Like every week when we attempt to gain some intel on the week’s opponent, we asked our fellow NFL writers over at SB Nation’s Saints community, Canal Street Chronicles, to answer a handful of questions about the Chargers’ Monday Night Football matchup in New Orleans.
As always, we got some good stuff.
A big shoutout to CSC for being good sports and I hope you guys enjoy!
Let’s get to it.
1.) If Michael Thomas is once again not able to play this Sunday, where will Drew Brees look on offense to fill all those open targets?
The thought when he signed this offseason was that Emmanuel Sanders would be the type of player to fill that void, but with no preseason, he is only just now beginning to build chemistry in the Saints offense. At wide receiver, it’s actually been former 2018 3rd round pick Tre’Quan Smith who has stepped up most noticeably in Thomas’s absence. Smith is a week removed from scoring twice against the Detroit Lions and has averaged 60 receiving yards the past three games without Thomas.
But if I’m being honest, the actual answer to your question isn’t Smith or Sanders - it’s running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara’s role in the passing game has continued to increase and Brees’s reliance on Kamara as a security blanket out of the backfield is clear on game day as “AK” is on pace for 120 catches in 2020. The key to stopping this Saints offense - with or without Michael Thomas - generally comes down to containing Alvin Kamara.
2.) The Saints defense could also be without top corners Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins this week. How much will their absence affect the defense as a whole?
The Saints spent a lot of time and money addressing depth on both sides of the ball these past few years. Retaining Janoris Jenkins was huge, but bringing back PJ Williams and getting a healthy Patrick Robinson have been underrated moves. Neither PJ nor P-Rob are the caliber of player of Lattimore or Janoris Jenkins, but both have shown an ability to step up when called upon, with Robinson recording an interception in the endzone last week against Detroit.
Sean Payton and Dennis Allen are generally good at being able to create a gameplan that makes up for the absence of players on either side of the ball. If either or both are missing this week, I’d expect to see safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams, as well as slot corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson, help provide backup over top of the backup corner.
3.) Drew Brees is the only other quarterback in the league aside from Tom Brady over the age of 40. That’s ancient in football years. How has Brees looked through the first four weeks of the season, and has he shown many signs of regression along with his age?
Drew is far from the player he was in 2011 when he threw 46 touchdown passes and led the league in passing. He’s become more of a dink-and-dunk quarterback the past few seasons, but his ability to read opposing defenses is still among the best in NFL history. It’s cliche, but he really has seen it all at this point. He can recognize coverage at the line of scrimmage, audible into a new play that best takes advantage of defensive mismatches, and then execute just well enough in the short and intermediate passing game to make defenses unable to focus on just the underneath routes.
4.) Alvin Kamara has looked like the best offensive player in football thus far. How would you go about stopping him if you were the Chargers’ defensive coordinator?
Tackle. Focus on tackling. Where Kamara gets you is his elusiveness with the ball in his hands, either after the catch or on a run. If you want to contain Kamara, know that you’re going to touch him early — you just need to focus on bringing him to the ground. Getting to Kamara is never the problem. Tackling him seems to be the issue.
5.) Finally, give us a short summary of how you think the game is going to go with a final score prediction.
I’ll give you two. In one scenario, Michael Thomas returns and we see the return of “Prime Time” Drew Brees, who currently ranks third all time in Monday Night Football passing yards and passing touchdowns. Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense would have to abandon the run early to try to keep pace, allowing the Saints defensive line to pin their ears back and go after the young quarterback. In that world, I’ll take the Saints 33-17.
Then there’s the version where there’s no Michael Thomas, the Chargers are patient with the run game, and Sean Payton leans on Kamara and Latavius Murray to attack the Chargers on the ground as well. In that version, I’ll still take the Saints, but in a much closer game, 21-20.
Here’s to an injury-free — and virus-free — game. Good luck on the 2020 season, starting Tuesday.