10 burning questions for Saints vs. Giants in Week 4

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The New Orleans Saints and New York Giants are preparing for what looks like a lopsided matchup, but the G-Men could make it exciting if they take advantage of some Saints vulnerabilities. To get the best analysis, I went behind enemy lines to swap questions and answers with Giants Wire’s Dan Benton. Here’s what we learned:

GW: The Saints have really turned the dial up on defense this season and have one of the league's best units (and some of the top players at their position). What has most contributed to their early success?

SW: There’s a real strength of continuity, especially in the middle of the field. They’ve got veterans in the secondary like Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams communicating with smart players up front like Demario Davis and Cameron Jordan. The Saints have also added help through the draft to replace outgoing starters and contributors. This is a group that’s been playing together at a high level for a few years now, so we’re seeing them move with confidence in their assignments and trusting those around them to execute.

GW: Jameis Winston has always been known as an up-and-down quarterback and I believe we're seeing that again this season. Is there an overriding faith in him in New Orleans or is everyone just sort of along for the ride?

SW: We’re really just going with the flow, which so far has meant a ball-control offense focused on avoiding turnovers. And he’s still creating turnover-worthy plays, though we’ve gotten lucky just two interceptions so far. There’s not much doubt that he was the right choice to start over Taysom Hill, but Winston does have his share of critics. But he’s also been given more time to get right with injuries surrounding the offense around him.

GW: With Michael Thomas and some other receivers out, Marquez Callaway has taken over the top spot. What have you seen from him so far and what do you expect from him on Sunday?

SW: Callaway scored his first career touchdown on a wild, high-arcing pass from Winston last week and I expect him to continue to be the primary read. He’s a confident player with some ability to separate downfield. The Saints are trying to keep pressure off of him by spreading the ball around to guys like Deonte Harris and Kenny Stills, so hopefully he benefits from the Giants’ attention going elsewhere.

GW: There are some big names along the Saints' offensive line -- a lot of Pro Bowl/All-Pro talent. But whispers are they're under-performing this season. What would you attribute that to and what areas are the most concerning?

SW: They lost the most important player (from a communication standpoint) minutes into Week 1 when Erik McCoy went down, forcing right guard Cesar Ruiz to slide over to center. That brought a backup to his spot and now the Saints fielding another backup at left tackle. There have been a ton of miscues and miscommunications and blown blocking assignments, far below the group’s usual standards. The unit’s best players (Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk) are still playing well but I think this is one area the Giants might challenge them on Sunday.

GW: Do you see any outside possibility the Giants could come away with an upset victory in Week 4? What areas would they need to exploit to make that happen?

SW: There’s a very real scenario, yeah. Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and Azeez Ojulari could take advantage of the thin depth up front in New Orleans and pressure Winston into making some dangerous throws. The more opportunities the Giants get to play on a short field, the better. I could also see Daniel Jones having a good day as a runner. The Saints don’t defend bootlegs well and have a history of struggling to keep up with running quarterbacks. If he can make some plays with his legs and Winston makes too many mistakes, maybe New York pulls off an upset.

SW: This feels like a big game for Alvin Kamara. Who can the Giants assign to defend him, especially now that Blake Martinez is out of action?

GW: Honestly? No one. Blake Martinez wouldn’t have been able to defend him, either. The Giants have struggled to defend quality pass-catching running backs and tight ends for nearly a decade and are no closer to finding a solution. The assignment will likely fall on safety Jabrill Peppers, but that’s an effort in futility as well. Peppers has missed reps this season because he’s become a liability in coverage, which subsequently hurts the run defense. When Xavier McKinney steps in, the coverage gets a little better but again, that leaves gaps against the run. And with Dalvin Tomlinson now in Minnesota, the Giants are very weak up the middle (more so with Martinez out for the year).

SW: New York's receiving corps is pretty banged up. We know Kenny Golladay and Evan Engram can play, but who else should Saints fans watch out for when the Giants have the ball?

GW: We’re not 100 percent sold that Evan Engram can play, but that’s a debate and topic for another day. With Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton out (and Kenny Golladay banged up), expect to see a lot more of rookie Kadarius Toney. It’s also possible John Ross, who looked terrific this summer, comes off of injured reserve and sees some action in this game. Other potential options the Giants can fall back on are tight end Kaden Smith, who is a solid pass-catching tight end, and wide receiver Collin Johnson, who stepped up in a big way last week when everyone else went down.

SW: The Saints offensive line is in rough shape. I've got a lot of respect for Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and Azeez Ojulari up front, but which Giants defenders could give them some trouble beyond that trio?

GW: I think you may be over-selling Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence and Azeez Ojulari a bit. While Ojulari’s sack numbers look good (three in three games), he’s hardly been the edge rush force that’s being portrayed. Two of those sacks were coverage sacks and outside of that, he hasn’t really factored in much. Meanwhile, his sack last week not withstanding, Leonard Williams has also taken a step back with Dalvin Tomlinson no longer eating up two interior linemen. Dexter Lawrence has also been a near non-factor. Ditto linebacker Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, who were each expected to step up this year. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has once again been forced to rely on scheming pressure through blitzes, but even that has failed to yield results. The Giants’ biggest defensive issue this season in their lack of pass rush and middle defense and even against a depleted and struggling line, I don’t anticipate that’s going to change this Sunday. If anything, this is the perfect matchup for the Saints’ O-Line to build some confidence and start trending in the other direction.

SW: Daniel Jones has shown a lot of promise on deep passes and running plays, but it doesn't seem like the Giants design many of those opportunities for him. Can an 0-3 start make them desperate enough to open up the playbook?

GW: From your lips to God’s ears. Unfortunately, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is stuck in his ways and plans to remain a run-first, three plays for 10 yards play-caller. It’s maddening because Daniel Jones has provided a large enough sample size to prove he’s an effective deep-ball passer, especially when adding in RPO’s to keep defenses off balance. It’s when he’s at his best and the Giants offense is humming. But they’re much more likely to reply on Saquon Barkley getting “dirty yards” while attempting to sustain long drives compiled of short plays (passes will be curls across the board short of the sticks).

SW: Alright, let's see your score prediction. Who wins, and why?

GW: There’s a part of me that believes — despite everything else I’ve said here — that the Giants can deliver an upset on Sunday. Not because they’re a better team but because throughout their history, they play up (or down) to the level of their opponents and frequently win games they have no business winning. There’s no logical reason to believe the Giants will (or should) beat the Saints this Sunday and that is precisely why I think they will despite themselves. That’s not going to make any sense to Saints fans, but it’ll make complete sense to Giants fans. Giants 27, Saints 24 in an ugly one.

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