After losing four of their first five games, the mind-boggling 2015 New Orleans Saints won their third straight game yesterday afternoon in the Mercedes Benz Superdome, 52-49 against the New York Giants.
What impressed me most? What didn't I like from the Saints' win against New York? Here are the five big things that stayed with me:
1) Just Carve Drew Brees' Bust in Canton Already.
He's making a zillion dollars. He's taking up all of the team's cap space. He's old. He's short. He has too many commercials on TV; he should focus on studying his playbook or something instead. When you're an NFL quarterback, you get a lot of praise when things go well, but you also take a lot of undeserved abuse when things go south. Yesterday, Drew Brees reminded us all why the Saints believe they can win another Super Bowl with him at the helm, before he retires. Brees threw for 511 yards. That's cute. While doing so however, he completed 40 of 50 passes (an insane 80% completion percentage) and became the eighth quarterback in NFL history to throw for a record seven touchdown passes in a single game.
What's more, with the way the Saints' defense played (horrendously), the Saints needed every single one of these seven touchdown passes to escape with a 52-49 win.
2) The Defense Regresses.
Last week, I was very high on the young Saints defense. They had just stymied Colts' quarterback Andrew Luck, sacking him four times and pick picking him off twice. After yesterday's game, I was reminded that Rome wasn't built in one day. We all need to slam the brakes on the praise we've been heaping on the Saints' defense, because yesterday they proved that they could relinquish a 14-point lead not once, but twice in the same game, and in the blink of an eye. The Saints were ahead 28-14, the defense gave it up in a heartbeat. Later, with the Saints up 42-28, the defense once again surrendered that lead with disturbing ease. In all, the defense gave up 42 points (seven of the Giants'49 point came on a fumble return) and the only reason we're happy today is because the offense found a way to score 52 points. But we all know that you're not going to win a lot of games giving up 42 points. Forget the yards; the Saints' are now 30th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 29.3 points per game. Rob Ryan and his crew have some work to do, otherwise the elation of yesterday's game will be short-lived.
3) The Curious Case of Brandon Browner.
The Saints paid Brandon Browner a lot of money this offseason to be Keenan Lewis' complement as the "other" starting cornerback. When you look at yesterday's game stat sheet, you will see that Browner had eight total tackles, which was second on the team behind Stephone Anthony's eleven. What you won't see is the number of drives that Browner kept alive for the Giants with repeated defensive holding and pass interference calls. With Keenan Lewis getting healthy (he played a few snaps yesterday) you wonder how long it will be before Browner plays more in the nickel spot, where Damian Swann usually lines up. With Swann getting hurt yesterday, I would absolutely be in favor on having Breaux on one side, Lewis on the other and Browner as the third cornerback, platooning with Swann when he gets back.
4) Showers Are Cool, but I'm All Forbath.
I stole that joke from one of ours skeptical CSCer here, who posted that comment when the Saints signed placekicker Kai Forbath. But apart from having a name that we can make little jokes from, somewhat lost in Drew Brees' blaze of glory yesterday is the fact that after scoring seven touchdowns, the Saints needed Forbath to win the game with a field goal. Oh but not one of the chip shot variety, no: a damn 50-yarder.
Kai Forbath came to New Orleans to play for a head coach who is notorious for having a quick hook for faltering kickers. Apart from converting seven point-after-touchdown tries, Forbath had very little to so during the game yesterday, since the Saints were almost constantly in the endzone. And then all of a sudden, Payton was telling him to go out there and kick a 50-yard field goal to clinch a game that would get the team back to a .500 record. No pressure, Kai! Unfazed, Forbath swung his leg and the Who Dat Nation exploded. The great sign here is that Forbath didn't fold despite the magnitude of the moment, which is exactly what got the younger and arguably more talented Zach Hocker out of New Orleans. Here's to hoping that Forbath comes through for the Saints a few more times this season.
5) The Offense is Coming
Yards are a cool stat to impress the kids. Completion percentages are fun to gloat about, but after all it's about points. To borrow from John Madden, the team that scores more points usually wins. Through the first five games of the season, the Saints scored 19, 19, 22, 26 and 17 points respectively, for a measly 20.6 points-per-game average. The Saints were 1-4 in the stretch. In the last three games, New Orleans has scored 31, 27 and 52 points (36.7 ppg). And not so coincidentally, the team is 3-0 in that stretch. Brees has obviously been magnificent, but we are now finally seeing Brandin Cooks (6 catches from 8 targets and 2 touchdowns yesterday) and Marques Colston (8 catches on 9 targets and a touchdown yesterday) become a bigger part of the offense. With Snead and Ben Watson already doing their part, defenses can no longer just bracket Cooks, ignore Colston and play one-on-one with the rest of the receivers.
The running game has picked it up as well, 5.1 yards per carry against the Colts, 4.0 ypc against the Giants yesterday and maybe more importantly, Sean Payton has stuck with the running game, 36 attempts in Indy and 26 yesterday against New York. With the injury to Khiry Robinson, the Saints will have a challenge to keep this running rhythm up but clearly, the Saints offense that started the season sluggishly is hitting its stride. If the defense can improve at the same pace, New Orleans could actually make a run at a wild card spot in the NFC, something that seemed nearly impossible just a few short weeks ago.