The New Orleans Saints entered Week 4 against the Detroit Lions without their two starting corners, their No. 5 Top Player star wide receiver, their starting tight end, and frankly, while the list goes on, the Saints injury report had me at both starting CBs. New Orleans’ biggest liability this season was not Drew Brees; it was emphatically the penalty-ridden secondary (aided by a disappearing act by our pass rush). So to think we had a shot against a quarterback who’s had our card three of the last four matchups was not in the cards for my mental health. This was only aided by the hilariously awful opening three drives.
No Marshon.— Rod Walker (@RodWalkerNola) October 4, 2020
No sleep.#Saints and Lions kickoff at noon.
Instead, the Saints we ordered online showed up instead of the ones we’ve been getting in the mail all year. Thanks to an on-brand, nail biting 35-29 win over the Detroit Lions, New Orleans revived a decidedly morose season trajectory. For the first time in ages (two weeks is two years in 2020 time), the New Orleans Saints postgame atmosphere was energetic, and accolades were awarded all around.
The improvement in gameplay was complete, and collective; our offense finally showed up, and our second-string secondary did just enough to edge out the win. Moreover, there was more than one standout performance by a previously inept key player. Here’s what the team had to say, enthusiastically (a new phenomenon), about the collective team improvement and how the Saints plan to elaborate on 2019’s slogan, “prove them right.”
The Saints, Indeed, Have an Offense (Specifically, a Receiving Corp)
Defensive struggles are new to the Saints like comedic failures are new to the Atlanta Falcons. The most apparent, and long-term impact improvement, was the offense finally getting in sync, and Brees completing the first stop on his revenge tour. Nothing was made more clear by Brees’ performance in Week 4 than his blatant distrust being the primary reason the connection with his receivers has been uncharacteristically off.
The Saints haven’t been bad because they don’t have Michael Thomas (although it emphatically helps). They’ve been bad because New Orleans’ offensive gameplan, more specifically, Brees’ prowess, relies on the collective competence of the receiving corp as a whole; the offense simply does not open up when Brees is 50% confident every single one of them won’t drop the pass, or be in their intended spot on the route. Ergo, Thomas’ presence – specific to this point in the season – would not have made much difference in my opinion. It takes a village, and the village collectively got the message this Sunday. Most notably, Tre’Quan Smith.
Ask Trequan what I texted him before the game. He doing exactly that !— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) October 4, 2020
“That last drive was huge,” Payton remarked on the clutch catch by Smith. “The third down conversion with Brees to Tre’Quan puts us right at midfield. That was a big play because in every game in every weekend that’s close, you need to convert a play like that.”
Maybe it was Michael Thomas’ text telling him to, “ball out bro.” Maybe he was the only Saints player that went to sleep on Saturday night. Either way, Tre’Quan Smith finally laughed in our faces and had the best performance of his career. To me, he’s the singular player who’s stepped up the most – in consideration of his starting point – in Thomas’ absence. That pressure may have been the push Smith finally needed, but he knew it was time – and the impact on his play was palpable. Tellingly, Smith points directly to an increase in trust in his unprecedented connection with Brees:
“Yeah, definitely. I feel like that was probably the biggest play of the day,” Smith described his critical, game-ending 3rd down catch. “Definitely. We really needed [the first down] and Drew trusted me, and threw me the ball and I came down with it, so by far that was kind of the biggest play and iced the game for us to secure the win.”
Payton’s compliment and assessment of Smith really speaks volumes. “I would say this guy’s impressive relative to traffic and noise,” Payton asserted. “He’s sturdy. He’s tough. And I think that’s a great asset as a receiver.” It’s nice to finally see it. But perhaps the most telling quote came from Tre’Quan Smith when asked about the palpable connection between Drew Brees and Emmanuel Sanders; he started smiling mid-question, then gave some critical insight on the well-oiled machine that is the completeness of the Saints offense.
“Oh man, I’m definitely happy, because when [Brees and Sanders] get going, it makes me want to get going, you know, participating, making plays. It just kind of was frustrating because we didn’t have the time, you know, OTAs to get the timing down [with Drew]. That’s a big thing with Drew, you know, his timing and his anticipation. So once they got going, I knew it was gonna be something special, and just to show you when they’re on the same page, like ‘hey, we’re all on the same page’. Look what our offense can do.”
Well, now we’ve seen it, and I know that us perfectly rational fans will be understanding and patient should the offense leave us ever again.
Cameron Jordan and the Local High School’s Secondary Joined the 2020 NFL Season
The start of the game was, well, unsurprising. New Orleans’ response on both sides of the ball was the fever dream; despite the all-too-familiar 4th quarter collapse, the Saints’ second-string secondary ultimately did its job. Moreover, the pass rush finally decided to make an opportune appearance.
New Orleans’ secondary woes are not new phenomenas; however, the complete absence of Cameron Jordan’s impact this season has been quite surprising. Jordan felt like this week was (hopefully) the turning point for the Saints to, “get back to [our] fundamentals, get back to [our] foundation, and how we ride as a defense.” The fundamentals are incredibly necessary for a penalty-ridden turnaround, but the pressure on Matthew Stafford was a palpable difference-maker. Or, alternatively, as Patrick Robinson referred to him in his postgame conference, “the quarterback.”
“You know, we got an interception late to return fire,” Jordan remarked on the defensive performance. “And I mean, honestly, I think we really started putting pressure on him. He had to get the ball out faster than I’m sure that he wanted. It was a couple errant throws. And other than that, you know, I think we really had a plan to to get after him, you know, we knew that he wanted to stick to the B gap and after his first initial run, we sort of took control of all that.”
While it may have been Michael Thomas’ pregame text for Tre’Quan Smith, maybe the B gap stubborn stand by Stafford was Jordan’s wakeup call; he’s known, specifically, for his prowess in the B gap. The three sacks certainly helped jumpstart Jordan back into the groove:
“We have a saying that goes around the d-line, you know, ‘sacks, when they come, they come in bunches’. I ended up getting one, Trey [Hendrickson] got one, David [Onyemata] got one, I loved the way the defensive line was really going after him.”
It’s well-known that New Orleans enjoy tumbling down the rabbit hole when things should be easy, and randomly deciding to play lights out when faced with loads of adversity. Unsurprisingly, this matchup, one that saw several defensive starters out on injury, a 3:00 am COVID scare, still no Michael Thomas, and immediately starting the game down 14-0, was no different for the Saints.
“We had to make adjustments on defense, but other than that, we’ve been down before,” Duce (C.J. Gardner-Johnson), opined on the defense’s mentality. “We have to keep fighting like we always do. Yesterday showed a lot. We could have easily given up, but the whole team came together, offensively they did things running the ball, Drew (Brees) did things, receivers stepped up big, the defense. We’re still coming together to try to get everything right and win every game possible.”
Sean Payton: "It's just one of those games where you're proud of your team. It's this game, it'll test you from an adversity standpoint. I think this year will be like that for a lot of us."— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) October 4, 2020
We may not have enjoyed watching this play out in the end whatsoever, but when has that ever been the case? The Saints ultimately stepped up when they had a boatload of (somewhat) legitimate excuses to let another game slip by, and the team has a very different atmosphere and tone than this time last week. New Orleans can deal with slightly poor defensive play; it always has. The important takeaway is that Brees is back in town, and he finally, finally, trusts Tre’Quan Smith, and so do I.
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