By Barry Hirstius – Contributing Writer
The New Orleans Saints will be seeking their 3rd consecutive win of the 2018 Regular Season this coming Sunday when they travel to metropolitan New York City to face the NFC East Divisional foe New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in suburban East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Kickoff is at 3:25 p.m. Central time, and the game will be televised locally in the New Orleans area by CBS affiliate WWL TV Channel 4.
The Saints (2-1) are coming off a heart-stopping 43-37 overtime win over their hated and bitter arch-rivals the Atlanta Falcons; while New York (1-2) will be trying to win their 2nd straight contest after defeating the Houston Texans on the road by a score of 27-22.
With that in mind, here are Big Easy Magazine’s 5 bold predictions for this early-season conference match-up which potentially could impact the NFC Playoff race later on at the end of the year.
And we’ll start at #5, and work our way down to #1.
Starting with this one…
#5. After struggling mightily for the first three weeks, the bewildered Saints pass defense “bends but doesn’t break” against the talented Giants WR duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard…
The Saints pass defense after the first three weeks of the NFL season is currently is ranked dead last in a handful of categories; including touchdowns allowed, 1st down percentage, 40+ yard plays given up, the longest play allowed, average yards per play, opponent QB rating, and total points allowed per game.
The Saints pass defense is ranked 32nd in:
– 1st down %
– 40+ yard plays
– Longest play
– Average yards per play
– QB rating
– Points per game
— AllSaintsConsidered.com (@AllSaintsBlog) September 24, 2018
But yet in spite of all that, New Orleans comes into this Week Four contest with a sole focus and clear mission: stopping the improved New York offense under new head coach Pat Shurmur; and specifically the Giants’ talented WR duo of young veterans Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard.
But to pull it off, the Saints pass defense will have to play much better than the way they did in the first three games, which featured a loss to Tampa Bay, and narrow escapes (but still wins) against Cleveland and Atlanta.
In this contest, the Saints’ defensive secondary bends but doesn’t break and does just barely enough to keep the Giants’ tandem from taking the game over as has had happened to them in previous weeks.
The paramount mission for New Orleans will be stopping Beckham, the Baton Rouge native and former “superstar” WR at LSU who has yet to score a touchdown this season. One thing you can definitely be certain about: it will get physical between Beckham and starting Saints CB Marshon Lattimore.
Shepard (14 catches, 152 yards) is also a weapon out of the slot for New York, and as of this moment, it would appear that the Saints will once again try to match him up one-on-one with Crawley, just as they did the last time that these two teams met back in 2016.
However, Lattimore will limit Beckham to five catches for 88 yards; while #2 CB Ken Crawley has his best performance of the early-season thus far by keeping Shepard “at bay” with four receptions for a meager 32 yards all the way up to the fourth quarter.
However as you’ll soon see, Crawley still ends up yielding a huge play that is a potential back-breaker for the Saints defensive unit near the end of the game.
That brings us then to Prediction Number Four, which is…
#4. In the battle of pass-catching running backs, Giants rookie Saquon Barkley outshines Saints running back Alvin Kamara (but not by much)…
— Zesty NY Giants News (@zesty_ny_giants) September 23, 2018
One notable side item from this week’s game is the epic battle (so to speak) that will take place for those fans that are active participants in Fantasy Football, as both the Saints and Giants each feature one of the sport’s premier running backs able to catch passes out of the backfield as well as they run the ball. That would be Saints second year RB Alvin Kamara vs. Giants rookie RB Saquon Barkley.
Kamara was phenomenal for the Saints last week in their win over the Falcons, as he rushed 16 times for 66 yards and caught 15 of 20 targets for 124 yards for a total of 190 yards from scrimmage. Kamara could’ve had an even bigger day, but his one-yard score/would-be touchdown was ruled just short of crossing the goal line.
Still, last season’s 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year thus far has a whopping 430 scrimmage yards through three games in the place of #1 RB Mark Ingram (who only has one game left to serve on his four-game suspension imposed by the league before the season began) heading.
But the Giants rookie RB Barkley has been extremely impressive as a rookie thus far, and while his average of 4.7 yards per carry (46 carries, 216 yards) will challenge the Saints run defense; Barkley is an even bigger threat catching passes out of the backfield. He has caught 21 passes for 137 yards — and legitimately is a threat to “take it to the house” on any given possession of the ball.
In this contest, Barkley will slightly outshine Kamara, although not by a whole lot. Barkley will top over 100 rushing yards (116) on 22 carries, and catch another five passes out of the backfield for an additional 75 yards; while Kamara will rush for 88 yards on 14 carries and grab seven receptions thrown by Drew Brees out of the backfield for 98 more yards.
In the end, both RB’s do their part to fill up the offensive stat sheet — which helps to keep the score of the game close and give Fantasy Football participants something to be very happy about.
#3. Saints quarterback Drew Brees inches closer to the All-Time NFL passing yardage record, as he throws for another 300-plus yards…
There simply just isn’t enough superlatives in the English language to accurately depict the type of season that Saints QB and future NFL Hall of Famer Drew Brees is having at the moment through the first three games.
In last Sunday’s overtime win at Atlanta, Brees was 39 of 49 for 396 yards and 3 passing touchdowns, while also rushing for two additional touchdowns, including the game-winning score.
He became the NFL’s completions leader (6,326) and the first player in NFL history with at least 350 yards passing, three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns without an interception in a single game. Brees was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Brees — who turns age 40 on January 15th — shows zero signs of slowing down.
