Alvin Kamara at Center of Efficient Saints Offense – Buccaneers.com

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These aren’t the Drew Brees Saints anymore.
The 2021 New Orleans Saints continue to win, moving to 4-2 with a soggy 13-10 decision in Seattle on Monday night – but they’re more likely to suppress points than pile them up as they did in Brees’s (many, many) peak years. The Saints have allowed the third-fewest points in the NFL through seven weeks but also rank 17th in points on offense.
Not that this particular iteration of the Saints is unfamiliar. The Cameron Jordan-Demario Davis-Marshon Lattimore defense ranked fourth in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed last year, too. And the offense continues to run through do-everything running back Alvin Kamara, who accounted for 179 of the Saints’ 304 yards of offense on Monday night. (More on him in a moment.) Still, it’s hard to envision this weekend’s trip to the Superdome by the Buccaneers ending up like the one that opened the 2018 season and set a record for most combined points in a Week One affair.
The Buccaneers won that game, by the way, 48-40…and haven’t beaten the Saints in a regular-season game since. Tampa Bay did win the most important game in the recent series, the 30-20 victory in New Orleans in last year’s Divisional Playoff Round, but neither the Bucs nor any other NFC South team has been able to pry the division title from the Saints hands for the last four years.
Brees retired after throwing three interceptions in that playoff game against the Bucs last January, ending a magical career in which he routinely led the Saints to a top-five offensive ranking. His replacement is former Buccaneer Jameis Winston, the former 2015 first-overall draft pick who set new Tampa Bay records for career passing yards and touchdown passes. Under Head Coach Sean Payton, Winston has been more efficient than bombs-away, failing to record a 300-yard game yet but compiling a sparkling 13-1 TD-INT ratio that has his passer rating at a career-best 102.4 through six starts. Winston is also enjoying playing behind the always-solid New Orleans offensive line, which has allowed just 11 sacks in seven games.
On a per-play basis, the Saints’ offense ranks just 20th in sacks allowed, but the O-Line just got center Erik McCoy and left tackle Terron Armstead back from injury, though left guard Andrus Peat was forced from Monday night’s game with injuries on two separate occasions. The Saints have also been without their top receiver, Michael Thomas, to this point, though Thomas is now eligible to return from the PUP list. Other than Kamara, Marquez Callaway is the team’s leading pass-catcher and both he and diminutive speedster Deonte Harris are capable of the big play, averaging 15.9 and 19.7 yards per catch, respectively.
Davis, one of the NFL’s best all-around off-ball linebackers leads a Saints defense that is allowing a league-low 3.32 yards per carry and has picked off nine passes, ranking third in interceptions per pass play. Nine different Saints defenders have already logged a sack and six have picked off a pass, including instant-impact rookies Paulson Adebo, a cornerback, and Pete Werner, a linebacker. Lattimore and the Saints’ defensive backfield rank just 20th in passing yards allowed per game (250.7) but get their hands on a lot of passes. Lattimore’s 10 passes defensed rank second in the league and are the most on a Saints defense that has broken up 35 passes overall.
The Saints have a new kicking duo after many years of the outstanding combination of kicker Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead. With Lutz on injured reserve and Morstead now with the Jets, the Saints are rolling with rookie Brian Johnson at placekicker and second-year man Blake Gillikin at punter. Johnson hit the game-winning field goal on Monday night in his NFL debut and Gillikin has fine gross (49.3) and net (43.9) yard averages so far.
