Each week Colts.com will speak with a writer who covers the team the Colts are set to play that upcoming Sunday.
In Week 8, the Colts are facing the New Orleans Saints in Indianapolis. To gain more insight, we caught up with John DeShazier, the senior writer for NewOrleansSaints.com.
Colts.com: The Saints are seven games into the Derek Carr era. How would you describe what you've seen from him so far?
John DeShazier: I think "inconsistent" has to be the best word, for both Carr and the offense. The high expectations entering the season haven't yet manifested into consistent production, and the fact that assignments still are being blown is a concern. Carr and his receivers haven't often enough been on the same page in the red zone, and an offense that can't produce touchdowns in the red zone (37.5 percent for the season, fifth-worst in the league) is going to be an offense that struggles scoring points. New Orleans has been fine between the 20s; the Saints have totaled 400-plus yards in the last two games. But, in part because of red zone struggles, they lost each game by a touchdown. Simply, Carr's production has to result in more points for the offense and, hopefully, less on-field and sideline outbursts. The latter is understandable for a frustrated competitor, but it isn't a good look for a team captain and leader. He hasn't been turnover-prone (four interceptions) and sacks have decreased, but six touchdown passes and 1,600 passing yards is less than hoped for at this point.
Colts.com: I'm sure a big help for Carr was the return of running back Alvin Kamara. Despite missing the first three games of the season, he still leads all running backs with 35 catches this season. How does his presence help the offense?
John DeShazier: Kamara remains the marked man for the Saints' offense. Opponents begin defensively with their attention focused on him, and he knows it. Theoretically, his presence should free up teammates because he's the kind of back whose mere presence draws attention, and it does but the offensive explosion hasn't yet happened for this team. In six games Kamara leads the team in touches (104) and is second in yards from scrimmage (438), so he still is being effective even with a target on his back. But he only has one touchdown and Kamara is someone who, in his career, has displayed a knack for getting into the end zone. The Saints want to cut down on his 26 touches per game, though, despite the fact that he wants the ball and had three games of involuntary rest due to his NFL suspension.
Colts.com: Another weapon for Carr has been wide receiver Chris Olave, who seems to have picked up right where he left off after his strong rookie season. What is it about him that has allowed him to have such a strong start to his career?
John DeShazier: Olave's speed and route-running separated him, even as a rookie. He can separate and run past a defensive back, but he also has a good grasp of the route tree. In the offseason he worked on improving with contested catches, and that has shown early in this season (he's had a couple of one-handed catches with defenders in his hip pocket). The next phase of his improvement will be his maturity level, making sure he's consistent in his routes whether or not there's an expectation of being the primary target, because sometimes the progression may lead to him. But he's a game-breaking type of receiver (team-leading 471 yards on 39 catches) who has a wealth of physical skills.
Colts.com: Even though defensive Cam Jordan only has one sack through the first seven games, he's still affecting the passing game. Right now, he ranks top-10 in quarterback hurries (23) and top-20 in total pressures generated (27) according to PFF. How does his presence open things up for other defensive linemen like Carl Granderson and Bryan Bresee?
John DeShazier: Cam can still draw extra attention and if he doesn't, he's able to push offensive tackles into quarterbacks' laps. When/if they have to pull the ball down because of the pressure, Granderson often has benefited. It's just a matter of time before Jordan adds to his sack total, because he's so often in the neighborhood, and he remains a standard against the run. Bresee has added an interior rushing element that the Saints haven't had much of the past few seasons. He's tall and his leverage isn't always fantastic, but he's quick and he works well in the pass rush with Cam and Granderson. When they're disciplined and maintain their rush lanes, they can be really effective.
Colts.com: Right now, the Saints are allowing just 98.7 rushing yards per game. This Sunday, they'll be tasked with slowing down a Colts rushing attack that is averaging 124 yards per game. What will be the key for the Saints if they hope to keep the Colts' run game in check?
John DeShazier: Population to the ball is what the Saints always preach. And against someone like Jonathan Taylor, they'll be tested. His touches and yards have increased each week and everyone knows that when he's "right," he's one of the best running backs in the NFL. The Saints need to get to Taylor early, before he gets to the second level, and optimally they can get him running east and west instead of north and south. But he's a handful, and the Saints only have seen one running back of his caliber this season (Tennessee's Derrick Henry in the season opener). Saints also will be wary of quarterback Gardner Minshew taking off from the pocket; Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence ran eight times for 59 yards against them in the last game, when Jacksonville totaled 113 on 26 carries.