NFL

10 burning questions for Week 10’s Saints vs. Titans game

The New Orleans Saints are on a collision course with the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans on Sunday, so I exchanged a series of questions and answers with Titans Wire’s Mike Moraitis to get the best information. We went through this exercise before the Titans sent star receiver Julio Jones to injured reserve, so keep that in mind. Here’s what I learned about Tennessee this week:

Titans Wire: Is Trevor Siemian an upgrade, downgrade or no change from Jameis Winston?

Saints Wire: He’s honestly running the offense with about the same competency, though Winston has a bigger arm and Siemian is more mindful of negative plays. It’s why I still have the Saints in the playoff picture come January. Siemian is steady enough to help the team win 10 or 11 games this year and keep them in contention every week. So long as his supporting cast doesn’t let him down, they’ll give every opponent on their schedule some trouble.

TW: What’s behind that the Saints’ struggles against the pass?

SW: They just had too many miscommunications in recent weeks, some of which has been attributed to returning to the raucous Caesars Superdome. It’s a tough venue for visiting quarterbacks rattling off play calls but it’s also tough on the secondary in signaling switches and coverage rotations. They’ve also had problems pressuring passers without blitzing. The Saints are awful thin at defensive tackle and injuries have kept the defensive ends from getting on the same page.

TW: What is the driving force behind the Saints’ No. 1 run defense?

SW: New Orleans is really well-coached up front. They’ve had the same position coaches working with the line and linebackers for a few years now and it shows in how consistently they close off lanes and correctly read their keys. They also have enough athletic and willing tacklers on the back end to cut off many explosive runs that do make it to the second level.

TW: How does the loss of Alvin Kamara impact the Saints’ offense?

SW: It’s huge. You almost can’t understate it. He’s such an integral part of their running game and passing game that multiple players need to step up and fill in for him. Mark Ingram will be fine working in relief of Kamara, but they’re each at their best when working together, not alone. You need someone smart enough (and quick enough) to read the coverage pre-snap and run an option route into an open zone near the first down marker. You also need a runner patient enough to let his blocks develop with enough wiggle to dodge anyone who could get through the line and into the backfield. They also have so many plays that rely on the threat of Kamara drawing defensive attention as a decoy.

TW: Give us your prediction and a final score.

SW: I think this is an ugly game with two great defenses and two offenses that are, well, going through it. It feels like a low-scoring output with a thin margin of victory. I’ll call it Saints 20, Titans 17.

SW: Saints fans are obviously familiar with Julio Jones from his time in Atlanta, but how effective has he been in Tennessee? What can we expect if he is able to play this week?

TW: We saw vintage Julio in Week 2 when he totaled 128 yards on six catches, including a 51-yard grab, but he has been very quiet ever since. Part of the issue is that he’s been dealing with a hamstring issue that has sidelined him for three games (it’ll probably sideline him in Week 10 as well), but he just hasn’t gotten a ton of targets even when healthy and on the field. Granted, he has made some big chain-moving catches, especially last week, but his impact overall has been minimal. I think Julio is still Julio, he just needs to stay on the field and get more opportunities.

SW: This game was marketed as a big-time matchup between Alvin Kamara and Derrick Henry, but now neither of them are available. How have the Titans worked without him?

TW: In their first game without Henry, the Titans struggled to move the football on the ground against a tough Rams front. Adrian Peterson found the end zone, but the best back of the group based on numbers and the eye test was D’Onta Foreman, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry and nearly broke a big run. I’m expecting to see more Foreman this week, but regardless the Titans are going to have a tough time against an elite Saints run defense. The passing attack, which has been shaky for much of the season, needs to step up if the Titans want to keep their winning ways going.

SW: The story of the Titans appears to be their defensive front, where they’ve drafted and developed some legit talent. Who should Saints fans be wary of?

TW: Jeffery Simmons should be public enemy No. 1. The former first-round pick impacts the game in multiple ways. Not only is he a play-maker capable of getting after the quarterback and stuffing holes when defending against the run, but his mere presence and the double teams he draws opens things up for the guys around him. It’s really a pick-your-poison scenario with Simmons: either double team him, which inevitably takes pressure off the rest of the front, or try to take him one-on-one and risk allowing him to wreck the game. The latter approach did not work out for the Rams in Week 10. This front isn’t a one-trick pony, though; Harold Landry has become a star this season, and Denico Autry has quietly become one of the biggest steals of free agency. If Bud Dupree can get going, opposing offenses are going to be in even bigger trouble than they are now.

SW: One player Saints fans were really bummed about losing this offseason was Jackrabbit Jenkins. Has he played as advertised or is he someone the Saints could get after in the passing game?

TW: Jenkins had a horrid start to the season but has since rounded into form and helped stabilize what was a shaky Titans secondary. His leadership has been apparent, also, as Jenkins has taken younger players under his wing and his competitiveness in practice has been contagious. He was definitely a great signing for this team in more ways than one.

SW: Alright — let’s see your score prediction.

TW: This is going to be an ugly, defensive struggle, and both teams will turn the ball over multiple times. I think the Saints’ issues offensively (missing Kamara, Armstead, Winston) are far bigger than anything the Titans are dealing with, thus I’m giving the edge to Tennessee. The Titans pull out a close one, once again thanks to their defense. Titans 24, Saints 20.

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