It’s a real good football team and it’s a hard place to win, especially when you lose in the turnover ratio. I bet that’s happened once or twice in 12 years here. In fact, I know it’s happened just two times in 12 years - they win the turnover ratio and still lose the game at Lambeau Field. I think it’s happened once or twice in 12 or 13 years. So look, we were able to overcome that. That was significant.” - Sean Payton
The last three weeks, the New Orleans Saints have won games in ways that they previously couldn’t. More specifically, they have won games where Drew Brees and the offense have been less than stellar.
No, I’m not going to talk about Brees’ arm strength. This isn’t the place for that, and truthfully I have reason to believe it was more of a weather issue than any sudden decline on his part. Payton mentioned that the wind was a factor in the 1st half, but not so much the 2nd - and coincidentally Drew Brees’ 2nd half was a complete 180 from the 1st.
What I am going to speak on is how this team finally improved in areas that plagued them prior to the game against Green Bay.
I previously asked the question - if the defense’s turnover happy ways come to a halt and the offense has a multiple turnover game how would this team balance that out? They both needed to have something else to hang their hats on. Specifically, they both needed to improve their 3rd down numbers - and they did in a huge way!
Here is the raw data.
Prior to facing Brett Hundley and Green Bay, the Saints Offense converted 3rd downs 37% of the time and the defense allowed offenses to convert 3rd downs 48% of the time. Both improved substantially, with the offense converting against Green Bay 53% of the time and the defense only allowing the Packers to convert 36% of the time.
That’s big right? There was also one other factor that I put in my notes prior to the game.
Saints are ranked 18th in the league in attempts per game rushing the ball. They are also ranked 20th in the league as far as yards. However the kicker is that they are averaging 4.4 ypc which ties them for 6th in the league. Their efficiency is off the charts and is a strength of this offense right now. It also helps that Green Bay is allowing 4.3 ypc average. While also giving up 119.8 yards per game. What this tells me is they aren’t scoring points heavily and teams are able to keep things close enough to keep the run involved. Outside of the two 35 point games they are averaging about 24ppg. Losing Rodgers has got to be worth 6-7 points easily.
The Saints finished right at their season average with 4.5 yards per carry and 167 rushing yards, which eclipsed what Green Bay was previously allowing (119.8 YPG) by nearly 50 yards. They also scored only 17 points, or a TD away from their average. Go figure!
So now that I’ve pointed out the obvious things this team improved on to secure the win, I’d like to discuss a few more subtle thing that are helping this team in the background as they stacked their fourth victory of the season.
The Ryan Nielsen Effect
From 2014-2016, the Saints defensive line saw its sack production decline progressively from 34 to 31, and finally 30. This resulted in the Saints wanting to move away from Bill Johnson. Insert Ryan Nielsen, and the Saints are nearly halfway through that total with 17 in six games and 10 left to be played. Extrapolated over an entire season, the Saints should finish with roughly 44 sacks (if I did my math right). Most importantly is the fact that the majority of those are coming from the D-line, with only five coming from LBs and secondary players.
The Legend of Marshon Lattimore has only grown among Saints fans as the season has progressed. No. 23 is quickly approaching Chuck Norris levels of awesomeness wrapped in bacon, as he doesn’t really cover WRs, he just has a personal relationship with time and halts it whenever he wants to get in position and make a play. This week we saw Lattimore travel to follow Davante Adams, and in the process allowed two catches for a grand total of 8 measly yards. Still not impressive enough? Per PFF, Lattimore through six games has a grade of 94.1 - as a rookie. The great Darrelle Revis finished his rookie season with an 82.6 grade before going on a 7-year run of averaging a 90.4 grade. Let that sink in....Lattimore has a 94.1 grade RIGHT NOW - That’s ridiculous.
Not Getting Gassed Up
Don’t eat the cheese, don’t get gassed up, don’t read press clippings. No matter how you put it, the Saints are avoiding the success trap like the average 9-5’er avoids their boss when arriving to work late. The effort that was put into rebuilding a fractured locker room after the 2014 season has undoubtedly payed off for Sean Payton and company as “makeup” players have been the focus the last 3 years. How much do they love football, are they playing for the team or themselves, and are they accountable?
There isn’t a Junior Galette in the group throwing Cam Jordan under a bus because his sack numbers aren’t higher or a Jimmy Graham still sour and pouting about being labeled a TE instead of WR and getting TE money or a Brandin Cooks complaining about having 0 catches AFTER A WIN. Nope, just guys focused on coming into work and getting better day by day and game to game.
This team has consistently grown, and the scary thing is there is still room for more improvement. They are still shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, mental lapses, and STs gaffes. Heck, for the second week in the row the refs have made some questionable calls that would have previously doomed them. And yet, they are finding multiple ways to win and overcome those things. The Saints are a gritty, well coached, and resilient bunch that still has legitimate room for growth as a ton of 1st and 2nd year players accumulate more experience. They aren’t yet a finished product and that is a scary proposition for the rest of the league. Drop your comments below and I’ll see you later in the week to discuss the Keys to Success vs. Chicago.