Drew Brees after three games:
80.6 completion %
121.85 QB rating
2 Rushing TDs pic.twitter.com/ycQ55OwBYg
— Football Analysis (@FBallAnalysis) September 23, 2018
Brees has completed 104 passes out of 129 attempts for 1,078 passing yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, for an incredible completion rate of 80.6 percent; which is an absolutely jaw-dropping statistic, especially for a QB that some believed was allegedly on the downside of his brilliant 18-year career.
Brees also currently has a QBR of 121.85 (another impressive number); and with him guiding the way, the Saints are averaging 34.7 points per game (second-best in the NFL) and they’ve topped the 40-point mark twice in three weeks.
Coming into this week’s game, Brees now is only 315 yards behind NFL Hall of Fame QB’s Brett Favre (2nd place) and 417 yards behind Peyton Manning (1st place) for the NFL All-Time passing yardage mark, which is 71,940 yards (Brees needs 418 more yards to move up to No. 1).
In this contest, Brees will inch closer to the mark by throwing for 346 yards and 3 TD’s; and while he, unfortunately, will throw his 1st interception of the season, he will put himself in position to break the record at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — when the Saints return from next week’s Bye Week on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins in two weeks from now (on October 8th).
#2. After their notable struggles in the season opener, the Saints pass rush continues its upward trend with four sacks of Giants quarterback Eli Manning…
One of the biggest reasons for the Saints’ well-documented defensive struggles besides the most obvious one with the play of their pass defense, has been the ability to pressure the opponent’s QB with an adequate pass rush.
But after a Season Opening game in which New Orleans’ lack of a pass rush allowed Bucs career journeyman back-up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to figuratively shred the Saints pass defense to the tune of 21 completions-out-of-28 passes for 417 yards and four TD passes, the Saints D-Line recorded zero sacks and had only two QB hits; which gave the wily 14-year veteran ample opportunities to burn the struggling Saints secondary with throws deep downfield.
In nearly 40 pass attempts, the Saints recorded zero sacks and only two QB hits on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) September 9, 2018
But to their credit: the Saints pass rush has been rejuvenated somewhat, as the team has tallied 6 sacks in the past 2 games against Browns QB Tyrod Taylor and Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Now this week, the Saints D-Line will be licking their proverbial chops against a player that they’ve been able to pressure with great success in past seasons
15th year Giants veteran QB Eli Manning has been efficient this season, completing 73.6 percent of his passes. However, the 37-year old New Orleans native has struggled to lead the Giants to any success recently while at the helm of their offense.
With Manning leading the way, New York has only won six games in the past two years and hasn’t scored 30 or more points in a regular season game with Eli at QB since former Giants two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Tom Coughlin’s (now with the Jacksonville Jaguars) final game as head coach in the 2015 regular season finale — nearly three years ago.
In their (1-2) start this season thus far, the Giants’ biggest issue (and the biggest problem for Eli) is the play of their O-Line. As good as the Giants passing game is and can potentially be week-to-week, New York still has one of the weakest offensive lines in the NFL.
New York has given up 12 sacks, which is tied for 27th overall in the NFL, and after having just given up three sacks to the Texans’ J.J. Watt last week, now get to face another All-Pro defensive end with Saints DE Cam Jordan.
Jordan, who is currently tied with three other players (Khalil Mack, Myles Garrett, and Von Miller) for the NFL lead with 4 sacks, will add 2 more sacks of Manning to his total, while 3rd year veteran defensive tackle David Onyemata and rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport will each get one along with multiple QB “pressures” to help the New Orleans defense keep pace on the scoreboard in a tough road environment.
#1. In a back-and-forth battle in “The Big Apple”, the game comes down to the final minute and…
Any Saints fan (or Giants fan for that matter) expecting to see a shootout won’t be disappointed in this contest, as New Orleans once again finds itself in another high-scoring affair in spite of what seems like a much better performance by the defense, specifically with getting multiple pressures and sacks on Eli.
That sets things up (from Saints fans’ perspective, anyway) for another nail-biting and nerve-wracking finish to this contest, in where whichever team possesses the ball last has the best chance of winning (just as the Saints did last week in the overtime win at Atlanta).
As the game slowly winds down to near the end, things suddenly get even more exciting when New York and Manning, trailing by a score of 28-23, hits WR Sterling Shepard on a crossing route; after which he manages to break two tackles, then breaks free and takes it 65 yards “all the way to the house” for a 30-28 lead with under two minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for the Giants, however, they leave just enough time (1:23) on the game clock to give Brees and the Saints offense one last opportunity to pull the game out at the end.
After a false start puts the Saints in a 3rd and long situation, Brees finds Thomas for a key conversion up near midfield; and then hits Kamara with a pass out of the backfield that gets the ball up to the New York 36-yard line with only five seconds left on the clock.
Saints fans at home gathered around their TV’s at home then hold their collective breaths, as Sean Payton decides to send kicker Wil Lutz onto the field for a potential game-winning 53-yard field goal.
As the ball is snapped, the kick is BLOCKED — and Saints fans everywhere let out a collective moan until… wait a minute – there’s a flag on the play, as the Giants are called for an offside penalty.
Lutz is then given another shot at redemption; and on the second try the ball sails right down the middle and through the uprights, giving the Saints a heart-stopping 31-30 win with no time remaining on the clock…
FINAL SCORE: Saints 31, Giants 30
Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Barry’s writing, be sure to check out his detailed story on the how the Saints and their fans are tackling the controversial NFL-National Anthem issue, featuring his interview with Saints linebacker Demario Davis! Don’t forget to also check out our series on things to do in New Orleans as well as a piece we released today on a controversial movie filmed in New Orleans!