The Saints Are Subtly Beginning To Resemble Another Franchise
They're beginning to look a lot like an AFC team
- The New Orleans Saints are beginning to look more and more like the New England Patriots due to their dominance on both sides of the ball, elite head coaches, Hall of Fame quarterbacks and prolonged success.
- The Saints are one of two teams with an offense and defense in the top eight of Football Outsiders’ DVOA metrics.
- The Saints went 5-0 record without Drew Brees as the starter which was reminiscent of the Patriots’ 2016 success (3-1) without Tom Brady. Therefore, the systems put in place by Sean Payton and Bill Belichick, respectively, have withstood the test of time.
- Just like New England is the class of the AFC, New Orleans is emerging as the class of the NFC.
The Hall Of Fame Quarterback Is Back
Drew Brees returned after missing five games to lead the Saints offense and looked like he didn’t miss a beat. In the first half, Brees led the Saints to gain at least 45 yards on four of their five drives, but a missed field goal and a holding penalty to end the first half cost the Saints at least six points. Nonetheless, they led 10-6 at halftime over Arizona. After an interception on the first Saints drive of the second half, Brees threw touchdowns on three of the following four Saints drives to give the Saints a commanding 31-9 win.
Brees completed 34-of-43 attempts for 373 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for a 116.4 passer rating. The offensive line did a great job of keeping Brees clean as he was not sacked, and the Arizona defense recorded just three quarterback hits. With Alvin Kamara sidelined with knee and ankle injuries, Latavious Murray stepped up as the starting running back with 21 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. He also was a receiving threat out of the backfield with nine receptions on 12 targets for 55 yards and another touchdown. Michael Thomas led all Saints receivers with 11 receptions on all 11 of his targets for 112 yards, seven first downs and a touchdown. When he lined up against one of the NFL’s best cover corners in Patrick Peterson, Thomas had four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Saints were just as impressive as Brees and the offense. Cameron Jordan recorded another sack and now is fourth in the NFL with 8.0 sacks this season. He led a Saints front seven that teed off on an Arizona backfield without David Johnson and lost Chase Edmonds with a hamstring injury during the game. Consequently, the Saints allowed the Cardinals to rush for just 40 yards on 11 carries. CJ Gardner-Johnson stood out for the Saints as he surrendered just three catches for 11 yards on six targets in coverage as the nickel corner. Kyler Murray completed 19-of-33 pass attempts for 220 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. After keeping the Cardinals out of the end zone, the Saints defense has allowed just two touchdowns in their last three games.
Dominance In All Phases
The Saints are one of two teams with an offense and defense in the top eight of Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metrics. Keep in mind, this is with Teddy Bridgewater leading the offense for five and a half of their first seven games. The Saints have scored 30 or more points in five of their eight games on offense. Defensively, they have not allowed a single team to score 30 points this season.
Over the last five games, the Saints defense has taken their game to a new level. They have allowed a measly 14.8 points per game, 244.8 total yards per game and 54.2 rushing yards per game while allowing offenses to convert just 15 of 62 third down conversions. They have also recorded 15 sacks, 27 quarterback hits and six turnovers in that span.
The System Has Prevailed
Just as the Patriots went 3-1 with Tom Brady suspended for Deflategate in 2016, the Saints had success with Brees sidelined as they went 5-0 in that span. To be fair, the Patriots suffered another injury to Jimmy Garoppolo that forced third stringer Jacoby Brissett into action. Nonetheless, Bridgewater’s wins at Seattle and against previously undefeated Dallas are just as impressive if not more impressive than any of those wins by the Patriots with Brady suspended.
Strong defense has led the way for the Saints this season just as those Belichick units have helped Brady (and replacements) over the years. The next-man-up mentality has prevailed in New Orleans with both backfield positions thus far in 2019 with the offense clicking despite losses to Kamara and Brees. Not only have their backups stepped up, but so has the rest of the team, especially the offensive line and the defense. The offensive line has allowed just 12 sacks this season, seventh best in the NFL. Defensively, the Saints rank sixth in total yards per game allowed, second in rushing yards per game allowed, fourth in defensive third down percentage and sixth in sacks. As a result, Vegas lists them as the favorite to conquer last season’s demons and make it to the Super Bowl this year.
Like the Patriots of years past, the Saints not only have an elite quarterback and defense, but they also have the best pass catcher at his position in the NFL. The Patriots dominated with the best tight end in NFL history, Rob Gronkowski, and the Saints have the best receiver in the league right now: Thomas. He leads the NFL in several categories including his 73 receptions (13 more than anyone else), 875 receiving yards and 45 first down receptions. Keep in mind he has only caught passes from Drew Brees for two full games this season. His second half numbers could be even more ridiculous with a healthy Brees leading the way. Furthermore, Alvin Kamara, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, will have time to get healthy with the bye week coming up. Kamara has yet to record a 100-yard rushing performance this season.
Like the Patriots (who take away what opposing teams do best on a weekly basis), the Saints can win in a variety of ways. Once Kamara is back, the Saints offense will have the best combination of talent at the quarterback, running back and receiver positions in the league. The Saints will have an unbelievable amount of versatility on offense with two running backs in Kamara and Murray who can both run the ball and pose as receiving threats out of the backfield (once again, Murray had nine catches this week!).
Speaking of versatility, Taysom Hill gives this offense another threat that can line up anywhere as a quarterback, running back, tight end or receiver. The Saints can win games in shootouts like they did in Week 1 against the Texans (30-28) or in low-scoring bloodbaths as they did without Brees against the Cowboys (12-10) in Week 4. However, with Brees back at the helm with one of the best play callers in the NFL in Sean Payton, don’t expect the Saints to participate in many low-scoring games going forward.
Unlike this year’s Patriots, the Saints have won consistently against good teams. The Saints have the ninth toughest strength of schedule thus far, while the Patriots have had the easiest schedule by far among all NFL teams. After a bye in Week 9, the Saints have a relatively-easy schedule in the second half of the season.
They play a division-heavy schedule in their second half starting with four consecutive games against NFC South opponents in November. The Saints can lock up the division if they sweep through November (which is far from a lock), and a huge matchup against the 49ers (in New Orleans) looms in the first week of December. If the Saints can win these crucial next five games, the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC will run through the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, just as the road through the AFC has traditionally run through Foxborough.