The Saints’ best win of the season was their first one, a 38-3 shellacking in Week One of the Packers, who have since won six straight. That was followed immediately by their worst loss, a 26-7 dud at Carolina against a Panthers team that has lost four of five since. After those disparate season-opening results, the Saints have settled into their usual winning pattern, taking three of four since to stay close to the Buccaneers in the NFC South standings. Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges and opportunities the Bucs will face when they head to the Superdome on Sunday:
SAINTS DIFFERENCE-MAKERS
Cameron Jordan is the elder statesman of the Saints defense and still one of their most important players. He has just 1.0 sack so far but has finished each of the last nine seasons with at least 7.5 QB takedowns. Rookies Adebo and Werner have adjusted quickly and the Saints have a battle-tested safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams. New Orleans’ defense also just welcomed back from injury defensive end Marcus Davenport and weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander. As noted above, Winston is leading an efficient Saints passing game and offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat have each been selected to the last three Pro Bowl squads. In addition to those Saints, here are four who could help swing the game in their favor on Sunday:
1. LB Demario Davis
Even the most basic statistics demonstrate how important Davis is to the NFL’s eighth-ranked defense. He leads the Saints in tackles with 48 and tackles for loss with eight, he’s tied for the team lead with 3.0 sacks and is second with six quarterback hits and he’s also contributed four passes defensed. Davis makes an impact at every level of the defense and can stop the run, defend the pass or blitz the quarterback on any given play. NFL Next Gen Stats paint an even more impressive picture. Davis was one of the NFL’s top five linebackers in terms of generating pressure every season from 2017-20 and is currently tied for sixth in that category. He also has five “hustle stops” this year and has an NFL-best 38 among inside linebackers since the beginning of the 2018 season. Davis is also a leader for the Saints on the field and in the locker room and he plays with instincts, intelligence and a very high energy level. Davis’s production is remarkably consistent from season to season, and that is true once again in 2021. In every season from 2017 to 2020 (the first of which was with the Jets), Davis had at least 100 tackles, at least 10 tackles for loss, at least four sacks and at least nine quarterback hits. He seems well on the way to hitting all those benchmarks again in 2021.
2. RB Alvin Kamara.
It’s pretty clear that the Buccaneers’ defense will be focusing on Kamara from the moment they set foot in the Superdome on Sunday. Here’s Head Coach Bruce Arians on the subject, a full six days before the game was due to take place: “They’re leaning so much on Kamara. After what we just did in the run game, it’s a little scary because he’s going to take it to the house. And he does a great job in the screen game. They just continue to get him the ball. And when he gets going, Jameis [Winston] has always been a really good play-action quarterback and he can put it down the field. … So we’ve got to step the run. We can’t go down and let Alvin Kamara run like [Chicago’s Khalil] Herbert did on us.” Herbert ran for 100 yards on the Bucs’ usually stout rush defense in Week Seven, much of it between the tackles. Kamara is a different sort of weapon who can run inside and outside and also be a major force in the passing attack. It seemed a bit strange when Kamara had no more than five catches or 51 receiving yards in any of the Saints’ first five games, but that part of the Saints’ offense returned in a big way this past Monday. Kamara had 189 of the Saints’ 304 total yards in the win in Seattle, including 128 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. Even if the Bucs do set their sights on stopping Kamara, it doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be able to shut him down. Seattle double-teamed Kamara for most of the second half on Monday night and it did little to slow his production.
3. CB Marshon Lattimore.
Lattimore’s engagements with the league’s top receivers can be wildly entertaining and often very contentious – as was the case with him and Seattle’s D.K. Metcalf on Monday night – and he often gets the best of those matchups. For instance, in the Saints’ surprise thrashing of the Packers in Week One, Lattimore covered superstar receiver Davante Adams on 15 of Adams’ 27 routes and held him to two catches on three targets for 37 yards. After missing the Saints’ second game with a thumb injury, Lattimore came back in Week Three and covered the Patriots’ Nelson Agholor on 30 of his 45 routes, holding him to just one catch for 13 yards. No matter who he’s covering he has the potential to lock that player down; he came into Monday night’s game with a the lowest completion percentage allowed as the nearest defender on passes (40.6%) of any player in the NFL. Lattimore excels in press coverage but also has elite change-of-direction skills, fluid hip movements and top-level recovery speed. The 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has been selected for the Pro Bowl in three of his first four seasons and has a good chance to make it four of five this year. Though he has just one interception this year and 11 in his career, that’s largely because opposing quarterbacks don’t enjoy throwing in his direction.
