The New Orleans Saints 20-0 defeat of the Miami Dolphins back in Week 4 was their second straight win, and evened their record at 2-2 as they took a seat during Week 5 in an early bye for the season. Canal Street Chronicles has taken a look at how each of the New Orleans units have graded out over the 2017 season's 1st quarter. We roll on by checking in on a group that likely cost the team at least a few victories a year ago.
Grading the Special Teams
Kicker Wil Lutz had some struggles over the first half of 2016 with New Orleans as a rookie. A blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, a blocked extra point returned for a 2-point conversion, and another blocked field goal setting up a score provided the margins of defeat against the Giants, Broncos, and Panthers a year ago. Lutz was perfect on all 30 of his kick attempts (18 extra points and 12 field goals) over the last six games of the year.
Lutz began 2017 with that same consistency, converting on all nine of his extra point attempts so far. His 10/13 field goal percentage includes a miss from well over 50 yards, and a 41-yard miss on a slick London turf over a week ago, although he followed that up by nailing two from 43 and 45 yards. Opponents rarely get opportunity for kickoff returns against the 2nd year kicker, most kickoffs from Lutz sail through the end zone. It has been some time since we've seen coach Sean Payton have confidence in the kicking game, but Lutz has a powerful leg, accuracy the confidence to give the Saints a consistent scoring threat.
Grade = B
Thomas Morstead is simply one of the best punters in the league. He is averaging 48.6 yards per punt so far this season, the second highest of his nine year career. He controls field position for New Orleans with his booming leg, the accuracy to kill the ball inside the opponent 20, and gets good height on his punts to allow the Saints coverage units to set up, holding opponents to just 4.6 yards per punt return.
Grade = A
Rookie running backs Alvin Kamara and Trey Edmunds have been the Saints primary kickoff returners. Both have explosive open field ability, but have yet to show it on returns this season, averaging around 23 yards per return. Veteran Ted Ginn Jr. was signed away from Carolina this offseason to provide a big play threat in the return game, with 7 punt or kickoff return touchdowns in his career. Ginn is averaging 9 yards per punt return so far, but has come close to breaking a few for big gains. His experience as a returner has proven to be just as valuable. A sliding fair catch of a Miami punt near midfield late in the 1st half likely saved the team 10-15 yards in field position, allowing New Orleans to position themselves for a field goal as the half expired.
Grade = C
The New Orleans special teams have been solid, just not spectacular over the first portion of the 2017 season. A far cry from the unit that helped cost the team 3 games a year ago. Morstead is a weapon at punter, consistently giving the Saints a field position advantage. The team's coverage units have been solid, and full of young and athletic players. Payton has confidence in the kicking game, and it seems just a matter of time before Ginn and Kamara break some big returns.
Saints Special Teams Grade = B-
How would you grade the Saints special teams after the 1st quarter of the season?
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