Will newly-acquired Saints CB Eli Apple see any game action this Sunday Night when the Black and Gold travels to the city of Minneapolis this weekend to face their NFC Playoff nemesis the Minnesota Vikings?
As of this very moment, there are no guarantees; but considering that the player that he likely would replace in the line-up — controversial (among Saints fans, anyway) starting #2 CB Ken Crawley — has very notably struggled in coverage a few times this season, the chances that Apple will indeed play some type of role against the Vikings in Sunday’s contest seem to be getting better with each passing minute.
As Saints fans are well aware by now: New Orleans conducted a trade this past Tuesday afternoon with the New York Giants, to upgrade their much-maligned defensive secondary, by acquiring Apple for virtually nothing in return (a 4th Round pick next year and a 7th Round pick in 2020).
The addition of Apple now gives New Orleans another infusion of young talent at the CB position; and a young man that possibly gives the Vikings another player to suddenly have to begin game-planning for when the two teams face off this Sunday Night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Prior to Tuesday’s somewhat surprising move, Apple had been taken with the 10th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft out of “the” Ohio State University; where he helped the fabled Buckeyes program to a CFP National Championship and was named the defensive MVP of the 2016 Fiesta Bowl before leaving school a year early.
In his 2 and a half seasons in ‘The Big Apple’ (no pun intended), Apple only had one career interception for the Giants; who decided to part ways with the 23-year old Philadelphia native after their horrific (1-6) start to their season and are now in full-blown “rebuild” mode.
But now in NOLA and with the opportunity to essentially hit the “re-set button” to his brief professional career, Apple will now join a Saints secondary that still has reigning 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore (who has bounced back strongly in the Saints’ last few games after his own struggles), along with Crawley, starting “slot” CB PJ Williams, and Patrick Robinson (currently out with a broken ankle) as the team’s primary players at the position.
Can Apple actually provide an upgrade for a Saints pass defense that’s currently ranked down near the bottom of the League (28th overall) through the first 8 weeks of the 2016 NFL Regular Season?
That remains to be seen until the two teams take the field in Minneapolis on Sunday Night; although you’d have to imagine that with the amount of pure on-field talent that Apple possesses, New Orleans will be hoping that he can at least help them return to near they were at the end of last season in 2017; when the Saints finished ranked in the “middle of the pack” (15th overall) in pass defense.
As it turns out: through the first 8 weeks of this current season, the beleaguered Saints pass defense is actually considered the 2nd-worst pass coverage unit in all of Pro Football according to the good folks over at Pro Football Focus.
PFF ranks the Black and Gold just slightly ahead of only the (1-6) San Francisco 49ers, who are the NFL’s worst-ranked pass defense this year so far.
That’s actually an amazing stat when you consider that the Saints have still managed to earn a (5-1) record and have now reeled off 5 straight wins in a row heading into Minneapolis on Sunday Night.
Apple in particular has been somewhat of a “mixed bag” in the 5 games that he’s played in this season up to this point; and PFF actually has him ranked 45th in coverage, 64th in tackling and 55th overall among all qualified NFL cornerbacks.
By comparison: the heavily-criticized Crawley has allowed 29 catches, four touchdowns and 478 yards, the 5th highest total allowed by a corner, per PFF.
Conversely, Apple has “only” permitted 18 catches for 225 yards, but perhaps most importantly: Apple has allowed ZERO touchdowns. Additionally, he recovered a fumble in New York’s loss Monday night to Atlanta; prior to his being dealt the very next day.
The likely scenario will have Lattimore matched up one-on-one with Vikings #1 WR Adam Thielen, while either Crawley or Apple will draw coverage against #2 WR Stefon Diggs; with PJ Williams covering the slot position against Vikings #3 WR Jarius Wright — although that could certainly change and remains a fluid situation at this point.
I expect Apple will have every opportunity to start this week. It’s up to him to pick things up and claim the job. I expect P.J. to remain in the slot. https://t.co/fP02OrAQQg
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) October 25, 2018
I’ll be more surprised if he doesn’t start. https://t.co/SVihCs0Ib7
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) October 26, 2018
If nothing else, Apple would seem to be the better option at this point over Crawley; but the Saints might decide not to throw him into the proverbial fire until he’s had a better chance to acclimate himself and learn defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s scheme.
As noted by New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill in his brilliant film study of Apple the other day: the Saints often ask their cornerbacks to play some deeper zones in Cover 3 looks or when disguising coverages in other zone looks.
Underhill says that those same coverage concepts haven’t always worked and it has led to some busted coverages and explosive plays — but the hope is that Apple can potentially offer an upgrade if he blends in quickly with the existing players.
The only question now is just HOW quickly Apple can do so; and how well he has (or hasn’t yet) up to this point will obviously dictate the amount of game-action that he will receive this Sunday Night.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has a reputation League-wide for his devoted studies and thorough research that he does each week for that particular opponents’ opposing cornerbacks, is ready for whomever the Saints defense ultimately decides to “ride or die” with,
“You factor it in, and you gather all the information you can,” Cousins told reporters via conference call on Wednesday. “There’s certain things you won’t know, but you try to gather the information that you can know and then react on Sunday to anything that changes.”
Will “an Apple a day keep Ken Crawley away” this Sunday Night at Minneapolis against the NFC Playoff nemisis Minnesota Vikings? In just a couple of more days, we’ll all get our answer as the Saints seek out their 6th consecutive victory….