4. WR/KR Deonte Harris.
Last season, Bruce Arians singled out Harris, then a second-year player known mostly for his All-Pro level work in the return game as an undrafted rookie in 2019, as one of the players on the Saints’ offense that worried him the most. Harris didn’t end up with a high volume of plays against the Bucs in any of the three 2020 matchups but he did have a 40-yard catch in the Saints’ big win in Tampa in Week Nine and a 30-yard punt return in the Bucs’ playoff win at the Superdome. This year, with Michael Thomas out, Harris is getting more action on offense; his 227 yards and two touchdowns on receptions through four games played this season is already more than he had in his first two seasons (23 total games) combined. Harris is very small for an NFL player at 5-6 and 170 pounds but the Saints signed him out of Assumption believing he could be an instant difference-maker in the return game. They were quickly proved right, as Harris led the NFL in punt returns and punt return yards in 2019, averaging 9.4 yards pe punt runback and 26.8 yards per kickoff return. He made the Pro Bowl in addition to those first-team All-Pro honors. Harris is blazingly fast, running a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at a 2019 Pro Day, and he’s very elusive in the open field. He’s become more of a big-play weapon in the Saints’ passing attack this year, with a team-high 19.7 yards per catch and two touchdown receptions.
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STRENGTHS
As is usually the case with Sean Payton’s teams, the Saints are ahead in the overall turnover battle this season with a +4 ratio that is tied for eighth in the NFL. While the New Orleans’ passing attack is producing the second-lowest yardage total so far (176.2 per game), it has produced 13 touchdown passes, only one fewer than the Chargers and two fewer than the Packers, both highly-regarded passing offenses. Winston leads the NFL with a touchdown rate of 10.1%. The Saints’ defense ranks in the top nine in yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, rushing yards allowed per game, yards allowed per rush, interception percentage and first downs allowed. Here are some more specific ways in which the Saints have performed well during the first seven weeks of the 2021 season:
WEAKNESSES
Even with the dynamic Kamara on the field, the Saints are averaging just 5.15 yards per play and 3.87 yards per run, figures that rank 27th and 24th in the NFL, respectively. The Saints have some talented pass-rushers on defense but only rank 20th in sacks per pass play at 7.10%. New Orleans is second-to-last in field goal percentage (50.0%) without Wil Lutz but may have found a solution last week by replacing Aldrick Rosas with Brian Johnson. In addition:
NEW FACES IN 2021
The Saints’ 2021 offseason was more about departures than arrivals, beginning with the retirement of quarterback Drew Brees in March. Other 2020 Saints who were released and/or signed with other teams included defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill and linebacker Alex Anzalone. Cornerback Patrick Robinson also retired. Still, the Saints have had a couple new kickers in town with Wil Lutz sidelined and they’ve brought in some recognizable veteran cornerbacks, though only one of them is still with the team. The first three rounds of the draft also brought in three newcomers who have had significant roles on defense in defensive end Payton Turner, linebacker Pete Werner and cornerback Paulson Adebo. Some of the new Saints in 2021 include:
1. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon. Trey Hendrickson turned his 13.5-sack breakout season in 2020 into a lucrative deal with Cincinnati, where he is currently proving that was no fluke. New Orleans found a new player to plug that hole at defensive end in Kpassagnon, the former Chief who was drafted in the second round in 2017. Kpassagnon never had more than 4.0 sacks in any of his four Kansas City seasons but he will likely top that in his first year as a Saint since he already has 3.0 through his first six games. That is tied with Demario Davis for the team lead.
2. CB Bradley Roby. While the 11th-hour signings of cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Desmond Trufant didn’t work out, the Saints do still have Roby, who they acquired in a trade with Houston on September 9. The eighth-year veteran has started one game and is playing about 30% of the defensive snaps so far. Roby recorded 75 passes defensed and 10 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) over seven seasons in Denver and Houston.
