Good morning Y’all
As always, for our novice readers or non-New Orleanians, welcome!
Let’s start with some definitions:
Beignets (English: /bɛnˈjeɪ/; French: [bɛɲɛ], ben-YAY literally bump) are distinctly New Orleans, a delicacy intimately connected to the city’s rich French heritage. Best enjoyed heavily powdered with sugar.
Café au lait (/ˌkæfeɪ oʊ ˈleɪ, kæˌfeɪ, kə-/; French: [kafe olɛ]; French for “coffee with milk”) is a delicious New Orleans way to start your day. This is your “After-Saints-Game” breakfast, where we talk about the state of the Black and Gold, we debate the goings-on in the NFC South, and paint the playoff picture in the NFC up to this point of the season. So, sit back, take a bite and a sip while your brain slowly wakes up, and let’s catch up on some football.
What Just Happened?
· The Saints went to Cincinnati yesterday afternoon to play what had all the makings of a trap game: following a big emotional win over the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans was going on the road to face a home-underdog Bengals team coming off its bye week. Surely, the fact that the Saints were only about five-point favorites prior to the game indicated that even Vegas thought this was going to be a tough challenge.
It was anything but: The Saints proceeded to score on their first nine possessions, and never punted en route to a 51-14 thrashing of the Bengals. Drew Brees continued his magnificent play, completing 22 of 25 passes (88% completion percentage) with three touchdowns passes and zero interceptions. The running game continued to be effective, with Mark Ingram showing signs that he is rounding into form with 104 yards, while the team totaled 244 yards on the ground. Defensively, the Saints played what has to be their best game of the season so far, holding Andy Dalton to a 61.0 passer rating, while picking him off twice and sacking him four times.
At 8-1, these 2018 Saints are just starting to write their own history, while trying to erase the sting of what they clearly perceived as a “way too early” exit out of the 2017 playoffs. Grab your popcorn, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off this team.
Five Numbers...That Don’t Lie
· 95: The percentage of field goals made by Saints kicker Wil Lutz in 2018. Almost forgotten in the middle of New Orleans’ amazing offensive output so far this season, is the excellence of their kicker. Lutz has made 19 of 20 field goals, and that includes being 2 for 2 in 50+ yards attempts and 9 of 10 in 40-49-yard attempts. The Saints’ kicking specialist has also converted 33 of 34 point-after-touchdown (PAT) tries. Lutz has been an afterthought, which is a great sign, because in general when kickers get noticed, it means they are missing and costing their team. Saints and their fans should count their blessings.
· 58: The number of points by which the Saints have outscored their opponents in the second quarter over 9 games this season. New Orleans has also outscored teams by 30 in the fourth quarter. By contrast, New Orleans has been outscored by 1 point in the first quarter and has scored only 5 more points than its opponents in the third quarter. One of the telling signs of a good team is how well it does at the end of halves. Looking at these numbers, the 2018 Saints clearly are an excellent team.
· 19: The total number of punts that the Saints have attempted this season, which is an NFL low. Yesterday against Cincinnati, Thomas Morstead did not punt once. This was the second time this season that Morstead did not have to punt in a game, the last time being on October 8, when the Saints defeated Washington 43-19. The highest number of punts for New Orleans in a game this season is 4, at home against Cleveland and at Atlanta. Are we completely spoiled by this Saints’ offense? Yes, we are!
· 3.67: The rushing yards-per-play allowed by the Saints, which ranks first in the NFL. The Saints’ outstanding rushing defense was questioned earlier this year, because it was suspected to greatly benefit from teams mostly passing the ball against New Orleans, either to keep up with Brees and Co., or to simply take advantage of a mediocre secondary.
The numbers disagree with both of those theories: In nine games against New Orleans, Saints’ opponents have thrown the ball 220 times (24.4 attempts-per-game) and have rushed 196 times (21.8 attempts-per-game). The disparity between throwing and rushing on the Saints is a mere 2.6 attempts-per-game, which is far too little to explain why the Saints are so vastly better at stopping the run than they are at defending the pass this season.
The secret most hidden-in-plain-sight in the NFL this year is that the Saints have been developing a dynamite front-seven, led by defensive end Cameron Jordan and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. Complementing their great play is sure-tackling middle linebacker Demario Davis, the steady play of A. J. Klein and the improving play of Alex Anzalone. Now that the Saints are also starting to pick the ball off in the secondary, this team is only going to get harder to beat.
· 0: The number of times quarterback Drew Brees has been sacked in the last three games. Brees has also been sacked only one time over the past four games. Keep in mind that New Orleans’ last four opponents were the Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals: all teams that feature fierce pass rushers like Terrell Suggs, Danielle Hunter, Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
As awesome as Drew Brees is at releasing the ball quickly, the Saints’ offensive line has played like the very best in the NFL over the course of this season, not only in pass protection, but also in the running game, where New Orleans averages a healthy 4.1 yard-per-rush on 276 attempts so far this year.
Keep Your Enemies Closer
· Week 10 couldn’t have been more favorable to the Saints: they were the only NFC South team to win, as the Carolina Panthers (6-3) got demolished 52-21 on the road by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) barfed all over themselves in Cleveland, losing 28-16 to the Browns, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) amassed 501 total yards on offense against Washington, but scored only 3 points in a 16-3 defeat.
New Orleans now has a full two-game lead over the Panthers, a four-game lead over the Falcons and a five-game lead over the only team to beat them so far this season. The division is far from being determined, but after nine games, the Saints have put themselves in prime position to repeat as NFC South champion for the first time in the Payton/Brees era.
If the Playoffs Started Today
· The Saints would be the second seed in the NFC a half game behind the 9-1 Los Angeles Rams. New Orleans would have a bye week and face either the third see Chicago Bears (6-3), the fourth seed Washington Redskins (6-3) or the fifth seed Carolina Panthers (6-3).
· According to Fivethirtyeight.com which I like to use for this exercise, at this point of the season New Orleans is projected to win 12.8 games vs. 3.2 losses, with a +145.4 point differential. The Saints have a 99% chance of making the playoffs, an 84% chance of winning the division, a 79% chance of earning a first-round bye, and now a 21% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Boy, aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves!
You can see the numbers for all NFC South teams below:
· No rest for the weary, as the indefatigable Saints will face the Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Sunday at 3:25 PM CT. The defending champions have underachieved a bit this season, probably falling victims to the mythical Super Bowl hangover. However, the Eagles are certain to present a tough challenge for the Saints as Carson Wentz and Co. try to stay in the playoffs race. This game is of the utmost importance for the Saints as well, as they vie for the top seed in the NFC with the Los Angeles Rams, so we can expect a hotly contested game. We’re just past mid-season, and it feels as though we’re only getting started. Hold on to your butts!
Hey, how come you’re still here reading? Get on with your day already and see you next week!
After nine games, which Saints unit deserves more praise?
This poll is closed
The offensive line, allowing only 9 sacks on Drew Brees
The defensive line, carrying the No. 1 defense against the run
The secondary, for starting to pick it up and pick it off
Special teams, money in the kicking and coverage parts of the game
My favorite unit is the bacon, double bacon and triple bacon cheeseburgers