This was the team the Saints fanbase expected to see this season an efficient offense led by Alvin Kamara. A stifling defense led by an aggressive pass rush and a physical, playmaking secondary.
The Saints beat the Raiders 24-0 on Sunday, therefore there are plenty of things to take from this game that could show the Saints are starting to turn a corner and could make a significant run at the NFC South division title.
Is the Secondary Fixed?
Once the strength of this defense, the secondary has not been that so far this season, after Sunday’s game against the Raiders has that changed? not just yet but Sunday was a very encouraging start.
After giving up the most big plays in the league through seven weeks one good performance doesn’t change the narrative but this performance certainly helps and if it continues the Saints secondary will be the dominant force we all expected.
Dennis Allen-led defenses have taken a while previously to get going, generally playing a lot better in the second half of the season than in the first. That could be the case here as well. Allen famously struggled with Malcolm Jenkins’ role after the Saints brought him back, but once they figured it out later in the season the defense took a big step.
That could easily be the case with Tyrann Mathieu, he looks to be playing a lot more around the line scrimmage rather than back-deep, with Maye taking more of the deep safety responsibilities and that fits Mathieu’s skill set a lot more at this stage of his career. This role allows Mathieu to roam and make plays which is exactly what he did in this game, with an interception and a dropped pick-six after he broke on a route and just couldn’t make the catch.
The second massive improvement has been the rookie second-round pick, Alontae Taylor starting at outside corner. Taylor has been nothing short of excellent on the outside, in his two games so far he’s played significant snaps against DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams and barely given up catches to either (zero catches on three targets against Adams this week). Taylor competes like hell on every rep and is always making plays on the ball.
When Lattimore comes back he and Taylor will be a scary tandem on the outside if Taylor continues to play this way.
DA also has more of his starting players in the secondary back which appears to be helping massively, in previous weeks he’s not been able to be as aggressive as he planned with depth players playing meaningful snaps, even more, reinforcements should be in the way. P.J. Williams is expected to return from IR this week and Marson Lattimore is expected back this week or maybe the week after.
The D-Line Played Its Best Game Of The Season
The Saints defensive line was flat-out dominant yesterday against the Raiders, per PFF they had 22 total pressures on Sunday ( 5 sacks, 5 QB hits and 12 pressures) which is 6 more pressures than their season best and pressured Derek Carr on 41.4% of his dropbacks, that was largely due to stellar play up front.
This dominance was in large part due to some new faces stepping up. Payton Turner had 5 total pressures which included 2 sacks. one of those sacks is explained here, it was a really smart play from the second-year player, which is really encouraging to see. (https://twitter.com/dlinevids1/status/1586801847653703680?s=46&t=DaCVhJvxXdNAfvdEekywFA)
David Onyemata had 3 pressures including 1 sack. Shy Tuttle chipped in with 2 pressures, Malcolm Roach had 1 although it seemed like he had more. These are all players that weren’t stepping up earlier in the season, especially Turner, fingers crossed this is a career-changing game that gives him the confidence to push on and show why the Saints drafted him in the first round a year ago.
Marcus Davenport looked to have one of his more dominant games with an emphatic TFL on 3rd and 1 to deny a jet sweep attempt to Adams.
He also had a sack wiped away because of a defensive holding penalty and he looked like he was around Carr all day, somehow PFF only charted him with 1 pressure. We will agree to disagree on that one, Davenport looked dominant all game.
The D-line didn’t just dominate in rushing the passer, they also returned to their old ways against the run, Josh Jacobs rushed for 441 yards in the three games before Sunday. The Saints held him to 43 yards, apart from one rogue 16-yard run, that stat line would have looked even better, there were still some missed tackles which you saw on Jacobs 16-yard run, but for the most part, it looked much better this week. There seemed to be an emphasis on swarming to the ball, something the dominant Saints defenses in the previous year have prided themselves on.
If this version of the d-line turns up every week this defense will be one that strikes fear into every opponent and the Saints will win a lot more games than they lose down the stretch.
Andy Dalton Looks To Be The Right Choice At QB
Dalton isn’t perfect, he was lucky not to be picked off yesterday on a very strange pass down the right sideline, other than that throw Dalton does all the right things that this offense needs.
He gets the ball out quickly, he recognises the blitz and doesn’t let it beat him and most importantly he feeds the team’s playmakers with every opportunity.
Alvin Kamara is back to old ways with Dalton at QB (More on Ak shortly) I firmly believe Dalton’s ability to distribute the ball to his playmakers on time in rhythm is the reason he stayed the starter. This is something Winston has still not proven to be able to do.
Dalton finished with a 73.3% completion percentage that would have been even better if not for 2 drops, on very catchable passes by Chris Olave and Taysom Hill.
Since Dalton has taken over as the starter in week 4 the Saints are sixth in the league in EPA per play, with the weapons the Saints have all they need from their QB is efficiency and limited mistakes, Dalton provided that in spades yesterday.
The Saints O-Line Is Really Really Good
In my matchups to watch article, I highlighted the need to keep Maxx Crosby in check, the Saints more than achieved that, the Saints held Crosby to zero pressures,. Crosby was still effective in the run game, and had 5 total stops per PFF (Defensive Stops – tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense) . But those stats lines are a win for any o-line against a player like Crosby.
The Saints line only gave up 2 pressures all game and these were only pressures, Dalton was not touched at all.
The Saints running game was a focal point of the offense again and that was because of the offensive line. They bullied the Raiders up front, and the Saints ended the day with 32 rushes for 136 yards, averaging 4.3 YPC. Those stats would have looked a lot better if not for some obvious runs at the end of the game going for very little as the Saints were running out the clock.
This line is a serious reason for optimism for years to come- more on that here https://whodathype.com/2022/10/26/saints-offensive-line-in-dark-season/
They were excellent again today, especially RG Cesar Ruiz and RT Ryan Ramczyk who like one of the best right sides of an o-line in the league.
Alvin Kamara Is The Best Player On The Team
Alvin Kamara Stepped up this week in more ways than one, not just with a vintage AK performance (158 total yards and three TDs) but he stepped up as the team’s leader in the locker room.
AK gave a spirited speech in the locker room after the loss to Arizona last Thursday and again spoke up throughout the week in the media. DA committed after the game that he stepped up as every great leader does with actions not just words.
He was the best player on the field on Sunday two his third touchdown (a 36-yard catch) was prime Kamara as he split the Raiders defense and he didn’t even look like he got out of third gear.
All three of AK’s TDs here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGG3OyqzWq8
Kamara is the heartbeat of this team and he should stay that way for years to come.
This was the best-case scenario for the Saints coming out of their ‘mini bye’ they didn’t get the players back they hoped but produced their best performance of the season which gives the team and their fans hope.
The Saints now have another long week, with the next game on Monday night Vs the Ravens, with the hope they will get more key players back and make a real push for the NFC South title.
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