3. K Brian Johnson. The rookie kicker out of Virginia Tech has only played one game for the Saints so far but the job may be his for the rest of the season. The Saints were hoping to get Lutz back from injured reserve but he announced on Tuesday morning that he would have to miss the rest of the season after suffering a setback with the groin injury that has kept him out since the start of training kick. The Saints started the season with Aldrick Rosas as their kicker but made a change after he missed three of his first four field goal attempts. New Orleans then plucked Johnson off the Bears’ practice squad on October 12. Johnson made both of his attempts in his NFL debut on Monday night, including a 33-yard game-winner with two minutes left.
ABSENCES/POTENTIAL ABSENCES
1. G Andrus Peat. Just as the Saints’ line gets left tackle Terron Armstead and center Erik McCoy back from multiple-game injury absences, they may be losing another one of their best blockers. Peat left Monday night’s game with what is now reported to be a torn pectoral muscle. If that is indeed the injury, Peat will certainly not play against the Buccaneers and could be out for the rest of the season.
2. DE Payton Turner. The rookie defensive end, who was drafted 28th overall in April, played in four of the Saints first five games and had a fairly large role in the team’s edge rush rotation, but he was a late-week add to the injury report before Monday’s game due to a calf injury. Turner did not play against the Seahawks and could still be out for Sunday’s game against the Bucs.
3. WR Michael Thomas. Thomas is still trying to free himself of the troublesome ankle injury that landed him on the reserve/PUP list to start the 2021 season. He has already been on the list for enough time to be eligible for activation, but the Saints chose not to make that move last week and may hold him out for at least one more week, too. Thomas initially suffered the injury in last season’s Week One game against the Buccaneers, and the last time he was on the playing field was in the Saints’ Divisional Playoff Round loss to Tampa Bay.
These aren’t the Drew Brees Saints anymore.
The 2021 New Orleans Saints continue to win, moving to 4-2 with a soggy 13-10 decision in Seattle on Monday night – but they’re more likely to suppress points than pile them up as they did in Brees’s (many, many) peak years. The Saints have allowed the third-fewest points in the NFL through seven weeks but also rank 17th in points on offense.
Not that this particular iteration of the Saints is unfamiliar. The Cameron Jordan-Demario Davis-Marshon Lattimore defense ranked fourth in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed last year, too. And the offense continues to run through do-everything running back Alvin Kamara, who accounted for 179 of the Saints’ 304 yards of offense on Monday night. (More on him in a moment.) Still, it’s hard to envision this weekend’s trip to the Superdome by the Buccaneers ending up like the one that opened the 2018 season and set a record for most combined points in a Week One affair.
The Buccaneers won that game, by the way, 48-40…and haven’t beaten the Saints in a regular-season game since. Tampa Bay did win the most important game in the recent series, the 30-20 victory in New Orleans in last year’s Divisional Playoff Round, but neither the Bucs nor any other NFC South team has been able to pry the division title from the Saints hands for the last four years.
Brees retired after throwing three interceptions in that playoff game against the Bucs last January, ending a magical career in which he routinely led the Saints to a top-five offensive ranking. His replacement is former Buccaneer Jameis Winston, the former 2015 first-overall draft pick who set new Tampa Bay records for career passing yards and touchdown passes. Under Head Coach Sean Payton, Winston has been more efficient than bombs-away, failing to record a 300-yard game yet but compiling a sparkling 13-1 TD-INT ratio that has his passer rating at a career-best 115.2 through seven starts. Winston is also enjoying playing behind the always-solid New Orleans offensive line, which has allowed just seven sacks in seven games.
