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GIANT PROBLEM: Can Saints Pass Defense Stop Odell Beckham Jr. and Improved New York Offense This Coming Sunday?

For the New Orleans Saints defense this coming Sunday, their early-season struggles defending an opponent's passing game in each game of the 2018 season so far, will get another tough challenge.

In fact, you could even say (with pun fully intended) that they have a "Giant problem" on their hands. Giant as in: that team in the NFC East Division nicknamed "Big Blue", that plays its games at MetLife Stadium in New York City.

The Saints defense 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.

But yet in spite of all that, New Orleans comes into this Week #4 contest with a sole focus and clear mission: stopping the improved Giants offense under new head coach Pat Shurmur.

Namely, the (1-2) Giants' passing attack of QB Eli Manning and WR's Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Sheppard; along with RB / rookie sensation Saquon Barkley.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

But to pull it off, the Saints pass defense will have to play much better than the way they did in the first 3 games; which featured  a loss to Tampa Bay; and narrow escapes (but still wins) against Cleveland and Atlanta.

On the flip side of things, the Giants offense will have to show up for the ENTIRE game, and not just for the 1st half of the game as they did in their 27-22 win over the Houston Texans last Sunday.

“I envision that to be the first half, second half, overtime, the next game after that,” Beckham said to New York Newsday beat writer Tom Rock yesterday. “That’s what it’s supposed to be. No letting up.”

For a while last Sunday, it looked as if the Giants might reach 30-plus points and counting. They had 20 points at the half, their most in a 1st half dating all the way back to 2015.

“That’s how I see (us) playing offense,” Shurmur said to Rock in reference to the best 30 minutes of Giants football in a long time. “You dial up a progression and then the ball goes where it’s supposed to go.”

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

To Beckham. To Shepard. Even to the rookie Barkley catching passes out of the backfield, the Giants offense has taken a step forward after the hire of Shurmur, who replaced unpopular former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo this past off-season.

In the 1st half against Houston last week, those three Giants players in particular accounted for 194 of the team’s 263 yards. Unlike past games in which the Giants waited for those stars to break off a big play and score a long TD run, they were incorporated into the flow of the New York offense last Sunday.

“I loved being able to move that ball around, getting it in the hands of your playmakers and let them make plays and do what they do,” Beckham said. “That’s what this offense is built for.”

Said Manning: “The ball was coming out fast . . . They were playing fast. We have good players, just let them go play. Let’s not try to be perfect and trick or do too much. Let our guys go win, because we’ve got good athletes.”

No one athlete is as good for New York than Beckham, the Baton Rouge native and former "superstar" WR at LSU who has yet to score a touchdown this season. He also told Rock that since the Saints are this week's opponent, the mentality of the team should be to score and score and score again.

Photo Credit: New York Newsday

One thing you can definitely be certain about: it will get physical between Beckham and starting Saints CB Marshon Lattimore.

Saints fans might recall the game at New York two seasons ago, when then-Saints veteran CB / safety Sterling Moore pulled no punches in the locker room after that game's conclusion, in which he told New York Newsday beat writer Bart Hubbach that Beckham regularly commits offensive pass interference that is ignored by the officials and was allowed to continue unabated again in that contest.

“I didn’t like it, man,” said Moore at that time. “It was one of those things where [Beckham] is trying to pull himself through. He does that a lot, and he kind of gets away with it at times. It’s something I mentioned to the refs. It is what it is.”

Moore told The Post pushing and pulling is “Beckham’s staple on those deep balls.”

The Saints knew that coming in, Moore added, and lobbied referee Gene Steratore’s crew before the game about keeping Beckham in check. But their lobbying proved fruitless.

They obviously brushed it off,” Moore said at the time. “It’s something he gets away with pretty regularly. I guess it’s something you’ve got to live with.”

In this Sunday's contest, it's Lattimore who will be matched up one-on-one with Beckham, and their first-ever battle against each other promises to be an epic one.

However, Beckham will have plenty of help.

Giants #2 WR Sterling Sheppard and rookie RB Saquon Barkley will have a say in matters, as well.

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.

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.

Photo Credit: New York Newsday

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.

All of the Giants offensive weaponry is directed by New Orleans native and 15th year Giants veteran QB Eli Manning, who has been efficient this season, completing 73.6 percent of his passes.

As good as the Giants passing game is though, 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 Cameron Jordan.

Nevertheless: it would be a huge accomplishment on the part of the Saints defense — especially the members of the secondary — to play their best game on Sunday.

For a team that's struggled at defending the pass as bad as New Orleans has in the first 3 games, the opportunity to solve a "Giant problem" of theirs couldn't happen at a better time....


Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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