The basics: Titans at Saints
Noon Sunday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3
Favorite: Saints by 7.5
Sunday’s top storyline: Is this the week for the Saints defense?
Maybe this is the week the Saints put together the secondary they’ve been hoping to see all season.
After looking healthy and putting together several competitive snaps last week against the New York Giants, this could be the week that Keenan Lewis comes all the way back from September hip surgery and takes on a larger role.
If he’s capable of picking up some more snaps, this would be one of the biggest developments of the season for New Orleans. Not only would it pair Lewis with Delvin Breaux, who has been one of the surprises of this season, it would also give New Orleans more flexibility to pick its spots with Brandon Browner.
In nickel or dime packages, Browner would be able to move inside more consistently to pair up with tight ends while Breaux and Lewis man the outside. With this alignment, it also might allow free safety Jairus Byrd to play more of a true center field instead of having to shade over and pay more attention to one side of the field. Freed up, Byrd could have more latitude to roam the field and get in position to make plays.
It’s possible the Saints are still a week away from letting Lewis loose. But the moment is coming, whether it happens this week or next. And when it does, the New Orleans defense will be a step closer to finally fulfilling the vision the team had when it constructed this roster during the offseason.
Now New Orleans just needs to figure out a way to get its linebackers healthy and back on the field.
1. Line up The play of the offensive line has been one of the keys to the Saints’ resurgence. The problem is that it’s possible some of those performances could be a mirage. There’s no question the Saints benefited from playing against three of the weaker pass-rushing teams the past three weeks. The Titans don’t fit that bill.
2. Spread or base? This will be an interesting week for the offense. With the Titans missing some key members of their secondary, there could be merit to spreading out and using empty sets again. But with a strong pass rush, using a lot of two-tight-end looks could be smart. Maybe the best bet is to mix in both looks.
3. Depth dive New Orleans likely will be fighting some injuries at linebacker and on the defensive line. With Hau’oli Kikaha out with an ankle injury, this could be a week where it makes sense to make Obum Gwacham active so Cam Jordan can move inside to rush in sub-packages. Michael Mauti could get some looks at linebacker.
4 New wrinkles How do you prepare for a new coach who is working in his first game with a new team? The Saints need to figure that out. There’s no question interim coach Mike Mularkey will introduce some new wrinkles this week. It will be the Saints’ job to be prepared for anything and find new ways to adjust. Otherwise, they’ll get burned.
Know your opponent
Titans DE Jurrell Casey
Casey might be the best defensive end that people don’t talk about. The pass rusher had a breakout season in 2013 by recording 10.5 sacks, slipped a bit last season by finishing with five, but already has four this season. He’s also racked up 15 other pressures and six quarterback hits.
This won’t be an easy game for New Orleans’ tackles. Help might be hard to find since the Titans have other pass rushers to account for.
Titans TE Delanie Walker
The Saints have had some issues covering tight ends, both playing in man coverage and zone. That task could be even dicier this week since Dannell Ellerbe won’t be on the field.
The bad news is Tennessee has a player in Walker who possesses the talent to exploit any slip-ups by the defense. His numbers (35 catches, 361 yards, one touchdown) don’t pop off the page, but he could add to that total this week.
Titans QB Marcus Mariota
The rookie is expected to be back on the field this week after missing the previous two games with a knee injury.
Maybe that’s a good thing since he has thrown five interceptions in the five games he’s played. But there’s also some bad news here: Mariota has not only been accurate (64 percent passing), he has also shown an ability to get out of the pocket and extend plays. The Saints have struggled in that area.
OUT: LB Dannell Ellerbe (hip), LB Ramon Humber (hamstring), LB Hau’oli Kikaha (ankle), CB Damian Swann (concussion), QB Luke McCown (back)
PROBABLE: T Terron Armstead (knee), WR Marques Colston (not injury-related), G Jahri Evans (not injury-related), LB David Hawthorne (hamstring), CB Keenan Lewis (hip), T Andrus Peat (knee), WR Willie Snead (knee), DT Kevin Williams (not injury-related), CB Delvin Breaux (not injury-related)
The Saints’ depth will be tested at linebacker.
At strongside, behind Kikaha, the Saints have Michael Mauti and Mike Mohamed. Kasim Edebali, who has been playing defensive end, could also play linebacker. David Hawthorne would play on the weakside.
Thomas Morstead will likely serve as the holder with McCown out, and rookie Garrett Grayson will be Drew Brees’ backup.
OUT: CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (hamstring), WR Kendall Wright (knee), CB Jason McCourty (groin) PROBABLE: CB Perrish Cox (hamstring), WR Harry Douglas (ribs), QB Marcus Mariota (knee), LB Derrick Morgan (ankle)
Nick Underhill: Saints 27, Titans 17
This is a game the Saints should be able to win. The Titans are struggling, recently fired their head coach, have two injuries at cornerback and will be without their top receiver. The only thing that gives me pause is the fact Tennessee will be lead by interim coach Mike Mularkey. Does he galvanize that team?
Joel A. Erickson: Saints 23, Titans 14
Tennessee has one thing the past three Saints opponents didn’t: a pass rush. The guess here is that Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan and Co. make life tough enough on Drew Brees to end some drives, but the Titans don’t have the offense to take advantage of a banged-up New Orleans defense.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 34, Titans 16
Seven touchdown passes is one huge anomaly, but it appears the Saints have found their offensive rhythm in time to save their season. Time to go back to work on the defense, which was so much burnt toast after the win over the Giants. Fortunately, the Titans provide the perfect grindstone for such endeavors, even if Marcus Mariota reclaims the QB spot from LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.