On a per-play basis, the Saints’ offense ranks just 20th in sacks allowed, but the O-Line just got center Erik McCoy and left tackle Terron Armstead back from injury, though left guard Andrus Peat was forced from Monday night’s game with injuries on two separate occasions. The Saints have also been without their top receiver, Michael Thomas, to this point, though Thomas is now eligible to return from the PUP list. Other than Kamara, Marquez Callaway is the team’s leading pass-catcher and both he and diminutive speedster Deonte Harris are capable of the big play, averaging 15.9 and 19.7 yards per catch, respectively.
Davis, one of the NFL’s best all-around off-ball linebackers leads a Saints defense that is allowing a league-low 3.32 yards per carry and has picked off nine passes, ranking third in interceptions per pass play. Nine different Saints defenders have already logged a sack and six have picked off a pass, including instant-impact rookies Paulson Adebo, a cornerback, and Pete Werner, a linebacker. Lattimore and the Saints’ defensive backfield rank just 20th in passing yards allowed per game (250.7) but get their hands on a lot of passes. Lattimore’s 10 passes defensed rank second in the league and are the most on a Saints defense that has broken up 35 passes overall.
The Saints have a new kicking duo after many years of the outstanding combination of kicker Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead. With Lutz on injured reserve and Morstead now with the Jets, the Saints are rolling with rookie Brian Johnson at placekicker and second-year man Blake Gillikin at punter. Johnson hit the game-winning field goal on Monday night in his NFL debut and Gillikin has fine gross (49.3) and net (43.9) yard averages so far.
The Saints’ best win of the season was their first one, a 38-3 shellacking in Week One of the Packers, who have since won six straight. That was followed immediately by their worst loss, a 26-7 dud at Carolina against a Panthers team that has lost four of five since. After those disparate season-opening results, the Saints have settled into their usual winning pattern, taking three of four since to stay close to the Buccaneers in the NFC South standings. Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges and opportunities the Bucs will face when they head to the Superdome on Sunday:
SAINTS DIFFERENCE-MAKERS
Cameron Jordan is the elder statesman of the Saints defense and still one of their most important players. He has just 1.0 sack so far but has finished each of the last nine seasons with at least 7.5 QB takedowns. Rookies Adebo and Werner have adjusted quickly and the Saints have a battle-tested safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams. New Orleans’ defense also just welcomed back from injury defensive end Marcus Davenport and weakside linebacker Kwon Alexander. As noted above, Winston is leading an efficient Saints passing game and offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Andrus Peat have each been selected to the last three Pro Bowl squads. In addition to those Saints, here are four who could help swing the game in their favor on Sunday:
1. LB Demario Davis
Even the most basic statistics demonstrate how important Davis is to the NFL’s eighth-ranked defense. He leads the Saints in tackles with 48 and tackles for loss with eight, he’s tied for the team lead with 3.0 sacks and is second with six quarterback hits and he’s also contributed four passes defensed. Davis makes an impact at every level of the defense and can stop the run, defend the pass or blitz the quarterback on any given play. NFL Next Gen Stats paint an even more impressive picture. Davis was one of the NFL’s top five linebackers in terms of generating pressure every season from 2017-20 and is currently tied for sixth in that category. He also has five “hustle stops” this year and has an NFL-best 38 among inside linebackers since the beginning of the 2018 season. Davis is also a leader for the Saints on the field and in the locker room and he plays with instincts, intelligence and a very high energy level. Davis’s production is remarkably consistent from season to season, and that is true once again in 2021. In every season from 2017 to 2020 (the first of which was with the Jets), Davis had at least 100 tackles, at least 10 tackles for loss, at least four sacks and at least nine quarterback hits. He seems well on the way to hitting all those benchmarks again in 2021.
