Welcome to the first Saints and Sinners of the 2019 regular season. Before we get rolling, let me give a brief synopsis of what this weekly blog entails. Each week, I write down notes while watching the game live. I then re-watch the game and try to pinpoint the players that stood out for both positive and negative reasons. The “Saints” are those who stood out and played key roles in whatever success the team had that week. The “sinners”, on the other hand, are those who struggled and stood out for bad reasons. Not only will I discuss individual players, but I will also use position groups and even situational instances, like you will see today.
Coming in to the season with the burden of five straight Week 1 losses on their shoulders, the New Orleans Saints welcomed the Houston Texans to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for a Monday night showdown to kick off 2019. Thanks to some late game heroics, the Saints won their first season opener since 2013 with a 30-28 victory over the Texans. If any of you were not experiencing accelerated heart rates, my unprofessional opinion would be to see a doctor. It was as thrilling of a victory that fans could hope for; one that was much-deserved after the way last season ended. With that being said, let’s get started with the first Saints and Sinners of year.
Starting with anyone else would be disservice. Typically, when Lutz trots on to the field for a field goal, we have become accustomed to being all but sure that the ball is going through the uprights. Even on the 50+ yard attempts, you feel pretty good. With young kicker’s miss from 56 yards at the end of the first half fresh in our minds, along with the shock of seeing the Texans take just two plays to go 75 yards for a touchdown to take the lead, it was logical to feel a sense of doubt. Thankfully, Lutz did not feel that same doubt. Instead, he boomed a career-long 58 yard game winner, that, no doubt, would have been good from 60+. He proved exactly why he was awarded with the highest paying contract an NFL kicker has ever seen this offseason.
To no one’s surprise, this is a name you will often see throughout the season on the “Saints” list. Despite throwing for 370 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a 74.4 completion percentage, Brees got off to a rusty start in the first half. A few inaccurate throws, along with a red-zone interception were part of what kept the Saints offense from putting up more than 3 points in the first half. The switch flipped at halftime, as the future Hall-of-Famer and the gang came out firing on all cylinders. The offense put up 27 second half points, scoring on all but one drive. While Lutz was the hero, it was Brees that executed a flawless 35 second, 35 yard drive to give the kicker the chance.
I promise to knock on wood immediately after this, but does it seem like Kamara just never has a bad game? Entering his third season, he picked up right where he left off and contributed in both the rushing and passing attacks. With 169 all purpose yards, #41 was a big part of the second half resurgence for the offense. His inexplicable balance was on full display, bouncing off of and shedding would-be tacklers all night.
For a man that does so much, there really isn’t much to say here. With 10 catches for 123 yards, Thomas delivered every time he was called upon. He told the media that he was on a mission to prove that he deserves every bit of the 100 million dollar contract that he just received during Training Camp and he got off to a great start, proving why he is worth every dollar.
Ted Ginn Jr
After being dearly missed for most of the regular season in 2018, Ginn showed why he is so valuable to the Saints as their #2 receiver. With 7 catches for 101 yards, he provided the stability behind Thomas that the receiving core needs. Although it was his 41 yard reception on the Saints second to last drive that was his highlight, his two receptions on the final drive to help get in to field goal range were most pivotal.
Coming off of one of the team’s most impressive camp/preseason performances, Hendrickson’s surge carried over in to the regular season opener. Leading the team with two sacks, he was in the backfield and putting heat on Deshaun Watson all night. He was also a lone bright spot for the run defense, which is what’s considered the weaker part of his game. Should he continue to play like this, it will be impossible to keep him off of the field.
It was far from Williams’ best game of his young career, but his interception late in the 3rd quarter was the opportunity that the offense needed to get the Saints their first lead of the game. While I tend to be fairly critical of Williams, I will always tell you that I believe he has all of the tools to become a very good free safety in the league. The range that he showed to make this play is what gives me hope.
If you look at the stats, J.J. Watt didn’t even seem to play. Oh, but he did. Ramczyk was just that dominant. It was the first time in his career that Watt was held without a single stat. He tormented Zach Strief and the Saints four years ago in Houston, but was no where to be found on this night.
Speaking of dominating, McCoy did a little of that, too. Ramczyk earned most of the positive attention for the offensive line after the game, deservedly so, but McCoy’s first NFL start could not have gone better. When I re-watched the game, I paid specific attention to every play of his, being curious to how he did. He was unbelievable. Not only did he stifle his man throughout the night, but he also successfully switched from one man to another, anchoring the interior of the offensive line.
Late Game Secondary
Like Lutz, there is only one place I can start. Sure, everything worked out and the Saints are 1-0, but what happened the last time the defense was on the field simply cannot happen. Watson and the Texans took over on their own 25 yard line, down six, with just 0:50 left on the clock and no timeouts left. They only needed two plays to score. TWO PLAYS. As for the first play, a 38 yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins down the sideline, we don’t know for sure if it was Marshon Lattimore or Marcus Williams at fault. Either Lattimore was expecting Williams’ help over the top or he flat out got beat and was chasing behind Hopkins. Regardless, it can’t happen. On the second play, P.J. Williams got beat in the one place that he couldn’t. Over the top. Again, I am not sure if Williams was expecting help, but, once again, IT CAN’T HAPPEN. Did I get my point across? Good, let’s move on.
After boasting the NFL’s 2nd ranked run defense in 2018, the Saints allowed 180 yards rushing on Monday night. That is 100 yards more than their per-game average last year. Now, obviously, the absence of Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata was a part of this. But, despite that, it was not just in the interior that the defense got gashed. It was around the edges, too. Anything the Texans did on the ground was successful. What made it even more frustrating was the fact that Houston’s offensive line is not great. Also, running behind it was two newly-acquired running backs. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson are both talented runners, but they looked as if they had been part of the team for years. Thankfully, Onyemata returns this week following his one game suspension, so there is some help on the way. Rankins does not appear to be far behind, so keep your fingers crossed that it’s sooner than later.
Like everyone else, I have high hopes for Davenport after a foot injury derailed what was a hot start to his rookie season last year. But, this was sort of a rough one for the athletic, but still raw defensive end. Like I did with Erik McCoy, I specifically watched Davenport on every play that he was on the field when I did my re-watch. He often to washed up field when trying to get to Watson and was routinely sealed when defending the run. No one expected him to be perfect out of the gate, but he has a lot to clean up. The pressure will build even more as long as Trey Hendrickson plays like he did, too.
I won’t go in to extreme detail here, because you have no doubt heard all about the officials messing up, yet again. It has already been admitted that they were at fault, but it thankfully didn’t cost the Saints a game, this time. I’m not holding my breath, but all we can do is hope that the NFL eventually decides that enough is enough and takes action to prevent more errors from affecting the course of games.
That will do it for Week 1, folks. I hope you enjoyed. We’ll meet back here next week to do this all over again after the Saints travel to Los Angeles for a rematch with the Rams. Kickoff is set for 3:25 central on Sunday.