With the overwhelming majority of football fans, analysts, and talking heads all but writing off the Saints while Drew Brees recovers from thumb surgery, the black and gold showed up and showed out for one of their most impressive victories in the Sean Payton era. Beating the Seahawks in Seattle is an impressive feat when your team is completely healthy and firing on all cylinders, but doing so the week after losing your Hall-of-Fame quarterback and having been on the road for 10 straight days is praiseworthy. One thing was clear on Sunday. The Saints are not feeling sorry for themselves.
This will be my favorite type of Saints and Sinners to write. Lots of praise and not much to harp on. There is probably twice as many players deserving to be on the “Saints” list, but for the sake of quality, I’ll stick to *only* nine. While no one on the team really played bad enough to negatively impact what the team was trying to do, I am going to briefly discuss one “sinner”. We will get to that later, though. Let’s have some fun, first.
When doing this weekly blog, I typically go though the Saints and Sinners lists in the same order. Offense, then defense, then special teams. Deonte Harris deserves to be talked about first, because, well, he was the first player to make a huge play that led to Sunday’s big win. The defense set the tone out of the gate by forcing a three and out and making Seattle punt from deep in their own territory. Harris cashed in on the opportunity for a returnable punt, going untouched for a 53 yard score. He did muff a punt in the third quarter that gave the ball back to the Seahawks with great field position, but the defense forced a turnover on downs, bailing out the rookie. Don’t look now, but the Saints have a legitimate threat in the return game now.
It’s not often that we’ll praise a Saints quarterback who threw for less than 200 yards, but that is exactly what I am doing today. Making his first meaningful start since a 2015 playoff game with the Minnesota Vikings, Teddy Bridgewater did EXACTLY what the team needed him to do on Sunday. No one could realistically expect him to put up the numbers that Drew Brees does, but it was imperative that he, at the very least, did not make mistakes. He succeeded on that front, not taking a single sack or turning the ball over once to a team that led the NFL in 2018 with a +15 turnover margin. Not only are the Seahawks a very good team and play in one of the toughest environments in the NFL, but it literally rained from kickoff to the clock hit 00:00. None of that affected Bridgewater, as he protected the ball and made the throws he needed to make to keep the Saints balanced enough to score three offensive touchdowns. Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael also deserve credit for constructing a perfect game plan to help Teddy get away from his habit of holding on to the ball for too long at times. Not only did he do a much better job of getting rid of the ball quicker, but he vastly improved at navigating inside of the pocket and helping his offensive line help him. If Bridgewater can replicate the ability to protect the ball, the Saints are capable of winning each game on their schedule until Brees returns.
If you are like me, you have spent 14 years watching Drew Brees do remarkable things and still leave you wondering, “How the hell did he just do that?” Well, I believe we are set to go through the exact same shock and awe witnessing the things Alvin Kamara does with the ball throughout his career. The simplest way to explain the type of player he is, is with one word. Special. He is just down right special. With 161 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, Kamara put the offense on his back. He put a multitude of Seattle defenders on their own chests and backs, forcing twelve missed tackles. TWELVE! He was undoubtedly the best football player in the stadium on Sunday, which is no disrespect to anyone else on either roster. He was just that good. It is performances like this that give the Saints a chance to win any game, even with Brees on the sideline. Each week, Sean Payton will have to walk the fine line of putting the ball in Kamara’s hands enough times to let him do his thing and impact the game, but not overworking him to a point that will affect his play later in the season. Thankfully, when he’s averaging 6.4 yards per touch, he can make his presence felt without overworking him.
Terron Armstead/Ryan Ramczyk
The entire offensive line deserves credit for how well they protected Bridgewater, but Armstead and Ramczyk get the shout out for making Jadeveon Clowney invisible. Clowney lines up at both defensive end positions, so both tackles got their shot at blocking the pass rushing stud and both delivered. They nearly gave him the J.J. Watt treatment of keeping him completely off of the stat sheet, but he was able to record a single tackle to prove that he actually was on the field. This performance is reassuring with another elite pass rusher in Demarcus Lawrence coming to town with the Cowboys this Sunday.
After finding himself on the “Sinners” list following the season opener, Davenport has delivered two very good games. Although he was unable to record a sack on Russell Wilson, he was beating his blocker fairly often. Wilson’s elusiveness was simply at it’s peak on Sunday. Davenport was also very active against the run, which, of course, is a welcomed sight considering that is the weaker part of his game. His seven tackles was twice as much as he has recorded in any other game through his young career, so far.