2. RB Alvin Kamara.
It’s pretty clear that the Buccaneers’ defense will be focusing on Kamara from the moment they set foot in the Superdome on Sunday. Here’s Head Coach Bruce Arians on the subject, a full six days before the game was due to take place: “They’re leaning so much on Kamara. After what we just did in the run game, it’s a little scary because he’s going to take it to the house. And he does a great job in the screen game. They just continue to get him the ball. And when he gets going, Jameis [Winston] has always been a really good play-action quarterback and he can put it down the field. … So we’ve got to step the run. We can’t go down and let Alvin Kamara run like [Chicago’s Khalil] Herbert did on us.” Herbert ran for 100 yards on the Bucs’ usually stout rush defense in Week Seven, much of it between the tackles. Kamara is a different sort of weapon who can run inside and outside and also be a major force in the passing attack. It seemed a bit strange when Kamara had no more than five catches or 51 receiving yards in any of the Saints’ first five games, but that part of the Saints’ offense returned in a big way this past Monday. Kamara had 189 of the Saints’ 304 total yards in the win in Seattle, including 128 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. Even if the Bucs do set their sights on stopping Kamara, it doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be able to shut him down. Seattle double-teamed Kamara for most of the second half on Monday night and it did little to slow his production.
3. CB Marshon Lattimore.
Lattimore’s engagements with the league’s top receivers can be wildly entertaining and often very contentious – as was the case with him and Seattle’s D.K. Metcalf on Monday night – and he often gets the best of those matchups. For instance, in the Saints’ surprise thrashing of the Packers in Week One, Lattimore covered superstar receiver Davante Adams on 15 of Adams’ 27 routes and held him to two catches on three targets for 37 yards. After missing the Saints’ second game with a thumb injury, Lattimore came back in Week Three and covered the Patriots’ Nelson Agholor on 30 of his 45 routes, holding him to just one catch for 13 yards. No matter who he’s covering he has the potential to lock that player down; he came into Monday night’s game with a the lowest completion percentage allowed as the nearest defender on passes (40.6%) of any player in the NFL. Lattimore excels in press coverage but also has elite change-of-direction skills, fluid hip movements and top-level recovery speed. The 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has been selected for the Pro Bowl in three of his first four seasons and has a good chance to make it four of five this year. Though he has just one interception this year and 11 in his career, that’s largely because opposing quarterbacks don’t enjoy throwing in his direction.
4. WR/KR Deonte Harris.
Last season, Bruce Arians singled out Harris, then a second-year player known mostly for his All-Pro level work in the return game as an undrafted rookie in 2019, as one of the players on the Saints’ offense that worried him the most. Harris didn’t end up with a high volume of plays against the Bucs in any of the three 2020 matchups but he did have a 40-yard catch in the Saints’ big win in Tampa in Week Nine and a 30-yard punt return in the Bucs’ playoff win at the Superdome. This year, with Michael Thomas out, Harris is getting more action on offense; his 227 yards and two touchdowns on receptions through four games played this season is already more than he had in his first two seasons (23 total games) combined. Harris is very small for an NFL player at 5-6 and 170 pounds but the Saints signed him out of Assumption believing he could be an instant difference-maker in the return game. They were quickly proved right, as Harris led the NFL in punt returns and punt return yards in 2019, averaging 9.4 yards pe punt runback and 26.8 yards per kickoff return. He made the Pro Bowl in addition to those first-team All-Pro honors. Harris is blazingly fast, running a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at a 2019 Pro Day, and he’s very elusive in the open field. He’s become more of a big-play weapon in the Saints’ passing attack this year, with a team-high 19.7 yards per catch and two touchdown receptions.
