NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints have now rallied from deficits of 14-Zero and 20-Three the previous two weeks after an exhilarating 30-27 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday evening.
That’s the sort of stuff that may construct momentum and salvage a season. But it surely can also’t masks the truth that the 3-2 Saints are a pair hairs away from being 1-Four heading into their bye week.
If you throw in all of the accidents the Saints have handled on this younger season, the bye couldn’t come at a greater time.
Listed below are the highest 5 issues that almost all should be mounted for New Orleans to salvage this season and make an actual postseason run:
1. Get Michael Thomas again (in additional methods than one)
The Saints’ offense has carried out in spurts this season (together with the final 40 minutes or so of Monday evening’s win). However for those who’ve watched intently, it has been a clunky, inconsistent operation from week to week.
For example, Drew Brees ranks 33rd amongst 34 NFL quarterbacks who’ve began at the very least two video games this 12 months with simply 33.6 passing yards per sport within the first quarter, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Data, earlier than turning it up within the second half.
Whether or not or not you imagine that Brees is displaying indicators of a steep decline at age 41, it’s apparent that he might use an enormous, bodily go-to goal like Thomas, who caught a NFL-record 149 passes final 12 months and gained the league’s Offensive Participant of the Yr award.
Thomas was sidelined from Weeks 2 to Four with an ankle damage. However now there may be all of a sudden an much more regarding subject: Thomas was benched for Week 5 after throwing a punch at Saints security C.J. Gardner-Johnson throughout final Friday’s observe and Thomas reportedly was disrespectful to coaches afterward.
Thomas’ intense/aggressive/flamable character has by no means been a secret. But it surely’s important for the Saints that he responds properly to being admonished so publicly. The Saints want Thomas to be a driving pressure of their restoration — not a disruptive one.
Coach Sean Payton declined to debate Thomas after Monday’s victory, saying he most popular to debate “the gamers that performed tonight.”
However Brees expressed confidence that Thomas could be “an enormous a part of this workforce transferring ahead” and that “we’re gonna be all good.”
2. Cease the bleeding within the secondary
Rely me amongst those that thought the Saints’ talent-rich secondary could be a energy this season. As a substitute, they’ve allowed 10 passes of 29-plus yards this season, which is tied for the second-most within the NFL. Additionally they lead the league by a mile with eight defensive move interference penalties of 19-plus yards.
Monday was a low level. The Saints allowed a 17-yard landing move from rookie Chargers QB Justin Herbert to receiver Keenan Allen behind security Marcus Williams when Herbert escaped a seven-man blitz within the first quarter. Then they allowed a 49-yard move from Herbert to receiver Jalen Guyton behind cornerback Marshon Lattimore within the second quarter. Then they allowed a 64-yard TD move from Herbert to receiver Mike Williams within the fourth quarter on an apparent breakdown when cornerback Patrick Robinson anticipated security assist that by no means got here. Then they allowed a 29-yard move from Herbert to Mike Williams in opposition to tight protection within the closing seconds of regulation that arrange a failed game-winning field-goal try.
Lattimore did wind up enjoying hero in additional time when he tackled Mike Williams within the open discipline 1 yard wanting the first-down marker on fourth down. And the Saints’ secondary has been hurting with out fellow starter Janoris Jenkins due to a shoulder damage the previous two weeks.
However the sheer quantity of those game-changing chunk performs is inexcusable — they usually’re an enormous cause the Saints rank among the many NFL’s backside seven scoring defenses (permitting 30.Zero factors per sport).
“We’ve received to get on prime of 1,” Payton mentioned. “It’s one thing that we’ll be capable of clear up, and it’s one thing that we’ve to. There are some things offensively and defensively that I don’t need to say have plagued us — however we haven’t been pretty much as good at within the first quarter of the season.”
In the meantime, on the flip aspect, the Saints’ protection is not making sufficient huge performs of its personal. They’ve pressured solely two turnovers previously 4 video games — tied for the bottom quantity within the NFL over that span.
3. Get Brees going earlier in video games
We talked about above how lackluster Brees’ performances have been within the first quarter of video games. Nicely, it’s the precise reverse within the second half, the place Brees’ passer ranking of 113.eight ranks third-best within the NFL.
Monday was maybe the most important disparity so far. Brees was 7-of-15 for 43 yards and an interception earlier than he lastly caught hearth throughout a two-minute landing drive earlier than halftime. He completed 33-of-47 for 325 yards with a TD move and a TD run.
Brees has been below heavy scrutiny this 12 months for his lack of downfield throws — with longtime NFL analysts and informal followers each suggesting he has lastly began to behave his age. Brees’ 5.9 air yards per try ranks 32nd amongst 33 qualifying quarterbacks this 12 months, in keeping with ESPN Stats & Data.
However Brees has scoffed on the significance of that statistic. And let’s face it — his downfield arm energy has hardly been a defining trait over the previous two years, when he was nonetheless savvy sufficient to put up the 2 finest passer scores and completion percentages of his profession.
And he can nonetheless dial up the deep ball from time to time — as he did with an important 41-yard TD move to tight finish Jared Cook within the fourth quarter Monday.
But when Brees doesn’t flash that extra typically, groups will begin focusing increasingly on taking away his safety blanket, pass-catching RB Alvin Kamara.
4. Cease the penalty insanity
This can be a comparatively new growth for New Orleans in 2020, but it surely has been painfully constant all through every of the primary 5 weeks. The Saints lead the NFL by far with 458 penalty yards this 12 months and lead the league with 22 defensive penalties (together with these pricey PI flags talked about above). However on Monday it was the special-teams items that couldn’t get out of their very own method.
Veteran special-teamer Dwayne Washington gave the Chargers new life on an early TD drive when he bumped into the punter. And second-team All-Professional specialist J.T. Gray was inexplicably flagged 3 times for holding on punt returns — together with one which nullified a 33-yard return.
By the tip of final season, New Orleans’ Swiss Military QB/RB/TE/WR felt like one of the vital thrilling gamers on its offense. Within the Saints’ playoff loss to Minnesota, Hill had a 50-yard move, 4 rushes for 50 yards and two catches for 25 yards and a landing. Then the Saints signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract extension as a restricted free agent.
However he was ice-cold out of the gates this season till he lastly broke by with a essential 9-yard TD run on a QB keeper with 52 seconds left in regulation Monday evening.
Payton defined once more Monday that he likes utilizing Hill on read-option keepers with Brees on the sideline as a result of it basically offers them an additional participant on offense. However the Saints want extra performs like that, since Hill has accomplished simply 1 of two passes for 38 yards this season; has run the ball 13 instances for simply 46 yards and one TD; and has three catches for 23 yards. He additionally dropped a move Monday evening.
Even with the 9-yard TD run, Hill’s common of three.5 yards per carry remains to be about 2 yards under his profession common. Both Payton must get extra artistic in how he’s utilizing considered one of his most versatile weapons — or Hill and his teammates merely must execute lots higher.