While Sunday undoubtedly brought a difficult loss (and a tough 0-1 flavored pill to swallow), there were some good aspects to be recognized. The good news is, it was an entire side of the ball. The bad news? The other side of the ball is still really struggling.
The Saints’ offense was outstanding in week one against the Raiders, whether it’s by statistics or the eye test. After an opening drive that had two incompletions and a fumble recovered by Oakland deep in Saints’ territory, they settled in splendidly. Drew Brees threw for an outstanding 424 yards and four touchdowns, hitting seven different receivers to go 28/42.
The offensive line also settled down well. Going up against a pass rush that was led by 2015’s runner up in sacks Khalil Mack, the Saints were able to mitigate the pressure with a number of chip plays designed to keep Oakland off-balance. After using Tim Lelito as an eligible receiver to bring an extra blocker in early, the Saints eventually settled into using empty backfield sets and still gave Brees the time to throw the ball successfully.
Willie Snead started his “Prove 2015 Wasn’t a Fluke” campaign with a ridiculous 173 yards and a touchdown, including a 49 yarder among his nine catches. Brandin Cooks showed his burning potential with a 98 yard touchdown reception that highlighted a two TD day in which he racked up 143 yards on six catches. Mike Thomas showed flashes of his highly touted potential with a six catch 58 yard performance, including a nifty juke in the Oakland secondary to get some YAC tacked onto his stats. Coby Fleener had a quiet debut, with just one catch for six yards, whereas running back Travaris Cadet, who played in the stead of the inactive CJ Spiller, had three catches for 14 yards and a touchdown.
Sean Smith, a cornerback that just signed a star deal with the Raiders for $40 million this summer was burned with enough frequency that he was actually pulled in the second half after Cooks torched him for the aforementioned 98 yard TD, a franchise record for New Orleans.
Andrus Peat, a big question mark for the Saints throughout the offseason, ended up settling in at left guard. Peat said that he felt comfortable in the new position, which may be due to it being on a familiar side of the ball. The Saints mitigated Oakland’s pressure throughout the game.
In lieu of the running game, head coach Sean Payton chose to use short passes to create space. Mark Ingram had 12 carries for 58 yards, a perfectly serviceable average, and Tim Hightower had four attempts for nine yards. The Saints didn’t dig much deeper into their stable, choosing instead to run swings out to Cadet and, occasionally, Ingram. The Saints ran the ball 22 times to their 42 passes, including a seemingly inexplicable read option attempt from Brees, which may have been a split second decision based off of a read before the snap more than anything.
In future weeks, Payton has hinted that he’ll use different running backs in different situations. Daniel Lasco should expect to see some rotation, in addition to Spiller. Hightower will likely be a regular feature on the committee, with Ingram remaining the bell-cow.
The Saints have a lot to be impressed about with their offense. The line settled in well after shaky start, the running back corps took the opportunities that they were given and caught well out of the backfield, and the receiving corps was breathtakingly good. Drew Brees was still Drew Brees, and he didn’t make the Saints regret the contract extension that they signed mere days ago.
Although it’s a shame that it didn’t translate into a win, the offense has a lot to look forward to. With the Giants coming up next week, it’s hard not to think of the last time that these teams faced, with the Saints winning in a 52-49 thriller that saw Brees throw for seven touchdowns. Hopefully the offense can keep it up while the defense hunkers down.