The Saints just happen to be a team that the Bengals don’t play very frequently. The last time the two teams met was in 2014, so we caught up with Christopher Dunnells of Canal Street Chronicles to get his perspective of the game.
Patrick Judis: The Saints are coming off a huge win after handing the Rams their first loss of the season. It was mostly due to New Orleans’ red hot offense firing on all cylinders. Is there any way to stop that offense?
Christopher Dunnells: It doesn’t appear so.
Normally I would say the best way to try to stop the offense would be to get pressure on Drew Brees, but that seems easier said than done at this point. The Vikings defense (that just sacked Matthew Stafford TEN times last week), had zero sacks against the Saints. The vaunted Rams defense, that just added Dante Fowler Jr. to Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, was held to zero sacks against the Saints. The Ravens defense, one of the best defenses in the league at the time, only sacked Brees one time in Baltimore.
When Drew Brees has a clean pocket, bad things happen for opposing defenses.
I will say this this is likely the coldest weather Brees and the Saints offense will have faced thus far in 2018, so maybe that “cold weather” narrative continues and Drew struggles outdoors? But that would be your best hope right now.
PJ: Alvin Kamara is easily one of the best running backs in the NFL, but how has the backfield rotation worked since Mark Ingram returned from his suspension?
CD: The Saints always develop a game plan before each week’s matchup, but one of the things that separates Sean Payton from a lot of other coaches in the NFL is that he is willing to take what his opponent gives him each week and adjust his game plan on the fly.
Some times that means a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara out of the backfield (like we saw against the Ravens). Or maybe that means constantly pounding the ball between the tackles with Mark Ingram (like we saw against the Vikings). It all just depends. Typically, one back is featured on a particular offensive drive, but if something looks to be working, Sean Payton will shift gears and take what the defense gives him.
PJ: The Saints have been very busy the past few weeks. First they traded for cornerback Eli Apple from the Giants, and now they just signed wide receiver Dez Bryant. What kind of impact do you see both having (if any) during the game on Sunday, and what kind of message does this aggression from the personnel department send to the players and fans?
CD: If I had to guess, the Saints Eli Apple on Tyler Boyd with A.J. Green out. While Marshon Lattimore remains the Saints #1 CB, if I were defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, I would put the fastest Saints cornerback (Lattimore), on the fastest Bengals wide receiver, John Ross. That leaves Apple as the #2 CB, technically covering the Bengals #1 WR.
After the Saints signed Bryant, I wouldn’t expect him to be heavily featured this week. He might come in on a few third downs or red zone looks, but until he has a fair grasp of the Saints complicated playbook, they’ll gradually ease him in to the offense.
What does that say about the Saints plans this year? After the Saints traded their 2019 first round pick to move up and select Marcus Davenport in the 2018 NFL Draft (instead of drafting a QB of the future), it was pretty clear the Saints were going all-in this year and next.
PJ: Is there a defensive player(s) that doesn’t get as much recognition considering how the offense gets most of the publicity?
CD: Demario Davis, formerly in the AFC with the New York Jets, is having a Pro Bowl caliber season. He leads the team in tackles, is tough against the run, and flies around the middle of the field in pass coverage. He has without a doubt been the biggest bright spot of an otherwise disappointing-at-ties defense.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
CD: No disrespect to the Bengals at all, but I could see this potentially falling into the “trap game” scenario, especially with the Saints potentially looking forward at the Philadelphia Eagles matchup the next week. However, I think the Saints are able to take care of business. They score early with the short and intermediate passing attack, jump out to a quick lead, force the Bengals to abandon the run, and the Saints themselves embrace the run and own the time of possession battle. I’d guess Saints win 30-17.
Thanks again to Christopher Dunnells for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out more of his work at Canal Street Chronicles.