Saints Back in the Driver Seat, Hit the Gas Over Tampa Speed Bump

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The New Orleans Super Bowl hype train is back on the tracks, y’all!!  That was the game we wanted to see last weekend.  But we’ll take them as they come though, right?  The New Orleans Saints are in full control of their destiny again and have the inside track right now, as they have the “easiest” remaining schedule of the top 4 NFC teams currently (San Francisco, Green Bay, and Minnesota).  And they have that inside track because Green Bay and Minnesota still play each other one more time, and one loss by San Francisco plus a loss to us puts New Orleans in sole possession of first place heading into the playoffs.  Now that means winning every game remaining on the schedule, but that’s just 6 more games!  If a loss just haaaaaas to happen, let it be to either the Colts or the Titans, so it affects us less.

Enough about playoffs.  We’re not they’re yet!  But where we are now is so pretty.  What a fun game!  If every fun play on Sunday were beers, we’d have been shit hammered watching that domination.  Hell, most of you probably were!  That game was over at 10-0, and Tampa wasn’t even out of the first quarter.  That defensive stomping and Jameis Winston implosion was as refreshing as a cold glass of lemonade on a hot Summer’s day.  Let’s all take a sip and drink up!  Ahhhhhhhhh.

THE RECAP:

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After an embarrassing loss at home to those Dirty Birds, the Saints hit the road to visit the Buccaneers who had just come off of a thrilling victory versus the Cardinals.  This game could’ve gone one of two ways: either the Saints would get their shit together and rebound, or the wheels would completely fall off the wagon.  Let’s all be grateful it was the former.

First of all, there were 3 players who stepped up big time, those being Eli Apple, PJ Williams, and Nick Easton.  Having Marshon Lattimore and Andrus Peat out was worrisome to be sure, but man we almost didn’t know they were gone, especially Peat.  I got asked a lot after the loss last week about where Nick Easton was.  He was a healthy inactive in the Atlanta game for those that didn’t know.  And now that Nick has shown he’s more than capable, especially when Armstead isn’t dying from Defcon 4 influenza, and Will Clapp can still be the additional lineman in the jumbo packages, the line seems safe for now.  As for Williams and Apple, they held up quite nicely, also aided by an out of control Cam Jordan.

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So let’s start with the defense.  How Jordan didn’t have 6 or more sacks is almost head scratching.  He was a wrecking ball all day.  Cam ended the day with 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hits, and 3 tackles.  Those stats do not reflect the relentless disruption he provided ALL GAME.  That alone allowed for 4 interceptions by Winston, and great coverage by Williams and Apple because of so many hurried throws.  And then the linebacker play.  Demario Davis and Kiko Alonso…Tore.  It.  Up.  Alonso was on fire with 6 tackles and a pass defended.  Davis showed him up 6 tackles, 4 passes defended, AND an interception.  The secondary had one of its best turnouts of the season even without Lattimore.  Jameis was throwing out interceptions like Oprah gift giving.  “And you get a pick!  And YOU get a pick!  And YOU get a pick!…”  Marcus Williams had a pick 6, Vonn Bell had his first career interception (hard to believe that), and PJ Williams had a pick.  Eli Apple led the secondary with 4 tackles and 2 passes defended while on Mike Evans mostly.  The rest of the secondary had 3 tackles each, a couple of QB hits on blitzes, and broke up several of Winston’s throws.  That level of defensive play, combined with 0 offensive turnovers, is what makes the Saints so unbeatable in so many games this season.

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And that’s why the offense only needs to be serviceable.  And that’s why a healthy Alvin Kamara, a growing Jared Cook and Latavius Murray, an unstoppable Michael Thomas, and serviceable surrounding characters, are all they have needed to get by.  Sure, we all want the “classic” Sean Payton Saints offense.  Of course, we want Brees having a 5,000 yard passing season.  But if you’re not on board yet with these 2019 New Orleans Saints, you had better come to grips with this offense being what it is.  Last Sunday, we had Kamara back to doing what we love, except for maybe the punt returns.  Even though he didn’t get into the endzone (well he did, but it was called back for a dumb penalty), he did manage to rush for 75 yards and catch another 47 yards.  Alvin Kamara was averaging 5.8 yards per carry on the ground against the NFL’s top rushing defense.  Michael Thomas continues to lead the league in receptions and receiving yards, and he’s on pace to shatter both single season records.  I’m not good at math, but I believe he’s on pace to have something like a million yards by the end of the season.  Against the Bucs, he merely had 8 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.  And even though Jared Cook was only targeted two times, he caught both: one was a 30 yard catch which he fought every inch for, and the other was an incredible catch for a touchdown which he highpointed and came down with.  

