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  • hong wei The New Orleans Saints survived their 3rd straight road game New Orleans Saints Hoodie , a white-knuckle 12-9 win over the division rival Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football. The Saints had to overcome a desperate rival clinging to slim playoff hopes, a league office that scheduled them to play three consecutive road games in a pivotal part of the year, along with pathetic officiating to come away with their 12th win of the season and a firm hold on the conference's top seed entering the playoffs. New Orleans also had to overcome themselves, and another lackluster offensive performance. The Saints failed to score a first half touchdown for the third game in a row, and their once formidable passing attack again struggled. They did have 346 total yards offensively, but it was once again their defense that proved to be the difference in the game. The Saints defensive line played well at the point of attack, forcing some key holding penalties and pressuring the Panthers backfield well along the edge. New Orleans held the Panthers to only 247 total yards, forced two key turnovers, and did not allow a second half point for the third game in a row. Here are some of the key performers from this hard fought battle. Eli Apple Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesApple had one of the plays of the game when he intercepted a Cam Newton pass intended for Devin Funchess in the end zone during the waning seconds of the first half. Apple finished the night with 3 tackles and a number of crucial and acrobatic pass breakups. He teamed with Marshon Lattimore and the secondary to hold Panthers wideouts to a combined six receptions for just 50 yards, including a shutout of Funchess. The secondary as a whole limited Carolina's passing game to less than 150 net yardage and just 55% completion percentage. Apple's addition to this defense via trade in late October has fortified the defense's secondary, and allows them to play aggressive coverage against any receiving corps. Vonn Bell Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBell has been an underrated standout on the Saints defense most of the season. He showed up huge on the stat sheet Monday night though, with 7 tackles, a key sack, and a huge forced fumble. Bell's brilliant second half strip of Panthers receiver D.J. Moore stopped a Carolina scoring drive and helped set up the win. He helped provide solid coverage on receivers and tight ends all evening, while mixing in effective blitzes in addition to his sack. Bell has been part of vastly improved safety play, along with Marcus Williams, that have all but eliminated deep plays and contained the passes completed in front of them. Demario Davis Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDavis led the team with 8 tackles, and led a solid performance from the entire linebacking corps. He added a sack on a well-timed first half blitz that ended a Panthers drive Youth Customized New Orleans Saints Jerseys , and two important pass breakups. He spearheaded a defensive effort that held the dynamic Christian McCaffrey to 120 combined rushing and receiving yardage. Davis, Alex Anzalone, and A.J. Klein combined for 17 tackles, Davis' sack, numerous quarterback pressures, and a fumble recovery (Klein) as they shut down the Panthers in the middle of the field as the game progressed. Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY SportsAlvin Kamara and Mark Ingram helped fuel a Saints running game that ended with 155 yards on 32 attempts. Kamara scored the team's only touchdown on a 16-yd. scamper around the right side, and finished with a game high 67 yards rushing while adding 36 yards receiving and a 50-yd. kickoff return. Despite the Saints struggles in the passing game, this team again showed that it is capable of winning any type of game. This time, it was a defensive slugfest against a physical rival. The Saints benefited from outstanding play on every level of their defense, one that has shown that they are a championship level unit after early season struggles. The New Orleans Saints are coming off their best offensive performance of the young 2018 season, 534 total yards, last week in a 43-37 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons. They ride that momentum into New York this Sunday to take on the 1-2 Giants. New Orleans (2-1), still without suspended Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram, are playing their second consecutive game on the road. New York meanwhile, is coming off a 27-22 defeat of the Houston Texans for their first victory of the season. The Saints enter the game ranked 4th in the NFL in total offense, and their 104 points scored are second in the league. They take on a Giant defense that ranks 15th in total yardage, and have surrendered an average of 21 points per game. Let's have a look at some of the key matchups on the offensive side of the ball for New Orleans. SAINTS PASS OFFENSE vs. GIANTS PASS DEFENSE Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty ImagesThe Saints have the league's 3rd most productive passing attack, and possess two of the most feared receiving weapons in the NFL. Third year wideout Michael Thomas leads the league in both receptions (38 , a league record after three games) and receiving yards (398), catching an amazing 95% of his 40 targets. Thomas overwhelms nearly all defensive backs with his size, strength, and route precision, while possessing strong hands to snatch the ball in traffic, and is skilled at creating yards after the catch. An even bigger threat to defenses in the open field is Alvin Kamara, last year's offensive rookie of the year. Kamara has 30 receptions, third in the league, and leads all NFL running backs with 289 receiving yards. Thomas and Kamara have accounted for 63.7% of the Saints passing yardage so far this season, mostly because of their incredible ability, but also in part due to a lack of consistency from the team's other receivers. Ted Ginn Jr. (135 yards, 2 touchdowns) and tight end Benjamin Watson (134 yards) are tied for third on the team with 12 receptions. No New Orleans target other than Thomas, Kamara, Ginn, and Watson have as many as five targets or 3 catches. Offseason acquisitions Cameron Meredith (free agent) and Tre'quan Smith (draft, 3rd round) have just 1 catch each, and must be more productive to increase the effectiveness of the passing attack. Delivering the ball of course, is one of the football's all-time greats New Orleans Saints T-Shirt , Drew Brees. The 18-yr. veteran