is Alvin Kamara versus this Jacksonville defense. Judging by how McCaffrey performed last week (237 total scrimmage yards) AK41 could really take advantage in both the air and ground game (176 of CMC’s yards were on the ground). A slight issue with this is Kamara was limited in practise on Thursday with an ankle injury. A hope is that this is just a precautionary thing and will be fully involved come Sunday afternoon.
On paper it looks a tough game, but games aren’t won on paper. If you delve into the individual match-ups the Saints have the upper hand, especially if Jalen Ramsey isn’t involved.
Michael Thomas vs the Jacksonville secondary.
Kamara vs the entire Jacksonville defense.
On the Saints defense they will have a big ask but if they can continue to create the pressure in which they have been in recent weeks they should get a win. As with other weeks I expect the Saints to get a comfortable lead then give up the garbage time yards to make the box score look closer than it is in reality.
Jaguars 27 – Saints 32