If the New Orleans Saints were a boxer, we'd suggest they've rope-a-doped through a week that has delivered more than a few power punches. Since they're not, and New Orleans (7-7) has dealt with a little bit of everything this season since beginning it in Dallas due to a hurricane evacuation, it's just another week of the Saints looking to overcome adversity as they enter a Monday night game against Miami (7-7) in the Caesars Superdome.
Here are a few areas that bear watching at they seek their third consecutive victory.
1. BE BOOK SMART: Rookie quarterback Ian Book will make his regular-season debut on national television, and has had minimal reps with the No. 1 offense. New Orleans, obviously, will be smart with him and not put too much on his plate. Whatever his strengths may be, his inexperience is vast and asking him to be Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill or Trevor Siemian – in terms of his knowledge of the Saints' offense – would be asking a ton. Still, when he does have to throw, he's going to have to be accurate and if he runs, he has to be wise enough to slide or get out of bounds to avoid extra punishment. Expect pressure from Miami, and New Orleans will have to protect him without its two starting tackles (Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk).
2. THE KAMARA EFFECT: Nothing helps a quarterback more than an effective running game. Miami only allows 103.7 rushing yards per game, including a minuscule 85.7 the last three, so the Dolphins aren't going to be accommodating visitors. Plus, with the Saints starting a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut, Miami will be even more intent on taking away the run and making New Orleans one-dimensional. Still, Saints five-time Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara has to be a big presence, either with the ball in his hands (668 rushing yards and four touchdowns, 348 receiving yards and four touchdowns) or as a decoy. A 25- to 30-touch game easily is within the realm of possibility for Kamara in this one; he's New Orleans' best offensive player and he'll need a big presence.
3. CARRY D LOAD: It simply may not be possible for the Saints' defense to duplicate what it achieved in its last game. New Orleans shut out Tampa Bay (the NFL's top scoring team) in a 9-0 victory, and forced two turnovers, produced four sacks, allowed 302 yards and got stops on 13 of 19 third-down attempts. That said, another impressive performance will be needed. The offense is short-handed and expecting a great output might not be a reasonable expectation. The Saints have been able to construct a plan necessary to win on a given Sunday, so four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore needs to be at his best if he's matched against Dolphins rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle. And linebackers Kwon Alexander and Pete Werner will need to be run-stopping forces in the absence of Demario Davis. And defensive ends Marcus Davenport and Cameron Jordan will need to pressure Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who's coming off a two-interception game (one returned for a touchdown). New Orleans will be without safety Malcolm Jenkins, so expect P.J. Williams to have a higher snap count.
4. FILLING IN: Jenkins (Reserve/Covid-19 list) won't be the only prominent Saint missing this one. Also of note is safety J.T. Gray, the Pro Bowl special team player. Gray has 17 special team tackles this season, tops in the league, and his absence is significant. Ty Montgomery has been a good compliment to Gray at gunner, but whoever replaces Gray needs to be just as effective. New Orleans has allowed just 9.5 yards per punt return, and much of that is attributable to Gray.
ZATARAIN'S KEY INGREDIENTS RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
RED BEANS & RICE
A simple take on the traditional Monday night meal in New Orleans. Made with Zatarain's Red Beans and Rice Mix, this can be served as a meatless meal or as a side to pork or chicken.