I will start this by being completely honest, I thought this matchup between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers was going to be a massive stumble for the Saints. New Orleans was lacking its top two wide receivers, the secondary was and continues to be in shambles, and Teddy Bridgewater had been lighting it up the past few weeks. It was a perfect recipe for disaster, luckily, I was dead wrong.
However, this matchup did highlight some incredible highs, especially for the offense, while also showcasing the biggest weaknesses this team has moving forward. Here are my biggest takeaways from the game.
Drew Brees Looked Vintage
We talked about this all day on Sunday and nearly every moment since: Brees looked phenomenal. Sunday’s game against Carolina was by far his best of the season and the numbers backed it up. Brees’s QBR of 91.0 was the best of the season. Additionally, he was able to reclaim his place atop the league with the best completion percentage, which now sits at 72.6%, just ahead of Bridgewater’s 72.2%. The quarterback was once again able to showcase his efficiency, something he has become legendarily known for.
But, what is most impressive about all of this is that he did it without Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the field. If you would have listened to Twitter (or me) heading into Sunday’s game, then you would’ve thought there was no way Brees was going to be able to effectively move the ball, much less have his best game of the season.
None of this is saying that the offense is better off without Thomas or Sanders. However, it is a testament to Brees who proved he can still do what he has done his entire career: spread the ball around and lift up relatively unknown receivers to greatness. Marquez Callaway was a perfect example of just this on Sunday.
As an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, Callaway had to fight to earn a spot on the roster, much less see any significant game time on the offense. However, with Thomas and Sanders out it was time to shine. Brees found Callaway eight times for 75 yards before he exited the game with an apparent injury. Additionally, Brees connected with a total of eight different receivers on the day, once again highlighting his ability to find the open man, push the ball down field, and take advantage of the opposing defense.
When Thomas and Sanders return, this offense will once again retake its position as one of the most prolific in the league. It took a while for Brees to get going, but now he is rolling.
The Defense is Making Stops at the Right Times
First thing is first, I am not saying this defense is good. In fact, the secondary has been an outright liability this season. However, the unit has been making big plays at just the right time. First, it was when Marshon Lattimore made the game-saving tackle against the Los Angeles Chargers. On Sunday, it was the crucial sack by Marcus Davenport that put New Orleans in a position to close the game out.
I won’t harp to much on the secondary, we have seen just how bad it is between busted coverages by Marcus Williams, and Malcolm Jenkins, missed tackles, and just poor play by players who are supposed to be seen as leaders.
The defensive line has been a highlight though. Once again, the unit was effective at stopping the run by only giving up 12 rushing yards to Mike Davis, and was effective at putting pressure on Bridgewater even though the first and only sack didn’t come until the fourth quarter. Davenport, Trey Hendrickson and David Onyemata have been playing at a high level all season.
The Saints, in their current situation, will likely have to rely on one or two key stops throughout the game in order to win ball games. The offense has shown it has regained its mojo, now the defense has to continue the trend of making big plays at key moments.
Sean Payton’s Playcalling Improved
Over the course of the first five games of the season, win or lose, fans were gradually growing louder over Payton’s playcalling. At first, it seemed stale, the offense was just not clicking and it seemed Payton wasn’t quite lining up series that would put his offense in position to succeed. Additionally, he would inexplicably take Brees out on a 3rd-and-short in favor of Taysom Hill. It rarely worked. Heck, even some hot take artists believed that Payton’s job should be on the hot seat. I’m sure Payton saw much of this talk and just laughed at all of us.
But, as we have come to learn, Payton is adaptable, perhaps one of the best in league at changing the gameplan to help put his team in a position to win. On Sunday, the Saints scored a touchdown with supreme efficiency on their very first drive. Eight receivers registered a reception. There was less of Taysom Hill and more of allowing Brees to run the show, much to the benefit of the squad.
Payton adapted, called a phenomenal game, and the offense had one of, if not the most efficient performance of the season.
What are your biggest takeaways? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, follow us on Instagram at @SaintsCSC and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @KadeKistner.