Just four games into the Saints’ 2017 season and we’ve already experienced peaks and valleys. The first two games looked like we were staying the course from years past while the next two make it look like we’ve turned the corner and are heading for greener pastures of takeaways, defense, and wins. We have a bye week here in week 5 and then dive right into some tough competition. So let’s take a moment to embrace where we are at this moment and build some hype to help us get through the week off. We’ll start with the Offense and I’ll be back later in the week with some Defensive spotlights.
The Saints are now only the third team in NFL history to not have committed a turnover in the first four games of a season. Drew Brees is looking like his same deadly accurate, master passer, apparently “declining” self having now thrown for 1,135 yards and 8 touchdowns on a 69.1% completion percentage- all of which are top 5 numbers through the first quarter of the season. He’s on pace to pass for more than 4,500 yards for the eighth year in a row. Having only been sacked 4 times, he shouldn’t have much trouble keeping in command of the game if the offensive line continues to play as well.
The Saints are currently just outside of the top 5 in total offense with 1,482 yards but are third in passing yards. The team is currently 16th in points per game, but that’s what happens when you don’t have to outscore your opposition and your defense holds up. Don’t look at this as a sign of the offense not clicking, it’s just the result of the gameplan when ahead for most of the game. Though, things will likely pick up even more for the offense with the returns of Terron Armstead and Willie Snead on the way. Brees is also staying true to his nature as a QB that spreads the ball around. His 8 touchdowns have gone to 5 different receivers and he has completed passes to 10 different receivers including every RB and TE on the roster.
Our boy Michael Thomas, hallowed be thy name, is looking good again this year. He’s top ten in receptions, targets, yards, and yards per game. His two touchdowns make him tied with an uber long list for third. He’s been imposing his will on defensive backs so far this season and playing at a high level. According to PFF, Brees had a 151.6 passer rating when targeting Thomas in the week 3 matchup against the Panthers. Thomas has now had three straight games with 5+ catches for more than 87 yards. Look for him to keep up that productivity with the offense now being able to spread the ball a lot more thanks to the return of Snead and a new offensive weapon that’s been mad impressive.
Rookie Alvin Kamara is earning his fair share of attention. It makes sense you see that he has quietly been second in the team’s receiving yards, receptions, targets, and rushing yards. He’s becoming every bit of what the Saints brass had hoped for when they traded up to snag him in this year’s draft. Drawing the inevitable comparisons to Reggie Bush is nice, but he’s also been drawing weightier comparisons from Coach Payton and others who are paralleling his talent with that of 2011 Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. Kamara was also oft compared to Philadelphia Eagles playmaker Brian Westbrook. He’s being used all over the field. He’s been lined up at wideout, thrown to in the sometimes overused screen game, used as a decoy, and is even running between the tackles. His ability to run between the tackles is an element of his game that many still overlook. He did a great job in London taking a shovel pass and patiently letting the play develop in front of him before reaching paydirt. The week prior, he scored the Saints’ only rushing touchdown so far this season on another patient display against the Panthers. Great discipline from the young guy that’s taking over the Saints running game while simultaneously contributing to the unpredictability this offense thrives on.
New addition Ted Ginn Jr. is doing his fair share as well. Despite already having dropped some critical passes in the earlier two games, he turned it on in Carolina with two catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. He also made a beautiful leaping back-shoulder catch(!) in the Dolphins game for a gain of 21. His value also comes with his ability to get outside in the running game averaging 9.7 yards per carry on the occasional jet sweep or reverse. He’s yet to break it big on a punt return, and even though it isn’t, his 9 yards per return average feels like an improvement from last season knowing the explosive potential Ginn possess. Ginn is currently third in receiving yards behind Thomas and Kamara, but expect that to shift with the Willie Snead’s return.
