New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans: Matchups, prediction for battle between two impressive teams

The New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans is a matchup between teams with defenses performing above expectation. Can the offenses compete?

The New Orleans Saints vs. Tennessee Titans matchup is a battle between two teams overcoming incredible odds to win football games at a high rate. Ryan Tannehill and the Titans offense have faced a brutal gauntlet, and despite some ugly production, they’ve come out on top against some great competition. Can they keep it up against another top defense?

New Orleans Saints offense vs. Tennessee Titans defense

The Saints certainly aren’t winning football games because of their offensive output. They’re running the ball a lot, with both Trevor Siemian or Jameis Winston under center. It appears they know where their strengths are, and they’re trying to keep the overall possessions to a minimum.

They’re 17th in both expected points added per play and DVOA (Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric), and if they can keep that pace and avoid turnovers, their defense will keep them in most games. But without Michael Thomas, New Orleans’ passing attack is extremely limited.

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The Titans, meanwhile, are a tale of two teams. In Weeks 1-4, they ranked 26th in defensive EPA/play. From Week 5 on, they’ve ranked sixth in defensive EPA/play. So, they must have seen a dip in offensive competition level, right?

Wrong! They faced the Bills, Chiefs, and Rams in Weeks 5-9, beating all of them. Their defensive performance against the Rams was the most impressive. They held the league’s most prolific offense to just 4.7 yards per play.

Trevor Siemian vs. Titans defense

The Titans rank 11th in takeaways on the season, and they’re in the top 10 in INTs with 9. Siemian has gone 70 attempts without an interception, which is close to double his career average.

Now, a Sean Payton offense should help soothe those issues a bit. However, with Kevin Byard patrolling the back end for Tennessee, everything probably feels more difficult for quarterbacks.

Advantage: Titans

Saints skill position players vs. Titans secondary

There is not much to discuss here. From a name recognition standpoint, this is one of the more boring matchups you’ll find at the NFL level. The only big name on either side is Byard.

Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway headline the Saints’ receiving corps, but Alvin Kamara is their highest-volume target and is just 13 yards behind Harris for the team lead in receiving yards.

Meanwhile, Jackrabbit Jenkins and his AARP card highlight Tennessee’s cornerback group alongside Chris Jackson, a player I totally knew before he started… starting… for the Titans. Rookie Elijah Molden is handling his business in the slot, but this passing defense revolves around the play of their safeties.

Byard has been as good as ever, and Amani Hooker seems to be feeding off Byard’s play. He’s making plays at a level he hadn’t dreamt of in his first few years.

Advantage: Titans

Saints offensive line vs. Titans defensive front

The Saints boast one of the top offensive lines in the NFL when healthy. Unfortunately for the Titans, they’re pretty darned healthy right now. Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are the best tackle duo in the league, and Erik McCoy is an absolute stud in the center of the front five.

If the Titans want to win the battle of the trenches, they’ll have to figure out how to isolate Jeffery Simmons against the Saints guards. Cesar Ruiz and Calvin Throckmorton aren’t slouches, but they are the weak link of this brick-wall front line.

Harold Landry has 10 sacks through just nine games. But according to Trench Warfare’s Brandon Thorn, who looks to quantify the value of each sack, Landry is ninth in sack score. He has 2 high-quality sacks, 7 low-quality sacks, and 1 coverage sack. If he wants to win against this group of tackles, he’ll have to do better than that.

Meanwhile, Bud Dupree continues to collect a fat paycheck each week for effectively just showing up. Luckily, Denico Autry has performed admirably on the interior for Tennessee, giving them three robust options rushing the passer.

Advantage: Saints

Tennessee Titans offense vs. New Orleans Saints defense

The Titans’ offense is a complete work in progress. This team beat the Rams, but their offensive performance against Los Angeles was one of the least-efficient outputs of the season. They averaged just 3.5 net yards per play (league average is 5.58) and had fewer than 200 yards of total offense.

Like the Saints, Tennessee is winning games off the back of its defense and their rushing attack — and they lost a dominant piece in Derrick Henry before last week. In fact, from an efficiency standpoint, not much separates their offense from New Orleans aside from name recognition. This isn’t Arthur Smith’s offense anymore.

Meanwhile, the Saints’ defense is as it always is. They wake up and go to sleep each evening as a top-10 defense. They’re third in DVOA and fourth in defensive EPA.

The last time they weren’t a top-10 defense, I was just getting out of the Army. I got a whole journalism degree in that time! Defensive consistency like that doesn’t happen anymore. The fact they’ve done it is mind-boggling.

Ryan Tannehill vs. Saints defense

Our two-year efficiency king is dead! Or is he?

Tannehill ranks 11th in the EPA+CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) composite on Ben Baldwin’s site. He’s been a DVOA darling for two years now. But like the Titans’ defense, Tannehill has seen a tale of two seasons through nine weeks.

He was 17th in the NFL in EPA+CPOE through the first four weeks of the season. In the past five weeks, he ranks second in the league in that composite metric.

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Personally, I don’t view Tannehill as anywhere near the second-best quarterback in the league over those five weeks. I think Titans fans and quarterback experts would agree with me. But he has looked better on tape in the past few weeks against some stiff competition.

The Saints’ defense is well-coached, but it’s also reliant on outstanding communication and can be the victim of big plays in the passing attack. Their 10% explosive play rate ranks in the bottom third of the league, but they’re performing very well overall defensively.

However, I trust Tannehill to take advantage of whomever Saints CB Paulson Adebo is covering.

Advantage: Titans

Titans skill position players vs. Saints secondary

Julio Jones and A.J. Brown play football for the Titans. There is not a cornerback duo in the league I feel holds an advantage over those two. I’m aware Jones hasn’t been his old self in terms of being a high-volume target, but he has been efficient. He’s catching 67.7% of his targets and averages 10.8 yards per target.

The other advantage for the Titans is how the Saints deploy their cornerbacks. Marshon Lattimore plays a vast majority of his snaps on the right side of the defense. Tennessee can confidently game plan away from Lattimore, getting Brown and Jones matched against Adebo and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

Advantage: Titans

Titans offensive line vs. Saints defensive front

Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan didn’t play last week due to a knee injury, and it’s tough to feel good about Tennessee’s offensive line facing Marcus Davenport, Cameron Jordan, David Onyemata, and Shy Tuttle if Lewan can’t go in Week 10.

The Saints’ defensive front has played well in 2021, and the Titans have inconsistently protected Tannehill, who has taken the second-most sacks (27) in the league. I believe sacks are a QB stat, so I must pass some blame onto Tannehill, but the cause of each sack is often unique.

As a believer in games being won in the trenches, it isn’t easy to look at this matchup and feel confident that the Titans will win the game. However, Tennessee really only has one issue (left tackle). The rest of the line, for the most part, is sufficient.

Advantage: Saints

Betting line and game prediction

The NFL was crazy last week. Truthfully, it’s been a wild ride of a season so far. Any team that’s claimed the top seed in either conference over the past few weeks seems to lose.

The Saints vs. Titans game favors Tennessee by 3 points at home. That is effectively nothing in the eyes of betting markets, which means Las Vegas either believes the Saints are that good or the Titans are performing above their heads.

I know I said games are won and lost in the trenches. But quarterback play is still king, and there’s no denying Tannehill is miles better than Siemian. And, because the NFL is weird and these defenses have played well, I expect this game to blitz the over/under of 44.

Prediction: Titans 30, Saints 23

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