Even looking at box scores alone it is pretty clear to see that the Saints defense has massively improved as the season has progressed and even improved on last season’s team. In the last 6 weeks, the Saints have only given up 74 points in 6 games which is 12.3 points per game. In 4 out of the last 5 games, the Defense has shut-out opponents in the second half of games. That’s 0 points in 2 hours of second half football!
One of the biggest factors in this improvement, to go with the impressive #1 ranked rush defense is the improved secondary. Marshon Lattimore has finally found a partner to play in the other cornerback slot across from him. That player is Eli Apple.
It was common knowledge that the Saints were after an additional cornerback before the trade deadline was reached, most people, including myself were all in on Patrick Peterson and were a bit gutted to see that the Saints “settled” for Apple. How wrong was I? This is probably the reason (amongst many, many others) why I am not an NFL Coach or General Manager. The former first round draft pick in 2016 out of Ohio State has combined speed, agility and tactical play to firm himself up as the #2 Cornerback in this Saints roster.
Eli Apple has played fantastically since joining the Saints organisation. Coming in on October 24th, Apple first played against the Minnesota Vikings, in Minneapolis in week 8 recording 9 tackles on debut only 5 days after signing. Before becoming a mainstay in the team ever since. It takes a footballing brain to be able to slot in so quickly, it may not take as much studying as say learning WR routes but still a great effort to fit in so well after less than a week of practice.
He has already clocked up 2 Interceptions in 8 Games which is double the amount he totaled with the Giants in 30 games. One of his interceptions was a huge play just before halftime during the Panthers game, he also may a crucial tackle to help the Saints see out the win. Apple was the highest rated Saints defensive player (according to Pro Football Focus) with a 92.8 rating (off a min of 15 snaps).
Not to say that he hasn’t had some poor games too, including the Dallas road game where he was targeted repeatedly (9 times) and gave up a large chunk of yards (85) to the Dallas WR Michael Gallup. He was fortunate to give up a 50 odd yarder in this match where Prescott overthrew his receiver after he burned Apple all ends up. Julio Jones also had a productive day against Apple in the Superdome with 150 yards off 12 receptions (15 targets).
But it’s about how you recover from these situations and boy has he. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Apple has been playing his best football of his young career in the last 2 matches. Barely giving up a yard he has been targeted against his primary match up (Chris Godwin and DJ Moore respectively) on 13 times giving up 1 reception for 7 yards on the road at the Buccaneers and Panthers combined. Lock down numbers.
Apple also has youth on his side, at only 23 he could be a large part of the Saints defense going forwards in the future. The Ohio State product is still learning and growing, not only as a part of the Saints but as a general NFL Cornerback. Playing in a quality defense which has proved people wrong repeatedly this season will more than help, plus playing high pressure games including playoff games to come will let Apple show what is about.
One of the tough games comes this Sunday in New Orleans at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the last of the NFC South-AFC North match-ups on the season. Both teams go into this game being 3-0 against the opposing division. Someone’s 0 has got to go. This game could also see the Saints seal the #1 NFC ranking and secure not only a bye week but dome-field advantage for whole of the postseason (apart from a potential Superbowl – but that’s in a Mercedes-Benz sponsored dome in some city in Georgia anyway).
The difference with this game is both the Saints Cornerbacks will have to cover big time receivers, probably #1 WR’s if they were on separate teams, in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster so Apple and Lattimore will have to step up again for the team. I assuming Lattimore will be on Brown with Apple on Smith-Schuster.
I for one and really looking forward to these match-ups and hopefully the corners can come out on top of their respective match ups.
Eli Apple pick-6 anyone? Yes please.
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