Know Thine Enemy: Same old Saints - lots of O, little D
The New Orleans Saints
Record: 0-1 (lost at Minnesota, 29-19)
2016 record: 7-9
Head coach: Sean Payton
Offensive coordinator: Pete Carmichael
Defensive coordinator: Dennis Allen
The Saints have gone 7-9 in four of the past five seasons. Sean Payton was at the controls for all of them save for 2012 when he was suspended for the year because of Bountygate. Payton, now 53, has been in charge since 2006 and won a Super Bowl in 2009. My math has that at eight seasons ago so you have to figure the end is near if Payton has another .500 or below season. The offense – as usual – will amass yards and points with quarterback Drew Brees (39 in January). He led the NFL in passing yards four of the past five years with his lowest output being 4,870. But they can’t stop anybody. They allowed an average of 28.4 points per game in 2016 (31st in the NFL) which neatly offset their offensive average of 29.3 (2nd in the NFL). Monday night in Minny was a case in point. Brees had a tidy 291-yard game, completing 73 percent of his passes but the Saints defense let Sam Bradford go 27-for-32 for 346 and three touchdowns. Minnesota went 9-for-14 on third down.
The Saints have a big-ass core of receivers led by second-year wideout Michael Thomas (92 catches, 1,137 yards and 9 TDs last year). He’s 6-3, 212 and had five catches in the opener. Willie Snead – who had 72 catches last year – is out the first three games because of a league suspension for a DUI arrest. The Saints are making up for his absence by getting it to their backs a bit more – Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara had nine catches combined in the opener. Tight end Coby Fleener also had five as Brees spread it around. The Saints also have burner Ted Ginn who was 4-53 receiving in the opener. Bill Belichick had such praise for Saints punter Thomas Morstead on Wednesday that Rams punter Johnnie Hekker (who Belichick dubbed “The Weapon” in 2016) is going to feel jealous.
The Saints – who employ a stable of running backs – are going to go through the same process as the Patriots where they pull a bunch of levers to try and exploit or create mismatches. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the right ones. Sometimes you have the right ones and operator error makes the play look bad. Monday night against Minny, Kamara got seven carries while Ingram and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson got six, which earned Payton a mean-mugging from Peterson on the sidelines (at left). The Patriots will probably get a steadier diet of AP. Meanwhile, the Saints had big issues keeping Brees protected in the first half and some of the numbers Brees compiled were an outgrowth of New Orleans falling behind 26-9. Even though the Saints have a new DC in Dennis Allen, the same busts and explosive plays that marked their 2016 season were on display. Their issues were – like some the Patriots had against the Chiefs – communication-related. The Saints were without Terron Armstead (shoulder) in the opener and lost Zach Strief (leg) during the game so those will be spots to keep an eye on this week.
The last time these teams played was in 2013 at Gillette. You'll remember that one as the left-for-dead comeback in which Tom Brady eventually brought the team back for a 30-27 win with a touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins just hours before David Ortiz's grand slam helped upend the Tigers at Fenway. The teams practiced against each other in the 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016 preseasons. Belichick and Payton have a strong relationship while Brady and Brees are both future Hall of Famers who've combined for 72.869 miles of regular-season passing yards.