See below to get a better idea of what the 2019 version of the Saints bring to the table:
1. How has Teddy Bridgewater looked as the starting quarterback for the Saints? What do you like and what does he need to improve on? Is there any chance we see Drew Brees on Sunday?
Chris: He’s done his job as a backup while Drew Brees recovers, and has seemingly improved every week. He’s got a nice, feathery touch so when the ball leaves his hands some times I’m certain it’s going to be intercepted, but then it falls perfectly in the receivers hands. He’s a little too quick to check the ball down to something underneath and depend on his receiver to do work after the catch, but I’d rather Teddy be overly cautious than too fearless and turn the ball over. He’s had a couple of interceptions so far, but both were unlucky bounces off receivers’ hands that found their way to opposing defenders. Otherwise, he’s been smart with the football.
To your second point, no chance we see Drew. The earliest I would expect him back would be in three weeks to face the Arizona Cardinals at home. If Teddy can keep the Saints atop the NFC South in the meantime, I think it’s more likely we see Brees back two weeks after that against the Atlanta Falcons after the bye week.
2. While Alvin Kamara’s production has dipped a bit this year (maybe due to Brees being off the field), he is still an absolute headache to game plan against. If you were an opposing defensive coordinator, how would you try to limit his impact?
Chris: Put your fastest lateral-speed linebacker, strongest corner, or overall most athletic defender on him all game. Another option would be to play zones on short and underneath routes and hope you’re able to bring Kamara to the ground in the open field.
In a Drew Brees-led offense, Brees can identify the coverage and matchup and audible the offense into the best read. Hot read on a slant, wheel route up field, bubble screen while lined up wide, or true screen out of the backfield…Teddy doesn’t quite have Brees’s football IQ yet, but if there’s a clear mismatch on defense, Teddy can find and exploit it.
3. Who is an under-the-radar player for the Saints that Jaguars fans should look out for on Sunday?
Chris: UDFA return special Deonte Harris out of Assumption College is the name to watch. He has blazing speed and is a threat to take every punt to the house, having already scored a punt return touchdown earlier this year against the Seattle Seahawks. He hasn’t returned many kickoffs yet, but that’s because opposing teams haven’t given him the opportunity. He’s electric with the ball in his hands, and Saints players have all said they hold their breath in anticipation any time Harris is set to get the ball.
On the other hand, he’s also had rookie mistakes that have cost the team too. He had two muffed punts last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He recovered the first and still picked up a handful of yards, and the Saints are somehow fortunate the second wasn’t ruled a fumble when after review the officials determined there was no clear recovery by Tampa Bay. He’s also made a few poor judgment calls on calling for a fair catch inside the five-yard-line or calling for a fair catch and then backing off to have the ball downed inside the five.
For better or worse for the Saints, Harris is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
4. Are there any particular matchups you are excited to see between the Jags and Saints on Sunday?
Chris: I’m excited to see the different ways Sean Payton is able to get Alvin Kamara isolated on Myles Jack in the slot or out wide. I’m also looking to see how defensive coordinator Dennis Allen attacks Andrew Norwell. I’m anticipating he’s going to be a focal point of the defensive line’s attention with numerous stunt plays to allow Marcus Davenport to use his size and strength to give him fits all game.
I’m also curious to see how Marshon Lattimore will look against DJ Chark. Lattimore held Amari Cooper to one catch for five yards two weeks ago and made Mike Evans disappear in the box score last week with zero catches on only three targets. If Lattimore has returned to his shut-down ways, and if the defensive line puts pressure on Gardner Minshew to force throws, it could be a long day for the Jaguars offense.
5. Do you believe the Saints are a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Why or why not? Do you think the Jaguars are a potential playoff team?
Chris: The biggest criticism of the New Orleans Saints down the stretch (last season) was that Drew Brees seemingly wore down. He was on fire to start the season and then he – and the rest of the Saints offense – failed to maintain that level of success late in the season. It’s completely possible we will look back on this injury as a net positive for the team as it could help Drew stay fresh for a deep playoff run. The rest of the offense around Bridgewater, the defense, the special teams, and the entire coaching staff has stepped up in Drew’s absence. If Drew comes back and the rest of the team and organization maintains this level of production, the NFL needs to watch out. I don’t see how you couldn’t view them as one of two or three favorites in the NFC.
For the Jaguars, it’s a little tougher. The Jaguars don’t yet look like the best team in their own division, so a wild card might be their route to make the playoffs. With Buffalo seemingly set to take one wild card spot out of the East, that really only leaves one up for grabs for everyone else. Across the rest of the AFC, there are a lot of underperforming teams who could suddenly figure things out and make a run like the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers. I could definitely see the Jaguars sneaking into the playoffs this year, but it will take some help from teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders to lose a couple more games.
Bonus: Score prediction?
I’ve picked the Saints to lose the last three weeks. I did so the first two weeks legitimately against the Seahawks and Cowboys, and last week I didn’t want to buck that trend. I’ll do the same thing again here: Jaguars 69 Saints 3.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way to not ruin the juju, I’ll say Saints 24 Jags 17.
Thank you to Chris for providing in-depth analysis and insights into the Saints and this weekend’s matchup. You can follow him on Twitter, and of course to keep abreast with all things Saints, follow Canal Street Chronicles.
For my crossover piece on CSC, check here.