Marshon Lattimore set to return after 10-week absence to face Eagles

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Marshon Lattimore

(Photo: Parker Waters)

The tide is finally going the New Orleans Saints way when it comes to injury news. Star cornerback and four-time Pro Bowler is expected to make his long-awaited return on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Lattimore has missed the last 10 Saints matchups after suffering abdominal injuries and a lacerated kidney against the Seattle Seahawks back in Week 5. 

There was noticeable progress in Lattimore’s practice routine this week, which was a massive step forward after being questionable but not able to play for the last four contests. The injury is a tough one to track, being an internal one. Co-defensive coordinator Kris Richard once described the ailment as one that is “as tolerated” by Lattimore. Noting that the physical cornerback is the only one that can tell whether or not he has progressed enough to play through what pain may come.

It looks like that point has finally arrived. Not a moment too soon at that. With an extremely talented set of pass-catchers awaiting the Saints in Philadelphia, getting Lattimore back this week is significant. Eagles wideouts A.J/ Brown and DeVonta Smith are both beyond the 1,000-yard receiving mark and have found the end zone a combined total of 17 times. Tight End Dallas Goedert has been no slouch himself, adding 611 receiving yards and 3 touchdown catches himself.

Saints corners Lattimore, Bradley Roby, Paulson Adebo and star rookie Alontae Taylor will have their work cut out for them even with Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts on the sideline.

Lattimore has found considerable success against the Eagle sin his four career matchups against them. Including their 2018 postseason meeting, the corner has allowed just 12 catches on 19 targets (63.2%) for 155 yards (12.9 per catch) and has surrendered just one receiving touchdown. He has also brought in 3 interceptions and 5 passes defensed in those games. 

When including playoff matchups, those 3 interceptions are the most Lattimore has taken against any NFL team so far in his bright career. As for the individual matchups, with Hurts not active this week, backup quarterback Gardner Minshew will get the start. The Saints star cornerback has appeared in one game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in his career. In that game, he intercepted a Minshew pass intended for former LSU wideout D.J. Chark. The play, which happened in the third quarter of a tie game would prove to be a turning point for the Saints win.

Lattimore has also locked horns with Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown when he was with his former team the Tennessee Titans. The two mostly drew stalemates, which would be considered defensive wins. But in the three targets Brown saw with Lattimore as the closest defender, the wide out came down with 2 catches for 50 yards.

So, Lattimore may have surrendered a couple of splash plays, but that is about it. Brown’s usage is much different in Philadelphia however, and Minshew will not be averse to taking any risks downfield. He may be a backup, but he has been a starting quarterback in the league and has made a reputation on the shots he has taken.

Welcoming back their star corner is great news for the Saints. However, they will have one big question to answer: Who will start opposite him? Second-year cornerback Paulson Adebo had a phenomenal rookie season holding off the veteran Roby, who was acquired by trade the same offseason, for the starting role. But this year, things have been a little more up and down for the former Stanford Cardinal. As he’s progress in his health so too has his on-field production, but some will point out costly penalties for the stretch of games. The honest truth around those penalties is that if you ask for physical play from your corners, you will live with those penalties if the play style leads to success otherwise. And that has been the case for Adebo.

The case for Taylor feels like a simpler one. He has been outstanding this year throughout his rookie season much like fellow rookie Chris Olave (who is also expected to return after missing last week’s game against the Cleveland Browns).

Taylor may be one of the most targeted corners in the NFL (5.1 snaps per target, per Pro Football Focus), but he also ranks top-5 at his position among qualifying corners in passer rating and completion percentage allowed. He may not yet have his first interception, but he has been very close on multiple occasions. His play has been so impressive, it may make the offseason move of trading away slot corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson look like a win when all is said and done, especially considering the Saints upcoming salary cap situation.

It feels like Taylor is the answer many will spring for ahead of the matchup, but the most likely outcome is that Adebo will maintain his starting role. The intended starting secondary for head coach Dennis Allen to start the season consisted of Lattimore and Adebo on out the outside, Roby in the slot, and Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu manning the safety spots with lots of rotation and disguise.

Headed into the 16th game of the season, that group has never taken a single snap together. Thanks to another injury for Maye, that still will not happen in Philadelphia. However, Dennis Allen could finally get his starting cornerbacks out on the field together again, and we assume that is the route he will take. As NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill observed though, don’t be surprised to see Taylor rotate in and still get snaps at the second cornerback spot.

New Orleans has had to rely on the depth of its deep secondary all season. Depth is something you want to know you have but never find out for sure. The Saints know for certain what they have down the depth chart thanks to several injuries impacting the unit throughout 2022. But New Orleans also knows what they have at the top of the roster. Lattimore is a former defensive rookie of the year, multi-time Pro Bowler, and lockdown corner. Now, most importantly, he’s back.

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Ross Jackson

Saints/Football Analyst

Ross Jackson has been the host of the daily Locked On Saints podcast, covering the New Orleans Saints since 2018. Since then, his host role has expanded to include co-hosting Locked On NFL on Tuesdays with a focus on in-depth analysis on the biggest stories across the NFL and fantasy football. Ross is also a contributor for Saints Wire, part…

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