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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: New Orleans Saints

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints are struggling to adjust to the post-Drew Brees era, but are tied for second place in the NFC South and only a game out of the wild card race. They have, however, lost five in a row since a 5-2 start. The Jets and Saints last met in 2017 where running back Mark Ingram’s big day helped them to a 31-19 win over Bryce Petty’s Jets. This time around, the Saints are favored, according to our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook.

Quarterbacks

Jameis Winston got the Saints off to a great start this year, but they haven’t won since he was placed on injured reserve.

Ex-Jet Trevor Siemian got four starts, losing all of them, and head coach Sean Payton has now turned to utility man Taysom Hill, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes and was intercepted four times in his first start of the year against Dallas last Thursday. He did, however, rush for over 100 yards and passed for 264 and two scores.

With the long week to prepare, the Saints will hope for better from Hill this week, but he’s going to have to play through a finger injury.

Siemian is still listed as the number two with rookie Ian Book as the third-stringer.

Offensive Line

The Saints have had a ton of disruption on their offensive line this week with tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk both missing last week’s game and starting guard Andrus Peat having been on injured reserve since October with a torn pectoral muscle.

With those three missing against Dallas, James Hurst - who is now listed as the starting left guard - played left tackle and journeyman Jordan Mills got his first start of the season on the right. Armstrong is returning this week, but the other two remain unavailable.

Right guard Cesar Ruiz leads all linemen in total snaps this season as he’s the only player to start all 12 games. However, he had to move to center for a handful of games when starting center Erik McCoy got injured.

With Hurst forced to play out of position, reserve Calvin Throckmorton has been starting at left guard. He was also in the lineup at right guard when Ruiz had to move to center and has ended up playing more snaps than every starter apart from Ruiz.

Ruiz has given up a team high four sacks and McCoy has a team-leading eight penalties, but Throckmorton is probably the weakest link.

Backup center Will Clapp has seen action as a jumbo package tight end at times. Caleb Benenoch is also on the roster but hasn’t played yet this year.

Running Backs

Alvin Kamara has missed some time, including the Dallas game, but has still racked up 840 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns in eight games. He has returned to practice during the week as he will rejoin the team following a knee injury.

Ingram, however, is set to miss the game after being placed on Covid-19 reserve, so Tony Jones and Dwayne Washington, who haven’t featured much this season, should get some touches. Alternatively, perhaps the Saints could elevate ex-Jet Josh Adams from the practice squad.

The Saints had been giving playing time to Alex Armah at fullback but they released him a few weeks ago so undrafted rookie Adam Prentice has taken over that role.

Pass catchers

The Saints have been without Michael Thomas on the PUP list all year and now will also be without their leading receiver, Deonte Harris. Harris, who has 523 receiving yards, was just suspended for three weeks.

Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith are listed as the starting receivers now that Harris is not an option. Callaway leads the Saints with six touchdown catches.

The Saints will need to dig deep to find some depth this week. They just had to place Ty Montgomery on the Covid-19 reserve list leaving only had one other receiver on the 53-man roster; Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who only has seven catches but did score a touchdown against Dallas. Unbelievably, Humphrey might not be available either after injuring his hamstring at practice on Thursday. He is listed as questionable after missing Friday’s.

The Saints’ practice squad includes four receivers, so they’ll presumably need to elevate a couple. Former Dolphin Malcolm Perry and former top-10 pick Kevin White could be called upon.

At tight end, Adam Trautman was also recently placed on injured reserve so Nick Vannett is now listed as the starter.

Juwan Johnson and Garrett Griffin back up Vannett, but Johnson’s 10 catches are more than Griffin and Vannett combined.

Defensive Line

The Saints also have depth issues on their defensive line. They already had two contributors - Tanoh Kpassagnon and first round rookie Payton Turner - on injured reserve. In addition, pro bowler Cam Jordan is now also on Covid-19 reserve.

Marcus Davenport - who himself was limited in practice during the week after missing the Dallas game - will make his return to the lineup and should start along with Carl Granderson at defensive end. Davenport leads the team with 5.5 sacks.

On the inside, Shy Tuttle and David Onyemata are the starters with Christian Ringo, Albert Huggins and undrafted rookie Josiah Bronson backing them up. These five have just half a sack between them this year.

Jaylen Holmes will back up at defensive end with Onyemata also capable of playing there at a pinch.

Linebackers

Another former Jet - Demario Davis - anchors the Saints’ linebacker unit in an every down role. He leads the team in defensive snaps (787), total tackles (80) and tackles for loss (11).

While the Saints’ website lists Kwon Alexander and Kaden Ellis as the other starters, Zack Baun and second round rookie Pete Werner actually started the Dallas game. Alexander played more snaps than the pair of them combined though, after Werner hurt his elbow. The Saints have ruled Werner out, along with Ellis, who hurt his hamstring in practice this week, so Baun and Alexander should get most of the reps with Davis.

Andrew Dowell is mostly just a special teamer and hasn’t played much on defense.

Defensive Backs

At cornerback, Marshon Lattimore is the Saints’ best player in coverage. He has two interceptions and a team-high 14 pass break-ups. The other starter is third round rookie Paulson Adebo.

The Saints could get some reinforcements in the slot this week as CJ Gardner-Johnson was designated for return from injured reserve.

The starting safeties are veteran Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams, who is the only player on the team with a cap number over $10 million.

The third safety, PJ Williams, has also had plenty of playing time, especially in the slot with Gardner-Johnson out. He leads the team with three interceptions, including a pick-six.

Bradley Roby has also seen plenty of action at cornerback, although he’s only started one game.

Cornerback Ken Crawley and safeties Jeff Heath and JT Gray haven’t played much but are available as cover.

Special Teams

Blake Gillikin spent 2020 on injured reserve as an undrafted rookie but took over the punter role from Thomas Morstead this year. He’s eighth in the league in gross punt average but has allowed the third highest return yardage total in the league.

With Will Lutz going on injured reserve, the Saints have been struggling to find a solution at kicker with four other players getting a shot. Brett Maher is currently in that role but he’s missed two of his eight kicks in his first three games.

Harris was the return man on both punts and kickoffs but with him out the Saints have listed Callaway as his replacement. Kamara or Washington could also be an option.

In kick coverage, Gray has taken over from Justin Hardee as the team’s best gunner. Washington, Baun and Heath have all also been productive. Dowell also blocked a punt earlier in the year.