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By the 4th quarter, the tormented Tampa Bay Buccaneers were just grasping for air, and the Saints walked away victorious 34-17.  Drew Brees was as efficient as ever, completing 75% of his throws for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Granted a chunk of that came from shorter fields because of turnovers, and he was dinking and dunking all day, but let’s all be encouraged by those 3 key stats: efficiency, yardage, and touchdowns.  That’s what is important to keep an eye on for Drew to get a finger on the pulse of the offense.  They killed in time of possession, 37 minutes to 23 minutes.  Another great stat: ball control.  And then the turnover battle: +4!  The Saints don’t need to be a fireworks display to be awesome, they just need to be at least solid in the numbers.

THE RECLINE:

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Even though it was a marked improvement from the Atlanta game, the penalties were still too much.  Most notedly, we had a touchdown and a big third down conversion negated by penalties.  That category has to keep improving.  Unlike the Atlanta game where I have to begrudgingly admit most of the penalties were warranted, I will say the calls were weaker in the Tampa game.  That said, we will play better teams than Tampa, and we can’t afford to have touchdowns negated because we are, in no way, the 2011 New Orleans Saints.

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Alvin Kamara needed to show he was back to 100%, and he delivered!  I missed him, didn’t you??  But then Latavius Murray had a down week.  Can we have a game where they BOTH go off??  (See below) Regardless of that wish, it feels good having both of them healthy and confident for the first time all season.  What we need is to have Deonte Harris back from his hamstring injury so that Kamara won’t be fielding punts anymore, and Taysom Hill needs to definitely not return kickoffs.  I’m getting the sneaking suspicion that guys like Lattimore and Harris are being rested until Thanksgiving.  Sean Payton will not be losing that game.

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This offense does feel like it’s adapting and starting to gel.  Again, to be clear, I’m not talking about badass Saints offense, but grinding out and having about 5-10 moments for the highlight reels, yes totally doable.  I’d really just like to sneak into camp and get to the bottom of the Tre’quan/Dez Bryant/Kirkwood/Emmanuel Butler stories.  Because for some reason, Tre’quan just isn’t getting the targets.  I feel pretty good though about the whys.  Drew’s and Tre’quan’s injuries have delayed chemistry building, Tre’quan’s health has delayed progression and important reps, Michael Thomas’ absolutely insane ability to do everything he does takes targets away, Teddy’s time starting had less check downs to Smith, etc etc.  I think Tre should jump ahead of Ginn and be the true number 2 receiver.  Theeeeen, he’s possibly seen sooner on check downs, has better opportunities, and perhaps it frees up Ginn more in the long run (pun intended).  

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What more can I say about this defense?  Cam Jordan and Demario Davis alone have been spectacular.  But week to week, they have stepped up tremendously.  And with Lattimore out, Eli Apple and PJ Williams had a simply remarkable game against the Bucs’ receivers, who are easily one of the best receiving corps in the league.  You know the “old” saying, “Defenses win super bowls”?  Well, if that’s really true, get ready NFL, winter is coming, but unlike in Game of Thrones, this time it’s coming from the south.  Speaking of the south, we have another NFC South rivalry this weekend.

THE PRECLINE:

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The 5-5 Carolina Panthers come to New Orleans this Sunday.  Needless to say, it’s a must win game for them, so expect a scrappy Carolina team.  I don’t expect this game to be an upset like Atlanta a few weeks ago, however.  The Saints are simply a better team, and they have the Falcons loss fresh on their brains to remind them what can happen when you slack.  Surprisingly, the Panthers defense is not what it once was, and they’ve eroded in a way similar to the Saints’ offense.  The big difference here is OUR defense vs their offense.

Stop Christian McCaffrey and this game with become embarrassing.  But easier said than done.  No one has really done that this year…until Sunday.  I think the Saints defense has been waiting for a challenge like this, and our secondary is strong enough to stop Kyle Allen’s adorable air attack.  It’s also a rivalry game, so expect turnovers to be a huge factor.  On paper or just the feel of the seasons, this is New Orleans’ game to lose.  We’re simply the better team, and they’re a salty rival.  Close finish.

SAINTS 25 – PANTHERS 20

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