The redemption year for Coby Fleener seemed to be well under way after catching a touchdown pass in each of the two opening games. The last two, he’s combined for 3 catches for 42 yards. Which ain’t bad numbers, it’s just a matter of the gameplan and what he’s being asked to do in certain game situations. He was targeted 6 times against Minnesota and 4 times against New England. Against Carolina, he was only targeted once and then 4 times again against the Dolphins. That’s 10 targets over two losses vs. half as many over 2 wins. Fleener is doing what we had so much trouble trying to convince Jimmy Graham of for his tenure in New Orleans. No, not what offensive pass interference is. I mean what it means to play with a team. Fleener’s held his own in the pass and run protection and has been a great piece for us in drawing the attention of opposing linebakers to open up that sometime infuriating screen game we love so much. However, he did get credit for a great block on Reshad Jones last Sunday but reality is that Alvin Kamara simply destroyed his ankles. RIP.
The Adrian Peterson experiment has yet to take the form of anything really. Through four games he has 27 carries for 81 yards. That means he’s on pace to rush for 324 yards this season. It’s obvious that he’s frustrated with his role in New Orleans, and who could blame him? He’s a future Hall of Famer splitting time with two young, and more talented backs. It’s not like he came into the Saints fold knowing that he’d be splitting time or anything. Oh. He did? Well, such is life. Peterson hasn’t shown a propensity for the gameplan just yet, but it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments come with the bye week. It’s worth mentioning that lots of trade candidates are popping up. Including the now RB-less Minnesota Vikings who just lost Dalvin Cook for the season. Seattle also just lost Chris Carson and might be in the market as well. As a team that we’ve dealt with before (Thanks for Unger, ‘Hawks, how’s Jimmy working out for you?) I could see them being a suitor should we choose to bail out on the experiment before the trade deadline. Despite spending the seemingly entire offseason talking about how good AD is at catching passes, he’s only been targeted 3 times, hauling in 2 receptions for 4 yards. The good news is that he does look healthy, it’s just about finding out what he still has the ability to make happen and how to utilize that.
Mark Ingram is our lead rusher, no surprise there. With 170 rushing yards, he’s on pace for 680 this year. A far cry from his first 1,000 yard year last season. But there’s still time for that to turn around. If moving Peterson does become the option, that would increase Ingram’s workload a bit, splitting only with Kamara who only has 17 carries on the year. Ingram still shows a ton of explosiveness and playmaking ability. He’s still got that duality he had last year as a fast back that welcomes contact. He’s fun to watch and is obviously the head of the running committee. He’s also added 15 receptions for 125 yards, putting him near 300 all-purpose yards already, which is kind of his calling card. He’s seemed positive about his role, which I guess is easy when you’re the main guy.
The Offensive Line has done a great job protecting Brees so far this season as well. They’ve only allowed 4 sacks total (1 per game). That’s fourth least in the league when protecting a QB with more than 30 pass attempts. They’ve also supported a run game that’s averaged 94.0 yards per game. Thought that’s 22nd in the NFL, it’s not bad for a team that has the 11th least rushing attempts when Tampa Bay, Miami, Kansas City, and Washington have all played one fewer game (at this time). Despite the injuries to Armstead and Strief, the O-line just seems to have an answer. Thanks to the versatility rookie Ryan Ramczyk who can play both tackle positions already and third year mane Andrus Peat, the line has been able to hold firm without a couple of veteran starters. We still don’t know the severity of Strief’s knee injury, but are expecting that Armstead might return after the bye.
All-in-all, we’ve got a lot to look forward to this year from our offense. There was some concern that we wouldn’t find out rhythm, but looks like we might be over that hump now. In the weeks after the bye, we’ll certainly need some offensive power. While our defense has put on a show these last two weeks, we’ll need to score to get past Detroit and Green Bay. If things continue trending upward and we make the right adjustments during the bye week though, that might not be much of a problem at all. Check in later this week when I highlight some of the defensive standouts, of which there are many. And we can only be grateful for that.