As the opponent for the (2-1) Saints this Sunday, the (1-2) New York Giants, the biggest issue is the recent play of their O-Line.
As good as the Giants passing game is and can potentially be week-to-week, New York has one of the weakest offensive lines in the NFL at the moment, due to a combination of injury and performance issues.
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.
Jordan, who is currently tied with 3 other players (Khalil Mack, Myles Garrett, and Von Miller) for the NFL lead with 4 sacks, will undoubtedly will be licking his 'proverbial chops with the rest of his D-Line, as the team looks to further their recently-improved play of the past 2 games and keep it trending upward.
One of the biggest reasons for the Saints' well-documented defensive struggles thus far besides the most obvious one (the play of their pass defense), has been the ability to pressure the opponent's QB with an adequate pass rush.
But after a Season Opening game in which New Orleans' lack of a pass rush allowed Bucs career journeyman back-up QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to figuratively shred the Saints pass defense to the tune of 21 completions-out-of-28 passes for 417 yards and 4 TD passes, the Saints D-Line recorded zero sacks and had only two QB hits; which gave the wily 14-year veteran ample opportunities to burn the struggling Saints secondary with throws deep downfield.
In nearly 40 pass attempts, the Saints recorded zero sacks and only two QB hits on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) September 9, 2018
But to their credit: the Saints pass rush has been rejuvenated somewhat, as the team has tallied 6 sacks in the past 2 games against Browns QB Tyrod Taylor and Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Now this week, the Saints D-Line will be seeking success against a player that they've been able to pressure with mostly positive results in past seasons
15th year Giants veteran QB Eli Manning has been efficient this season, completing 73.6 percent of his passes. However, the 37-year old New Orleans native has been protected by a revamped O-Line that just recently added two new starters to their unit,
Center John Greco took over for the injured Jon Halapio, and back-up Chad Wheeler, who earned the nod at right tackle as starter Ereck Flowers was benched, played admirably — but as New York Post Giants beat writer Greg Joyce observes: the improved performance during their 27-22 win over Houston last week may not have been not as simple as two new faces "doing the trick".
Joyce says that while starting left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Will Hernandez and right guard Patrick Omameh all showed signs of settling in last week at Houston and gave Manning more time to breathe in the pocket; Wheeler clearly struggled and allowed three sacks to the former NFL Player of the Year winner in J.J. Watt, a daunting assignment for his first start of the year.
And Wheeler's task this week certainly won't be any easier with having to face Jordan.
But new Giants head coach Pat Shurmur and his coaching staff were pleased with the way Wheeler finished blocks against the Texans, and are hoping for similar results against the Saints this Sunday.
Joyce notes that while it was just one week, the results for New York's improvement against the Texans were telling.
The Giants’ reconstructed offensive line gave Eli more time to pass and he responded by completing 25-of-29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns — good for his best QB rating since 2015 — in a 27-22 win over the Texans.
“I think they did a good job just picking up the pressures, just competing, just keep fighting. I think last week we had great urgency and understanding what we had to fix it and get better,” Manning, who had his second-highest completion percentage (86.2) and 10th-best passer rating (132.3) of his career against Houston, said to Joyce yesterday.
“I think just have that mentality that they were going to block up some good players. Good defensive line and they were tough and just kind of hung in there and if they gave up [a sack] — a team’s going to give up a sack or stuff like that is going to happen — just not get frustrated, don’t let that affect the next series.”
“We have enough talent on the perimeter and in the backfield that we can get that done,” Greco added. “That’s our part, just giving him the confidence that he can sit in there for an extra second. Maybe he lets something develop and makes that throw. We’ve shown when we give him time he’s able to make big plays.”
"When all five guys are doing that [communicating] in conjunction with the tight ends and backs and the quarterback, that’s when you see offenses succeed,” Greco said. “That’s what we’re continuing to try to build on.”
Ironically, the Saints D-Line is also trying to build upon their own recent success, and it hopefully will come at the expense of a unit that's trying to find its way after a similarly rough start to the season as New Orleans has had.
"There were a lot of glaring growth aspects we had to address that first week, and even last week there are things we clearly have to get better at," Jordan said to reporters the other day. "I think we're doing just that."