broke the NFL record for career completions last week against the Falcons, and now sits just 418 yards away from passing Peyton Manning as the NFL's all-time passing yardage leader. Brees has completed 80% of his throws for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season, and has not thrown an interception. He combines his uncanny accuracy with a fiery competitiveness, bullying his way for two rushing scores in last Sunday's comeback in Atlanta. The New Orleans offensive line has only allowed their quarterback to be sacked five times, and has stood up well despite the team's pass-heavy attack. New York ranks 13th in pass defense, a big improvement from their 31st ranking in the category a year ago. One reason for this though is the fact that the Giants faced limited passing attacks in the Jaguars and Cowboys within the first two games of the season. Last week against Houston, they surrendered 385 passing to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. New York has been missing two of it's best defensive players, cornerback Eli Apple (groin) and edge rusher Olivier Vernon (ankle), neither of whom are expected to play this Sunday. The Giants still have a number of capable defensive players, but have just four sacks and two interceptions on the young season. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins are dangerous playmakers on the back end, and linebacker Alec Ogletree is one of the most versatile defenders in the game. Donte Deayon has been playing for Apple at cornerback, a position that the Saints look to have a distinct advantage. Rookies Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill were added this offseason, along with free agents Connor Barwin and Mario Edwards, in hopes that they could combine with Vernon to increase New York's pressure from the edge after only 27 sacks last season. They have the strength and athleticism to challenge Saints tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk, but the New Orleans line must also keep Brees free of inside pressure. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images~ Key Matchup: Brees vs. Ogletree/Jenkins/Collins ~Kamara and Thomas will each face stiff challenges from Ogletree and Janoris Jenkins in one on one matchups during the game, but they have both proven that they can be effectiveagainst any defense. Brees threw the ball to eight different receivers in last week's victory, completing touchdown passes to Meredith New Orleans Saints Hats , Ginn, and fullback Zach Line. He was as sharp as he's ever been through his exemplary career last week and against Tampa Bay in week one, as the Saints put a combined 83 points on the scoreboard. During the week two win against Cleveland, Brees was just slightly off the mark at times (for him), missing a few easy scoring chances. With Ingram out of the lineup again, it's clear that Brees has to be at the very top of his game for the Saints offense to have success. Ogletree, Jenkins, and Landon Collins are dangerous playmakers who can turn a mistake into an instant defensive score if the offense is even slightly off. SAINTS RUN OFFENSE vs. GIANTS RUN DEFENSE Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesNew Orleans continues to struggle running the football without Ingram. The team ranks just 28th in rushing yards, and is averaging less than four yards per carry. They had their best rushing output of the season against Atlanta, finishing with 143 yards on 27 attempts, but that was bolstered by a few big gains from Taysom Hill and Ginn. Kamara leads the team in rushing with just 141 yards, but does have two scores on the ground and has run for two 2-pt conversions. Both Jonathan Williams and Mike Gillislee have been extremely disappointing, and get no more than a few carries per game as a change of pace. The Saints have often brought Hill into the game in short yardage or close to the goal line, and he combines with Kamara to open up numerous rushing opportunities along the perimeter of defenses due to the athleticism of both players. Left guard Andrus Peat has missed the last two games with injury, and replacement Josh Leribeus has struggled along with center Max Unger and right guard Larry Warford to open up interior running lanes. The Giants are 18th against the run, and have given up 4.6 yards per rush. Damon Harrison and Kerry Wynn form one of the league's better run defending duos up front, and Alec Ogletree was obtained in an offseason trade to upgrade the team's linebacking play. New York prevented Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette and Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott from having big games against them, but neither present the open field threat that they will face in Kamara. Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports~ Key Matchups: New Orleans offensive line vs. New York defensive front ~The Saints had their best rushing success of the year by attacking the edge of the Atlanta defense with the run New Orleans Saints Womens Hoodie , rather than the up the middle. They were able to get Kamara, Hill, and Ginn in space, averaging over five yards per rush. The same approach may work best for the New Orleans offense this game. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison is a strong run defender inside, but the Giants edge defenders, despite good size, are better suited for pass rushing roles. The athletic Saints line needs to get to the second level of the New York defense to neutralize Ogletree and Collins, allowing Kamara some additional space on runs and screens. WHAT TO LOOK FOR Historically, the Saints offense has struggled to put points on the board when they travel to New York to face either the Giants or Jets. The continued struggles of the New Orleans pass defense puts additional pressure on their offense to be nearly flawless in their execution. The Saints will get Thomas and Kamara involved early and often, but the success of players like Watson, Meredith, or Josh Hill in the middle of the field will be paramount to keeping the Giant defense off balance and out of position. The Saints bring a far more explosive offense than New York has faced in Jacksonville, Dallas, or Houston to begin the year. New Orleans will need to get on the board early to dictate the pace of the game and slightly reduce the pressure on their reeling defense. Continued aggressive and mistake-free play should be the formula for an important road win against what looks to be an overmatched opponent. Custom New England Patriots Jerseys
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