For the past 14 years, Drew Brees has been the unquestioned leader of this franchise. That’s not to say that there has not been other leaders on the team throughout the years, because there has been, but it always starts with Brees. Not only was #9 absent from the field on Sunday, but he was not even able to be on the sideline or with the team since they left Los Angeles a week prior. With that being the case, others had to step up. Davis seemed eager to answer that call. Starting with a pregame speech that could give an Eskimo chills, Davis played one of his best games as a Saint. The defensive front played much better against the run than they had in the first two games, but on the few plays where there seemed to be a hole on the line for Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise, Davis was there to fill it in a hurry. He was tied for second on the team with 9 tackles and was routinely the first man to meet the ball carrier on some important short yardage situations. He continues to etch his name as one of the best free agent signings in franchise history.
Due to some pretty bad defensive backs that have worn the black and gold throughout the Sean Payton era, it has become a sad tradition of trashing the secondary any chance they get for some of the Who Dat Nation. Apple has often been the unfortunate recipient of said trashing since being traded to New Orleans last year, despite being one of the best CB2s for the Saints in recent memory. You won’t find that here, though, because I have been a big supporter of Apple since day one. Just like anyone on the team, I will criticize them when they deserve it, but I firmly believe Apple has been significantly underrated in his time in New Orleans. For example, he has only allowed 4 receptions through the first three games of the season this year. Did you know that? Even as an Apple supporter, even I didn’t. It is because he just doesn’t get talked about much in a positive way very often. I want to do my best to change that, because he is playing very well. Russell Wilson completed 32 passes for 406 yards and 2 touchdowns on Sunday. How much of that did Apple give up? Just 32 yards on one reception and even that one catch was not his fault. On a play in zone coverage, he had to follow Tyler Lockett in to Marcus Williams’ zone because Williams jumped an intermediate route. Had Apple not recognized it and ran with Lockett, it would have been a busted play for a touchdown. Speaking of touchdowns, it was a hustle play the cornerback, chasing down Chris Carson from behind and punching the ball out that led to a recovery for a touchdown. Apple was simply all over on Sunday. I truly believe that he will continue to improve in his fourth year as a pro and second in Dennis Allen’s scheme.
Vonn Bell seems to get better and better each week. He was been a plus defender against the run since his rookie year, but his range and coverage ability against the pass has been impressive. Not only was he tied with Davis for second on the team with 9 tackles, but it was Bell that instinctively scooped up Apple’s forced fumble and returned it to the house for the team’s first defensive touchdown of the year.
When you are missing a Hall-of-Famer like Drew Brees, you need good performances from every phase you can get to secure wins like Sunday’s. Morstead stepped up to do just that, putting four of his six punts inside Seattle’s 20 yard line, including two of them inside of the 4 yard line. He had a long of 64 yards, which is top-5 in the NFL through the first three games.
As promised, here we are to stay realistic and acknowledge that Sunday’s performance was not flawless for the team and there is room for improvement from a guy that was expected to do big things in his first year in New Orleans. Let me preface this by stating that I do believe that the veteran tight end gets things together and becomes a big factor in this offense for the second half of the season and potentially the playoffs. He dealt with some nagging injuries during training camp that took away crucial reps to get comfortable in his new offense. Then, the Brees injury happens and he has to continue finding comfort learning a new scheme, while also learning a new quarterback for the second time in two months. Bridgewater delivered what was probably his best thrown ball of the day on a back shoulder pass to Cook on a critical third down late in the 3rd quarter. He simply did not get his head around as fast as he should have, the pass fell incomplete, the Saints had to punt, and the Seahawks went down the field for a touchdown. Thankfully, it all worked out, but third downs like that will be important for New Orleans to maximize their chances to win games with Brees on the sideline.
That will do it for this one, folks. It is always 10 times more fun to write about a win, especially one of this magnitude. So, if you run in to any of the players during your daily routine, make sure to tell them that Dave said to keep it up so I can deliver the best Saints and Sinners possible to you guys. All jokes aside, though, I appreciate you guys stopping by and showing love and support. I know my Twitter handle is below, but make sure to follow me at @DCBilliotJr, because I also do weekly live Periscopes talking all things Saints. It gives me a chance to hear from you guys and let me answer your questions and/or respond to your thoughts in real time. We have a ton of fun doing them, so be sure to keep an eye out on my Twitter for when I will be live. The next one will likely be tomorrow evening/night, but follow me to know for sure. Thank y’all!