Da Boot Sports
Article courtesy of Crescent City Sports
By: Les East
These New Orleans Saints are different.
They’re different from their predecessors that have won the last four NFL South titles.
In fact they’re different than any other Saints team since Sean Payton became head coach before the 2006 season.
It’s too early to tell just how good they are, though the solid 28-13 victory at New England on Sunday is likely far more indicative of what they ultimately will be than either the atrocious 26-7 loss at Carolina last week or the nearly flawless 38-3 win against Green Bay in the opener was.
This team is different.
Being different isn’t inherently good or bad, but it’s looking like in this case it might be pretty good.
We knew Drew Brees’ retirement would necessitate a significant adjustment. And the Saints are adjusting pretty well so far.
This isn’t a case of Sean Payton trying to turn Jameis Winston into as reasonable a facsimile of Brees as Winston is capable of being.
It’s a case Payton of turning the first post-Brees Saints team into a team with a distinctive personality that maximizes its potential.
Winston is never going to be a reasonable facsimile of Brees.
He’s not going to consistently complete more than 70 percent of his passes. He’s not going to get the Saints out of bad plays into good ones or out of bad protections into good ones with nearly the frequency that Brees did for 15 seasons.
We saw that last week when the Panthers constantly pressured Winston, partly because the Saints blocked poorly, partly because the linemen were confused about whom to block, and partly because Winston couldn’t bring clarity to the confusion the way Brees probably would have.
Winston is going to periodically make poor decisions and reckless throws that Brees would rarely make. We saw that with the two interceptions that Winston threw last week, but those are the only interceptions he has thrown in three games.
We saw something similar Sunday when Winston was being tackled on a third-and-goal and semi-blindly tossed the ball toward the back of the end zone, though it worked out fine when Marquez Callaway made a leaping catch for his first NFL touchdown.
“That was all God,” Winston said accurately. “I was trying to throw that ball away, Marquez went up there and snatched it. So, touchdown good guys.”
So the passing offense and the quarterback position are going to be different than they have been. They won’t be better, but maybe on balance they’ll be good enough – because of the running game, the defense and the special teams.
Winston also threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara that also came on third down as did the touchdown last week. Against the Packers one of the five touchdowns came on third down and another came on fourth down.
So Brees’ successor is producing pretty consistently when the stakes are high.
Payton committed to the running game Sunday and it was successful, just as the case had been against Green Bay. The running game didn’t work last week because the Saints couldn’t block anyone, the defense couldn’t get off the field in the first half and the game got out of hand.
But on Sunday, with center Erik McCoy sidelined for a second consecutive game and Terron Armstead missing most of the game after injuring an elbow, Kamara rushed for 89 yards and Taysom Hill averaged 5.3 yards on six carries and ran for a clinching touchdown.
Hill’s touchdown came at the end of a 13-play, 75-yard drive that featured 10 rushes for 56 yards.
That drive was much-needed after the defense allowed the only Patriots touchdown of the game, reducing the lead to eight points.
But overall the defense played very well and confirmed what we already suspected, that it will be the tone-setting unit for this team.
“Last year, on paper, we had the potential to be good,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “This year we know we’re good.”
Patriots rookie No. 1 draft choice Mac Jones had not thrown an interception in his first two games as an NFL quarterback. But the Saints harassed him throughout – not as badly as the Panthers harassed Winston but not all that far off either – and he threw three interceptions.
P.J. Williams’ interception set up Callaway’s touchdown, Jenkins returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the third quarter to put the Saints in command with a 21-3 lead and Marshon Lattimore’s interception prevented a last-minute score by the Patriots.
The biggest blemish on this performance was the two missed field goals, from 52 and 36 yards, by Aldrick Rosas. Wil Lutz is eligible to be activated this week after undergoing core-muscle surgery during training camp.
It’s unclear if he’s ready to play. If he’s not it seems fairly certain that the Saints will have tryouts to see if a potential upgrade from Rosas is available.
Those tryouts would take place at the Saints Metairie practice facility because the team headed home after the game, ending a four-week displacement to the Dallas-Fort Worth area thanks to Hurricane Ida that began when the team’s preseason finale was canceled.
“It feels like we’ve been in training camp for two and a half months now,” Jenkins said.
When training camp began we knew the Saints were beginning a transition that’s ongoing.
It’s just three games, but the new identity is starting to come into focus.
And it looks pretty good.