Biggest pregame storylines in Saints vs. Giants on Sunday

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There are a ton of narratives developing ahead of Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants, with some reputations on the line — Jameis Winston and Jason Garrett certainly must be feeling the pressure. But others could see their star continue to rise with a big game. Here’s who I’m watching out for this week:

How high can Kenny Stills climb?

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Kenny Stills (12) on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It didn’t take long for Stills to pick up the offense, and it took even less time for him to climb the depth chart. He saw the second-most snaps on offense (29) among Saints receivers in his first game, trailing only Marquez Callaway (38). He caught his first target for 17 yards and nearly had a long touchdown later in the game if he and Winston were on better sync. Look for the Saints to keep giving him opportunities to make a play, if he’s elevated from the practice squad again (as expected).

What’s interesting is how the picture changes once the Saints get their starters back. Tre’Quan Smith is eligible to return from injured reserve as soon as he gets the green light from team doctors, while Michael Thomas will be eligible after the bye week. If Stills can make himself into an asset now, he’ll have a clear role once the receiving corps looks the way it’s supposed to.

Will desperation drive Jason Garrett to change?

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) rushes as offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and head coach Joe Judge look on in the first half at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford.

Jones leads his team in rushing yards (161) and touchdown runs (2), and he currently paces the league in yards per carry (7.0). But his play caller is actively sabotaging the offense because he’d rather see carries go to his running backs — with Saquon Barkley still recovering from ACL surgery. And the Giants passing game hasn’t given Jones enough opportunities to attack defenses downfield, where he’s been most productive.

Something’s got to give. And with the Giants staring at a potential 0-4 start with a loss in New Orleans, it may depend on Garrett changing his approach. He’s got to open up the offense and put his best players in position to succeed. Forcing Jones to play with a hand tied behind his back only hurts them both. Stubbornly sticking to a stale brand of football hurts them both.

Can Paulson Adebo become an upgrade over Jackrabbit Jenkins?

New Orleans Saints cornerback Paulson Adebo (29) reacts during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper)

Adebo has exceeded expectations for a third rounder who didn’t play football last year. Starting games and playing capably is impressive on its own. So how good can he be? Can he be more than just a replacement for Jenkins, who held the spot last year?

Here’s how they compare through three weeks: Adebo has been thrown at 24 times, allowing 14 receptions for 157 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He intercepted a pass in Week 1 and has been flagged 4 times (1 offsetting) for 30 yards.

And Jenkins has seen 21 targets, allowing 15 catches and 150 yards, but just one touchdown reception. He hasn’t intercepted a pass yet but he has broken up two of them. He’s been fouled 3 times for 34 penalty yards.

Those are very comparable numbers. Adebo can improve on them so early in his career, while Jenkins already has 135 games behind him (including the playoffs). He’s in a good spot to put up more positive game tape against a depleted Giants receiving corps.

Is this the real version of Jameis Winston?

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston warms up before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Surely not. Winston’s tendencies as an aggressive passer haven’t shown up too often — he’s leaving a lot of positive yards out there by clutching up and hesitating to pull the trigger on open receivers further downfield. Some of it makes sense. He isn’t completely comfortable in this offense with this set of receivers yet, and it’s an active work-in-progress. Sean Payton has been coaching him into cutting down on turnover-worthy plays and he’s done a good job of it (for the most part).

Still, let’s see him stretch the field a bit. His weapons are mostly unproven but not incapable. The Giants secondary is liable to give Winston some favorable looks, and he’s got to take advantage of that. Let’s see a shot play or two to Stills or Callaway or Deonte Harris, yeah? After averaging 274.1 passing yards per game in his Buccaneers career, Winston has accumulated just 387 yards total through three games with New Orleans.

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