On Sunday evening, the New Orleans Saints continued their 2017 NFL preseason with a matchup against the newly-minted Los Angeles Chargers at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA, a game that saw the Saints snap their 10-game preseason losing streak with a 13-7 win. You know what I think: even though preseason games don’t count, they can tell us a lot about who sits where on the depth chart, who’s out of shape, who’s already in midseason form or who needs to rally to have a chance to make the team. Thus, here are some of the winners and losers from the Saints’ epic 13-7 win against the Chargers last night:
Winner: D-Fence! D-Fence! D-Fence!
You heard me call a preseason game “epic” and you probably thought I was being facetious; I wasn’t. The Saints’ defense showed up big time yesterday in Los Angeles. Philip Rivers didn’t suit up for the Chargers, but as we all know, the Saints have made the likes of Kellen Clemens look like Hall-of-famers before. Not the case last night though: Dennis Allen’s units were as stingy as we’ve seen them in a long time, from the starters to the backups. You want the numbers to back up my claim? First of all, the defense didn’t allow any points. Zero! The Chargers rushed 29 times for a grand total of 66 yards, a 2.3 yards-per-carry average. Los Angeles passed for 160 yards (among three quarterbacks) on 17 of 32 attempts and a combined quarterback rating of 54.2. The most impressive number of the night however: eight sacks. Eight! The defensive line was in Los Angeles’ backfield all night long and never relented. Preseason or not, that’s a hell of a boost in confidence for the Saints’ defense, let’s hope they can carry this level of play through the remaining two preseasons games and the regular season to come.
Loser: Ryan Nassib
Remember how much I loved Ryan Nassib ten days ago after his performance against the Cleveland Browns? Well, last night’s game was the exact opposite. Nassib had a miserable game, converting only six of 15 passes, including a 99-yard completion to Dexter McCoil of the Chargers for a brutal pick six that accounted for all the Chargers scoring on the night. Nassib looked tentative and aimed a lot of his throws, exposing receivers to big hits. Of course, the Saints’ backup quarterback didn’t benefit from the protection of the first-string offensive line, but neither did he against Cleveland, yet he played much better in that game. Conclusion: let’s not jump to any conclusions about who will be the third-string QB until the 53-man roster is set.
Winner: Alvin Kamara
Reggie Who? Darren Who? That’s exactly what Alvin Kamara hopes to make Saints fans say about his play after the 2017 NFL regular season is done. And so far, the former Tennessee Volunteer is doing a great job convincing us that this is a very real possibility. On Sunday, Kamara took the first play of the game for a fifty-yard rushing touchdown. In all, the Saints’ rookie ran the ball five times for 61 yards (a whopping 12.2 yards-per-carry average). He also had a beautiful reception on a wheel route for 22 yards. Kamara is the prototypical joker in Sean Payton’s multiple-faceted offense and believe me, his play so far has opposing NFC South defensive coordinators shaking in their sneakers.
Loser: Coby Fleener
Wait, what did Coby “Can’t Catch A Cold” Fleener do this time? Well, apart from catching one pass on four targets for a meager six yards, Fleener didn’t do much last night. The reason he’s in this list however is that Fleener clearly needs a lot of work, since Sean Payton had him playing into the fourth quarter. Payton’s explanation was that Fleener needed the reps, since he has missed a lot of practice time due to various injuries. The problem here is that Fleener was supposed to be the Saints’ replacement for Jimmy Graham. Wait, no. He was supposed to be the replacement for Benjamin Watson, which should have been an easier task. Instead, Fleener has underwhelmed since his arrival in New Orleans, and whether due to poor performance or missed practice time, here he is in the second half of the second preseason game, playing with the third-stringers to regain the favors of his coach. Let’s all say a prayer to all the Saints, that somehow Fleener will find his game. You know like, the one he had when he was at Stanford? Good luck!
Winner: Manti Te’o
Yesterday’s game was a great homecoming of sorts for the Saints’ linebacker. Te’o spent his first four NFL seasons with the then-San Diego Chargers, but signed with the Saints as a free agent this offseason. It seemed evident from the get go that Te’o was eager to show his former team that they made a mistake in not trying to re-sign him. Playing as the Mike during his time on the field, Te’o recorded eight combined tackles (seven solo) a quarterback hit and one sack. He also had three tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. More importantly, Te’o showed great play recognition and the burst to the ball that made him a second-round draft pick in 2013. At only 26, Te’o is still is just entering his prime football years and the Saints can only hope that yesterday’s great performance is a harbinger of things to come.
Winner: Wil Lutz
The column is called “3 Winners and 3 Losers” but honestly, I didn’t find another worthy loser for the Saints in last night’s game. Sure, we could nitpick and talk about the offensive line, which allowed three total sacks between Chase Daniel (2) and Ryan Nassib (1). But they also had some awesome blocking, which led to the Saints rushing for 157 yards on 33 carries (4.8 ypc). Pass protection needs more work, but we should consider that Max Unger is still out and Josh LeRibeus, despite doing the best that he can in the interim, is no Unger.
So, let’s stay with the positives here and highlight one of the Saints’ very bright spots this preseason, second-year placekicker Wil Lutz. After yesterday’s game, Lutz has now gone 4-for-4 on field goals in the preseason and was 2-for-2 yesterday with a long of 53 yards. Lutz is also perfect on PATs (1-for-1) but his role with the Saints is even more important now that he has fully taken over the kickoff duties from punter Thomas Morstead. As he ages, Morstead needs to maintain a fresh leg, and Lutz has become instrumental in achieving that goal. Against the Chargers, Lutz had three of four kickoffs go into the endzone, with one touchback. The short kick appeared to be by design, to pin the Chargers below their 20-yard line, which the Saints’ special teams unit accomplished. Knowing how impatient Sean Payton can be with kickers, Wil Lutz is making sure that this is one problem the Saints’ head coach doesn’t have to worry about, and we’re grateful for that.
Who was your Winner for the Saints last night?
This poll is closed
The defense, and it ain’t close!
Manti Te’o was for real!
Alvin Kamara! Taking the offense to the next level
Wil Lutz. Kid looks clutch right now
A burger is always a winner my friend