The New Orleans Saints Week 1 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was an interesting game, to say the least.
With no fans in the stands, it was sure to be a unique experience for the viewers and players, but as far as the play on the field, there were many unexpected turns and narratives that played out throughout the battle.
The Bucs started off on a tear, then waned offensively as the game went on. The Saints didn’t look crisp all night, but still put up a decent amount of points on an underrated defense.
Tampa averaged 5.0 yards per play, while New Orleans outputted a mere 4.2. NOLA had less yards, yards per pass attempt, yards per rush, a worse third down efficiency rate and more penalty yards. Yet they still came out with the W, keeping Jameis Winston well-fed.
They really won this game for two primary reasons: Turnovers and Special Teams.
And one of those is my first key takeaway from Week 1:
1. Special teams helped dominate the field position battle
Thomas Morstead and Deonte Harris were ginormous in this game. Morstead was pinning the Bucs inside the five all day long, and Harris was getting those “hidden yards” Sean Payton likes to talk about all night long on punt returns.
One thing I’m not hearing enough of is that yesterday was low key arguably the best game of @thomasmorstead’s amazing career. 6 punts, 5 inside the 20, ZERO return yards, 44 net avg, AND he came in on the pooch kickoff executed it perfectly and created a turnover.— Andrew Juge (@AndrewJuge) September 14, 2020
Morstead, easily one of the league’s best punters, was getting so much hangtime on his punts that returners weren’t getting chances to return. Plus, he was obviously pinning them inside the five. These numbers speak for themselves.
Also, credit to Justin Hardee for getting down so quickly from the gunner position and making a huge play.
Deonte Harris’s impact on this game cannot be understated. His steady production of solid return yards on punts made a huge difference in the game, with four returns for 59 yards.
His 14.8 yards per return helped set up the Saints in good field position all game.
Not a single Tampa Bay drive started beyond their 25, 7 within. Meanwhile the #Saints started 8 at or beyond their own 35.— Ross Jackson (@RossJacksonNOLA) September 14, 2020
Special teams was huge. https://t.co/uHDxIJtjv5
You also can’t forget the weird pooch kick by Morstead that was muffed by Tampa. That was a pretty random, unrepeatable play. But hey, we’ll take it.
2. Brees’s inaccuracy was concerning
People can talk all they want about the declining arm of Drew Brees.
“Oh, he can’t complete the deep ball anymore.” “Noodle arm.” Yada-yada-yada.
As long as he’s still deadly accurate in the short-to-intermediate range (where over 80% of all quarterback’s throws go), who really cares, right? Well, there’s just one problem.
He was far from deadly accurate on any level of throws Sunday.
I counted about four or five misses by him yesterday, and some were on balls that are typically easy money plays.
There was the miss to Kamara on the wheel route, the low ball to Sanders on a drag route that he managed to coral, an underthrown ball to Jared Cook on a corner route that was almost picked and missed out route to Michael Thomas that he’d hit in his sleep last season. This isn’t even mentioning the awful deep ball to Sanders that he got bailed out of due to a pass interference call.
His adjusted completion percentage, which he’s led the league in every year since 2016, when he was 2nd, was at 70.4 yesterday. That ranked 24th out of 32 QBs.
And he was 18th when kept clean from pressure, so it’s not like he was just missing throws because he was under duress.
There’s no other way to splice it than Brees just had a really bad day. It wasn’t because of his declining arm strength either.
It was pretty concerning to watch, but it also is just one game. I’m not going to overreact until we see a bit larger sample size of missed throws from the Hall-of-Famer.
3. The $75 million man has to be better better in Pass Protection
The newly-extended Alvin Kamara didn’t have the greatest of debuts in Week 1. Yes, he had two touchdowns, but he wasn’t really providing much value on a play-for-play basis. And his receiving stats were inflated due to a garbage time trick play on the Saints last drive.
He had 12 rush attempts for 16 yards, and if you take away the garbage time pass late in the fourth quarter, he had four catches for 13 yards. That’s not near worth the contract he signed, but again, it’s one week, and we shouldn’t overreact.
The most alarming thing from his performance was his struggle in pass protection.
He allowed a pressure and a hit, and had another play where he completely ran past a free rusher, resulting in a Brees sack. It’s possible the free rusher he allowed through wasn’t his assignment, but at some point, you’ve got to just realize that he’s the most dangerous rusher available and block him.
This all happened in FOUR pass protection snaps he had in this game. So basically, when he was in pass pro, something bad usually happened, which explains his 28.6 PFF pass block grade.
For him to live up to that contract, he not only needs to produce more on the ground and through the air, but he’s got to shore up his pass blocking.
4. Malcolm Jenkins and Ceedy Duce were utilized properly
One thing I noticed from re-watching the first few plays from Sunday was when the Bucs went to 12 personnel (2 WRs, 2 TEs, 1RB), Dennis Allen would often put D.J. Swearinger in at safety, take Ceedy Duce (CJGJ?) out and replace him with Malcom Jenkins.
But when the Bucs went to 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB), they’d keep Duce in slot and move Jenkins back to safety.
That basically means when Tampa had multiple tight ends in the game, Jenkins was playing linebacker. This is a way to keep him in the box when possible, because he thrives there, and to get more safeties on the field, because they have so many good ones.
This is also why we saw Swearinger play almost half of the defensive snaps.
Allen likes Jenkins as a matchup with tight ends, and he likes Duce on slot receivers, so he’s utilizing their strengths by making sure they often get those matchups.
And it worked, because they both played well. Jenkins didn’t allow a catch on two targets, broke up a pass, didn’t miss a tackle and had two run stops.
Duce was all over the field, filling holes in run defense and allowing only 6.1 yards per catch on seven targets.
He led all safeties in the entire league in Week 1 with a whopping six run stops, vis PFF.
It was good to see those guys be effective in their roles, and it’ll be interesting to see how P.J. Williams plays into this scheme when he gets healthy.
5. Taysom gonna Taysom
Taysom Hill did Taysom Hill things Sunday. He racked up a total of 65 yards on four touches, while only seeing a total of 17 snaps offensively.
He got the very first touch of the game on a route Sean Payton loves to deploy him on: the slide route.
It’s a great way to get him out in space after motioning him over and running it off of play action.
We got to see him drop back to pass, only for him to take off in typical Taysom fashion, after not finding anyone open downfield.
And, of course, he threw a nice ball to an open Kamara late in the fourth quarter, on a beautiful “f*** you” trick play call by Payton.
The backup QB continues to make plays when he’s on the field, despite a low snap count. I’ll be curious to see if that snap count goes up if Brees continues to struggle moving forward in the season.
But for now, it looks like we’ll just continue to have our few little Taysom plays every once in a while throughout the season. While they’re few and far between, they sure are effective — and more importantly — fun as hell.
What were your key takeaways from the game Sunday? 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, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.