STRENGTHS
As is usually the case with Sean Payton’s teams, the Saints are ahead in the overall turnover battle this season with a +4 ratio that is tied for eighth in the NFL. While the New Orleans’ passing attack is producing the second-lowest yardage total so far (176.2 per game), it has produced 13 touchdown passes, only one fewer than the Chargers and two fewer than the Packers, both highly-regarded passing offenses. Winston leads the NFL with a touchdown rate of 10.1%. The Saints’ defense ranks in the top nine in yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, rushing yards allowed per game, yards allowed per rush, interception percentage and first downs allowed. Here are some more specific ways in which the Saints have performed well during the first seven weeks of the 2021 season:
WEAKNESSES
Even with the dynamic Kamara on the field, the Saints are averaging just 5.15 yards per play and 3.87 yards per run, figures that rank 27th and 24th in the NFL, respectively. The Saints have some talented pass-rushers on defense but only rank 20th in sacks per pass play at 7.10%. New Orleans is second-to-last in field goal percentage (50.0%) without Wil Lutz but may have found a solution last week by replacing Aldrick Rosas with Brian Johnson. In addition:
NEW FACES IN 2021
The Saints’ 2021 offseason was more about departures than arrivals, beginning with the retirement of quarterback Drew Brees in March. Other 2020 Saints who were released and/or signed with other teams included defensive end Trey Hendrickson, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, tight ends Jared Cook and Josh Hill and linebacker Alex Anzalone. Cornerback Patrick Robinson also retired. Still, the Saints have had a couple new kickers in town with Wil Lutz sidelined and they’ve brought in some recognizable veteran cornerbacks, though only one of them is still with the team. The first three rounds of the draft also brought in three newcomers who have had significant roles on defense in defensive end Payton Turner, linebacker Pete Werner and cornerback Paulson Adebo. Some of the new Saints in 2021 include:
1. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon. Trey Hendrickson turned his 13.5-sack breakout season in 2020 into a lucrative deal with Cincinnati, where he is currently proving that was no fluke. New Orleans found a new player to plug that hole at defensive end in Kpassagnon, the former Chief who was drafted in the second round in 2017. Kpassagnon never had more than 4.0 sacks in any of his four Kansas City seasons but he will likely top that in his first year as a Saint since he already has 3.0 through his first six games. That is tied with Demario Davis for the team lead.
2. CB Bradley Roby. While the 11th-hour signings of cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Desmond Trufant didn’t work out, the Saints do still have Roby, who they acquired in a trade with Houston on September 9. The eighth-year veteran has started one game and is playing about 30% of the defensive snaps so far. Roby recorded 75 passes defensed and 10 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) over seven seasons in Denver and Houston.
3. K Brian Johnson. The rookie kicker out of Virginia Tech has only played one game for the Saints so far but the job may be his for the rest of the season. The Saints were hoping to get Lutz back from injured reserve but he announced on Tuesday morning that he would have to miss the rest of the season after suffering a setback with the groin injury that has kept him out since the start of training kick. The Saints started the season with Aldrick Rosas as their kicker but made a change after he missed three of his first four field goal attempts. New Orleans then plucked Johnson off the Bears’ practice squad on October 12. Johnson made both of his attempts in his NFL debut on Monday night, including a 33-yard game-winner with two minutes left.
ABSENCES/POTENTIAL ABSENCES
1. G Andrus Peat. Just as the Saints’ line gets left tackle Terron Armstead and center Erik McCoy back from multiple-game injury absences, they may be losing another one of their best blockers. Peat left Monday night’s game with what is now reported to be a torn pectoral muscle. If that is indeed the injury, Peat will certainly not play against the Buccaneers and could be out for the rest of the season.
2. DE Payton Turner. The rookie defensive end, who was drafted 28th overall in April, played in four of the Saints first five games and had a fairly large role in the team’s edge rush rotation, but he was a late-week add to the injury report before Monday’s game due to a calf injury. Turner did not play against the Seahawks and could still be out for Sunday’s game against the Bucs.
3. WR Michael Thomas. Thomas is still trying to free himself of the troublesome ankle injury that landed him on the reserve/PUP list to start the 2021 season. He has already been on the list for enough time to be eligible for activation, but the Saints chose not to make that move last week and may hold him out for at least one more week, too. Thomas initially suffered the injury in last season’s Week One game against the Buccaneers, and the last time he was on the playing field was in the Saints’ Divisional Playoff Round loss to Tampa Bay.
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