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Saints and Sinners: Week 15 at Carolina

For the third straight week, the New Orleans Saints were sputtering on offense and hitting on all cylinders on defense. When is the last time that has been the case? The Dome Patrol? Regardless, this level of defensive play is a welcomed sight under Sean Payton. In majority of his seasons since becoming the Saints’ head coach in 2006, the offense has been Super Bowl caliber, but were only let down by defenses that ranked in the bottom five of the NFL. Well, it is 2018 and not only do the Saints have a defense that can help win games when the offense is not perfect, they have a defense that can single handily win them games when the offense is at their worst. After allowing 34.3 points per game in their first three games, who would have thought we would be watching a unit that has now shutout opposing offenses in the second half for 3 straight games…ON THE ROAD?! Despite fully believing that they would find their groove and start playing better like they did in 2017, never could I have imagined this.

Saints

Alvin Kamara

It was far from one of those stat-filling games that we have come to expect from Kamara, but he was easily the most effective offensive player for the Saints on what was another tough night on that side of the ball. He was the Saints’ leading rusher and their only player to find the end zone. It was his vision, decisiveness, and quick feet that helped him bounce his 16 yard touchdown run to the outside in the 4th quarter. He also tied for the team lead in receptions
with 7, next to Michael Thomas. Clearly his touchdown was important, but his 50 yard kickoff return, which came directly after the Panthers took a 7-0 lead, is right up there for biggest plays of the game. That set the Saints up with great field position, leading to a field goal to answer back and not allow Carolina to hold all of the momentum early on.

Will Clapp

In his first game active, the rookie was thrown in to the first when Jermon Bushrod went down, forcing Andrus Peat to kick out to left tackle. At that point, Clapp was put in the middle of the aforementioned Peat, who rarely sees time at tackle and has proven to be a much better NFL guard, and Cameron Tom, who was also filling in for a starter after Max Unger suffered a concussion. Not only did Clapp hold his own, but he finished as the Saints’ second highest rated player by Pro Football Focus with a 78.2 rating. After being selected in the 7th round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Clapp showed why Coach Payton not only drafted him, but why he trusted him with a spot on the active roster.

Demario Davis

In what has now become a routine, Davis led the way for this defense by doing a little bit of everything. First, he led the team with 8 tackles, helping keep the dynamic Christian McCaffery to just 3.5 yards per rush. Next, he had 2 passes defended in coverage. Finally, he played a factor in the pass rush, coming up with a sack, but most importantly, a huge hit on Cam Newton on what ended up being the final offensive play for the Panthers. Carolina faced a 4th and 5 at their own 39 yard line, when Newton had to quickly and inaccurately throw to Ian Thomas because of Davis’ pressure. The pass was well behind Thomas, falling incomplete and sealing the game for New Orleans

Vonn Bell

Bell quite possibly had his best game of his young NFL career. He has been playing at a much higher level all season, but this performance was special. His 78.8 rating for the game from Pro Football Focus ranks him second on the defense. He was second on the team with 7 tackles, but that was far from it. He single handily changed both Panther possessions on each side of the Saints 4th quarter touchdown drive. Carolina was sitting on a 7-6 lead and had the ball at midfield, when DJ Moore took a handoff and broke free for a 22 yard gain deep in to New Orleans territory. Bell showed tremendous hustle, tracking Moore down from behind and punching the ball from his possession for AJ Klein to recover. Drew Brees and the offense took advantage of the takeaway, going down and taking their first lead with Kamara’s touchdown. Then, after the Panthers stole back the momentum following Donte Jackson’s two-point conversion interception return, Bell came up big, again, to prevent the Carolina offense from having a chance to go tie the game or retake the lead. Once again in Saints territory, the Panthers faced a 3rd and 7, when Bell came flying in on a safety blitz to sack Newton for a 9 yard loss and force a punt. That punt led to the drive that bled most of the clock down, preventing Carolina from having much time to make a desperate comeback.

Eli Apple

Back on the Saints list for the second week in a row, Apple has just gotten better and better since becoming a Saint. I believe I said last week that he had his best game in black and gold against Tampa Bay. Well, he one-upped himself the very next week. His 92.8 grade from Pro Football Focus is the highest of his career. After a Brees pass attempt bounced off of Dan Arnold’s hands and in to Carolina cornerback James Bradberry’s late in the first half, the Panthers were set up with great field position and a chance to add to their 7-6 lead going in to halftime. A few plays later, Newton targeted Apple in one-on-one coverage with Devin Funchess in the end-zone. Bad decision. The young cornerback was step for step with his receiver, whipped his head around, boxed out, and out-leapt Funchess to come down with an interception to save the Saints some points. He also had two passes defended on crucial 3rd downs, one of which came on the play before New Orleans forced the late game turnover on
downs to seal the game.

Honorable Mention: Taysom Hill

It was a fairly quiet night for the Swiss Army Knife, but he did once again find a way to give his team a spark that would lead to their first touchdown. On a read-option keeper, Hill broke free for a 17 yard run to get down to the Panther 23 yard line. Two plays later, Alvin Kamara sprinted in to the end zone for what ended up being the game-winning touchdown. It may nothave been a punt block, but do not underestimate just how important to this team Taysom Hill can be. This is just another example.

Sinners

Tommy Lee Lewis

I hate to have to put a guy on the Sinners list for one single play, but when that one single play was such a turn of events at the most crucial point in the game, I have no choice. Tommy Lee Lewis was only a yard away from what could have been a game-sealing touchdown, but we all know what happened, instead. While his arms were out-stretched and reaching for the goal line, Lewis had the ball knocked out of his hands and through the end zone for a touchback,
giving Carolina a chance. Thankfully, the Saints defense is the real deal and stepped up, but what a scary chain of events. He admitted after the game that he was trying to do too much, which is exactly where Lewis went wrong. That was THE ONE thing that you could not have happen in that situation. Especially considering that it was not a goal-to-go situation and he probably already had a first down when he stretched out. Nevertheless, it did not come back to haunt the team, so for now, no harm, no foul.

Marcus Williams/Kurt Coleman

I find it really hard to put anyone from the defense on this list after a performance like this, but the blown coverage on Christian McCaffery’s halfback pass for a touchdown just can not happen. Williams was credited for having the coverage on the touchdown, but it is hard to tell without knowing if Chris Manhertz was his or Coleman’s responsibility. I completely understand wanting to make a play, which I would much rather than lackadaisical effort, but assignments
are assignments and when someone does not cover theirs, things like this happen. Thankfully, like Lewis’ blunder, it did not end up being the deciding play in a loss and was, instead, an unfortunate mistake in a win.

Conclusion

I can not state enough just how much fun I am having watching this team’s defense right now. Do not get me wrong, I still love when Brees and the boys get the offense pumping and dropping 40 points on everyone, but having to watch the defense line up against opposing offenses is no longer stressful. It is now…a pleasure.

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