It’s been a few years since the Saints won their last home opener and five years since they won their first game of the season. That’s a half decade of slow starts and quite a difficult precedent to reverse.
Last year, the Saints played well on offense and scored 40 points. Drew Brees was 37 of 45 and threw for 439 yards and three touchdowns. But it didn’t matter because the defense gave up 48 points to the Ryan Fitzpatrick led Buccaneers.
DeSean Jackson had two touchdowns that went for 58 and 36 yards each while “Fitzmagic” ran for one touchdown and threw for two more. The kickers each traded field goals and the main difference in the game was a fumble return for a touchdown by the Bucs.
In 2017, the Saints got smacked by the Patriots and never had even a 50% chance of winning the game throughout all of regulation. Gronkowski toyed with the Saints’ defense with his 53 yard catch and run for a touchdown. The maybe-retired tight end finished with 116 yards on six catches.
Mark Ingram ran for 52 yards on eight carries and Michael Thomas chipped in with 89 yards on eight catches. Brees was 27 of 45 for 356 yards and two touchdowns. But Tom Brady proved more efficient completing 30 of 39 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns.
Against the Raiders in 2016, the Saints had more first downs and yards and only had one less minute of ball possession, yet a single costly turnover may have been the difference. Despite having a 77.6% win probability with 47 seconds left in the game, the Saints managed to allow a touchdown followed by a game-winning two-point conversion from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree.
In 2015, the Saints sluggish offense handed Jameis Winston his first career win after being drafted first overall the previous offseason by the Buccaneers. Bucs running back Doug Martin actually had one of his more pedestrian performances during a season he finished second in yards behind only Adrian Peterson.
Still, Mark Ingram’s day was just as pedestrian despite scoring an 11 yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Saints were neck and neck in yards and first downs with the Bucs but three turnovers to the Bucs’ two again proved a big difference.
In 2014, the Saints dropped their first two games, both on the road, but took advantage of their home opener by beating the Vikings pretty handily. Yet, it hasn’t been since their 2013 win over the Falcons that the Saints took care of business in week one.
The Saints’ Roman Harper had a game sealing interception on a Matt Ryan pass intended for Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. It’s been so long, in fact, since the Saints won in week one that their roster at that time still included Jimmy Graham, Garrett Hartley, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Marques Colston. Steven Jackson was the Falcon’s running back.
The Saints found a recipe for week one success by dominating time of possession and racking up 419 yards to the Falcons’ 367 yards. And though the Saints and Falcons both shared 18 converted first downs, the Saints won the turnover battle with one compared to the Falcons’ two.
Monday night the Saints will play against the Texans who boast Deshaun Watson at quarterback, Duke Johnson at running back, DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver, and J.J. Watt at defensive end. Just because Jadeveon Clowney won’t be there, that doesn’t mean the Saints’ offensive line won’t be tested.
The last time the Saints played the Texans was in 2015 and J.J. Watt straight up abused Zach Strief on his way to seven quarterback hits and two sacks. Sean Payton even tried moving left tackle Terron Armstead next to Strief to try and protect Brees, but Watt still had his way.
The J.J. Watt sack I referenced earlier: Saints move LT Armstead to right side next to RT Strief. Watt don’t care https://t.co/c1Cv4CFnml— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) December 1, 2015
Luckily for the Saints, Ryan Ramczyk will line up against Watt this time around. The Saints other first round pick from 2017 has played exceedingly well and improved from year one to year two.
After giving up only three sacks in 589 pass blocking snaps his rookie season, Ramczyk earned a PFF pass block grade of 76.4 and an overall grade of 80.2. In his sophomore season, Ramczyk allowed one more sack in 39 less pass blocking attempts, but he halved his penalties from six to three, and earned a PFF pass block grade of 78.7 and an overall grade of 82.2.
I think the keys to the game tomorrow are two fold. Ramczyk has to keep Watt’s quarterback pressure in check and the Saints have to win the turnover battle. In three of the last four home opener losses, the Saints have had one more turnover than their opponent.
Protecting Brees while limiting turnovers could help the Saints avoid losing their fifth straight home opener and sixth straight week one game. Their schedule is too difficult the first month of the season to get off to a slow start.
With two games in seven days right off the bat, the Saints have to take advantage of their first game taking place in the Superdome under the lights of Monday Night Football. Let’s hope the team is more ready for Monday than the Superdome rooftop power washers. Fingers crossed.