The New Orleans Saints had a week off the reflect, tweak, and adjust for the 11 games remaining this season. You get a strong sense from Sean Payton and his team, they are ready for a run towards their second Super Bowl.
We're entering the point of the NFL season where teams who had hot starts to the season begin to cool down, and those who were kind of shaky at the beginning, start to figure out their identity. Several teams are undefeated or with one loss. But those who sit at 4-2 or 3-2 may become the most dangerous and make a turn headed into the heart of the season.
SAINTS NFC SOUTH FOES IN WEEK 6
In Week 6, we witnessed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers demolition of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 38-10. Furthermore, the Carolina Panthers (3-3) allowed a bruising Chicago Bears defense to maul them at home in a 16-23 loss. Last, an Atlanta Falcons team finally tightened the tourniquet, stopped the bleeding from their winless record, and "rose up" enough to destroy the Minnesota Vikings 40-23 for a road victory.
So what does this tell us about the NFL's first quarter of the season? Not much.
However, those teams who came out of the blocks hot and fast may be showing signs of cooling-off. Which makes you wonder if the shortened offseason may have yielded more early pretenders and "paper champions" than we want to admit.
The Saints must take a cautious but aggressive approach in their 11 games left on the schedule. (current records as of 10/23/20):
- Carolina (3-3), at Bears (5-1), at Bucs (4-2), 49ers (3-3), Falcons (1-5), at Broncos (2-3), at Falcons (1-5), at Eagles (2-4-1), Chiefs (5-1), Vikings (1-5), and at Panthers (3-3)
- 6 road games
- 8 NFC games
- 5 NFC South games
- 4 teams with losing records
New Orleans is swimming in dangerous territory with most teams still jockeying for playoff positions. They cannot afford to slip-up and lose winnable games against lesser talented teams. Pay close attention to the NFC games and NFC South opponents.
They are two stretches of games New Orleans should not take for granted, starting with the Bears (11/1), Bucs (11/8), and 49ers (11/15). All of these teams are formidable foes for the Saints. The Saints cannot lose more than one game here, especially since each team has the potential of becoming a playoff team. The Saints have to win these battles and gain a tie-breaking advantage.
Next, the Atlanta (11/22), Denver (11/29), and back at Atlanta (12/6) games are essential because the rivalry with the Falcons are unpredictable. New Orleans also has two road games back-to-back and must not be lulled into complacency by believing the games are already won.
THE HUNT FOR WINNING OCTOBER
Octobers are usually the time of healing for Sean Payton's Saints teams. My SNN colleague Bob Rose let me know the team is now 40-13 under Payton in October. After a period of rest and mental realignment from the bye week, can the Saints begin to "right some of the wrongs" that have plagued them this season?
- Ending the Penalties, Penalties, and more Penalties,
- Missed Assignments on Defense,
- Improving communication in the secondary,
- Inconsistency - Players and Coaches,
- Not setting the tempo early in games,
- Improving their 3rd down conversions,
- Stopping opponents on 3rd downs,
- Establishing an early offensive tone through Kamara and Murray,
- Creating more turnovers and possessions for the offense,
- Get your "Groove Back," and play Saints Football.
CONTROL YOUR NFL IDENTITY
Sunday's game is vital for the Saints to win. The NFC South looks to be a two-team race. Tom Brady and the Bucs' outstanding young defense appear to be "jelling" at the right time. The Saints currently own the NFC South tie-breaker over the Buccaneers. So, falling to a team like Carolina would be problematic. New Orleans cannot afford to lose more division and conference games to stay ahead of the Buccaneers.
Even though star quarterback Drew Brees got off to a rocky start of the season, he still guides the Saints' offense better than any other quarterback. Remember, the team has emerged victorious from two double-digit deficits against the Lions and Chargers. Payton and Brees have lost confidence in an offense producing 29.2 points per game (adjusted for one defensive touchdown) and rank 10th in the NFL.
Surprisingly, New Orleans' defense is ranked 8th in the NFL and allows 337.4/game. The main concern is the scoring defense. They sit at 24th in the NFL and concede 30.0 points/game. The Saints' front-seven continue to be outstanding against the run and hasn't allowed a 100+ yard rusher in 48 straight games. Panthers running back Mike Davis will test the Saints' record. With superstar running back Christian McCaffery injured, Davis has rushed for 272 yards (4.3 yds/rush) and 2 touchdowns in six games. Demario Davis and Alex Anzalone draw the assignment to cover Davis out of the backfield, who has become a receiving threat with 32 receptions for 209 yards for Carolina.
CONSISTENCY AND DISCIPLINE
On Sunday, the Saints can start putting things together by limiting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's time in the pocket. Bridgewater has most dangerous when he connects with wide receivers, Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore. Sean Payton told media this morning regarding Moore, "there's a physicality to his game, and fluid."
Hence, the return of cornerback Janoris Jenkins comes at an excellent time for the beleaguered Saints secondary facing the Panthers receivers. After rookie QB Justin Herbert's torching, expect Dennis Allen and Aaron Glenn to tweak the techniques and communication in the defensive backfield.
Are the Saints find the desired offensive consistency and defensive discipline necessary to handle the upcoming games? Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it will be more critical for this team to define who they really and challenge their current identity crisis.
A bewildering and poor showing against the Panthers will only lead to more questions, critiques, and frustration. I expect the Saints will establish the hustle and flow to the game early and often.
Prediction, Saints 37-24. But, this why they play the games. Right?
We will see.