The New Orleans Saints (5-3) didn't have four quarters of consistency in their last game, a 27-25 loss to Atlanta. They'll definitely need that Sunday, when they face the Titans (7-2) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee has won five straight, hasn't scored less than 27 points during the run and three times, has allowed 19 points or less. The Saints, minus running back Alvin Kamara and the multitude of problems he poses for an opposing defense, will have some heavy lifting to do on the road without him.
Here are a few ways the lifting can be done:
1. CLEAN UP ON AISLE 3: New Orleans committed 10 penalties for 74 yards against Atlanta, seven of them for 55 yards on offense. That's far too many, period, and it absolutely can't be repeated for an offense that this week will be missing its most important (and most valuable) player. The offensive line had issues against the Falcons; Tennessee's defensive line is better than Atlanta's. So creating creases for the running game, and protecting whichever quarterback is throwing passes, obviously is paramount. But just as much, it's important to not commit the penalties that put the offense in an unfavorable down and distance (first-and-15, second-and-20, etc.).
2. CORNER THE MARKET: The Titans are without running back Derrick Henry. That's a plus for New Orleans, because Henry (6 feet 3, 247 pounds) is a rock AND a hard place (a league-leading 937 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns). The Saints generally do a great job of taking away an opponent's run game (73.8 yards per game allowed, fewest in the league), but making the Titans one-dimensional means covering receiver A.J. Brown (551 yards and three touchdowns) and his receiving mates. And that means cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who probably is having his best NFL season among several standout ones, and Paulson Adebo have to be up to the challenge. Also, New Orleans must replace C.J. Gardner-Johnson, one of the best slot corners in the league (P.J. Williams could fill the void, and perhaps Bradley Roby). But, as much as anyone, Lattimore and Adebo figure to be challenged. They'll have to rise to it.
3. HANDS TEAM: Along with the offense needing to clean up on the penalties, it also can't have a repeat performance from receivers that included six or seven dropped passes (depending on who's counting). Very few offenses can overcome that many drops – the Saints did, to a degree, en route to taking a 25-24 lead against Atlanta – and they shouldn't have to. NFL receivers make catches, open or contested, and New Orleans' have to do a better job of that against Tennessee. Opportunities will be there for Marquez Callaway, Tre'Quan Smith and Deonte Harty, who has emerged as New Orleans' best receiving threat. Cashing in is critical.
4. THE TANNEHILL FACTOR: Just because Henry isn't playing, doesn't mean Tennessee won't have a viable running threat. Not necessarily Adrian Peterson, the ageless wonder who's 36 years old and in his 14th season. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (2,145 passing yards, with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions) can move (168 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries). He's a runner as much as a scrambler; he can be sacked (opponents have sacked him 27 times) but New Orleans has to be aware of designed runs.
5. EYES OPEN: Beware Titans safety Kevin Byard. He has five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and a forced fumble. He finds the ball and he knows how to take possession of it. If New Orleans can bait him into a gamble or two, it might be able to take advantage.
ZATARAIN'S KEY INGREDIENTS RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
JAMBALAYA AND BLACK BEAN VEGGIE BURGERS
Courtesy of Kristen D. of Dix Hills, NY, the winner of the Zatarain's® "Jambalaya Throwdown," these veggie burgers have New Orleans flavor from Zatarain's Jambalaya Mix.