4 Things to Watch when the Saints Return from the Bye
The New Orleans Saints are on a bye this week after a 3-2 start to the season and have won two straight before their bye. New Orleans has scored at least 30 points in four of five games and is 14th in total offensive yardage, averaging 379 yards per game. Quarterback Drew Brees and the passing attack have played better after a slow start and are averaging 263 yards per outing and have made plays down the field the last two games despite the injury absence of All-Pro WR Michael Thomas.
Running backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray pace a rushing attack averaging 115 yards per game to rank 16th in the league. Kamara has an MVP-type of season, with 281 rushing yards, a team-high 38 receptions for 395 yards, and 7 total touchdowns.
Defensively, the Saints rank sixth against the run and seventh in total yardage but rank just 26th in points allowed. They have surrendered just 3.6 yards per rush and have gone 48 consecutive games without allowing a 100-Yd rusher. New Orleans ranks 14th in pass defense, but only one team has given up more than the 15 touchdown passes thrown against them. The Saints have 13 sacks, and 32 QB hits this season, mostly from a deep and talented front seven and a spectacular start to the year from DE Trey Hendrickson.
Their 3-2 start is disappointing to some, but the Saints are poised to position themselves well for a playoff run with a strong performance coming out of the bye week. Here are the four major things that I expect to see from New Orleans when they return to action.
1. MORE CONSISTENT OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCE
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton has criticized his play-calling several times this season, especially on 3rd downs. New Orleans has also had some uncharacteristic struggles in pass protection and along the offensive line. Those issues have not allowed pass patterns to develop down the field and have forced Brees to rush his throws, leading to an inconsistent passing attack. Despite Kamara and Murray's success, the Saints have also abandoned their running game as games have progressed this season.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has 18 receptions for 219 yards in the last two games after a slow start, and the Saints welcome the record-breaking Thomas back to the lineup after a four-game absence. Second-year center Erik McCoy is playing terrific football, and Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead are the best tandem of tackles in the league. The Saints must fortify their interior pass protection and remain balanced with their play-calling but have as much offensive star power as anyone in the NFL.
2. NO LIMITATIONS ON SNAPS FOR TREY HENDRICKSON
Third-year defensive end Marcus Davenport had a disruptive impact against the Los Angeles Chargers after missing the first four games with an elbow injury. Perennial Pro Bowl DE Cameron Jordan is playing much better after a slow start, and a deep corps of defensive tackles have affected plays with penetration into the offensive backfield.
The New Orleans defensive front has played in five games, but the best player has been unheralded four-year DE Trey Hendrickson. Playing in while Marcus Davenport has been out of the lineup, the 6’4” 270-Lb Hendrickson has equaled his career-high in sacks with a team-leading 4.5. He also leads the team with 12 quarterback pressures. Davenport is a rare talent when healthy, and Jordan is one of the best defensive players in the NFL, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen must find a way to keep the non-stop motor of Hendrickson in the lineup as much as possible.
3. REVISE THE ROLE OF TAYSOM HILL
Opposing defenses have figured out the gimmick of Taysom Hill. The 30-Yr old Hill has valuable versatility and athleticism, but the ways they have used him this season have made the offense predictable and ineffective. Expect Sean Payton to be more creative with the way he uses Taysom Hill once the Saints return to action.
4. BETTER PLAY FROM THE SECONDARY
The Saints’ defensive backs have been responsible for several crippling penalties and victimized on many big plays because of poor angles, decision-making, and communication this season. Inexcusable for a unit that has two shutdown Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins, versatility with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and P.J. Williams, rangy safety in Marcus Williams, and experienced leadership in Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed 64% of their passes against New Orleans. With great success, opponents have heavily targeted veterans defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson - but every secondary member has been guilty of baffling letdowns this season. Big plays have cost the Saints two losses and nearly cost them two others. New Orleans must be able to pressure opposing passers a little more consistently, but this team's biggest concern is in the secondary.
Coordinator Dennis Allen and defensive backs coach Aaron Glenn must develop better coverage packages to maximize their talent. Still, ultimate accountability is on the secondary's players to rebound from their rocky start as the Saints head into a pivotal stretch of the season.