The New Orleans Saints find themselves back at .500 after a collapse last Sunday versus a banged up New York Giants team. If that wasn’t enough, last Sunday was the first game back in the Superdome since the effects of Hurricane Ida swept through the region.
This week brings another matchup in the Washington Football Team battling injuries at several positions as the game approaches. This will be the Saints final game before their bye week where they’re expecting a plethora of key players of their own to return soon and could really be feeling good about themselves at 3-2 with a victory — all things considered.
For more on Washington we were able to get ahold of Andrew York from Hogs Haven, he was kind enough to answer a few questions heading into the game. Hope you enjoy the latest edition of Outsider’s Perspective.
1. What’s explains the WFT’s defense slow start, after a year that appeared to leave so much potential?
Well, there was some turnover on the roster. FS Bobby McCain is replacing Deshazor Everett, CB William Jackson III is replacing Ronald Darby, and LB Jamin Davis is replacing Kevin Pierre-Louis. However, that’s not a lot of turnover for most teams and most of those changes are upgrades on paper. Also, it’s not just the new players who are playing poorly, but rather almost the whole defense.
If a handful of players are playing poorly, those players are the problem. When all or most of the players are playing poorly, coaching is likely the problem. I personally think it starts with DC Jack Del Rio. Although Ron Rivera is a defensive head coach, my impression is that he acts more like a CEO and lets his coordinators actually manage their sides of the ball. In Carolina, his defense was good up until then DC Sean McDermott was hired away to coach the Bills. After that, he went through a string of DCs, none of whom were able to find success defensively. I mention all of this to point out that Rivera is highly dependent on his DC to make the defense succeed.
Our defense got off to a very slow start last year under Del Rio as well. It wasn’t really until week 7 that the defense started to gel. At the time, we thought the shortened offseason training and new system was the problem. The same thing seems to be happening this year though, so I think the problem is really with Del Rio doing a poor job of preparing players to play. Most of the problems have been coverage busts and failure to pass off assignments, basic things that any defensive player should be able to do.
2. What’s making Taylor Heinicke so successful right now?
I think it’s a combination of a few things:
He’s actually a better QB than most evaluators realized. I think he was overlooked in the draft because he doesn’t have a great arm and he’s pretty small for a QB. He’s also not the kind of guy who flashes in practice, but he’s got a gamer mentality and really elevates his play in games. He’s also very good at reading the field and making good decisions (when he’s not under pressure). I’d compare him to a young Ryan Fitzpatrick or Brett Favre’s mind in Colt McCoy’s body.
He has a good supporting cast on offense that is helping him out. I think our offensive cast has a worse reputation than it deserves due to the poor QB play we’ve had the last several years. Washington’s OL had a rough week 1, but has actually done a very good job protecting the QB and opening holes in the run game since then. WR Terry McLaurin might be doing the most to help out his QB, as several major gains last week (including a desperation heave into the end zone) should have incompletions or picks if not for heroic catches by Terry. TE Logan Thomas really started to break out last year (though he got injured last week). He might not get much attention, but pass-catching RB JD McKissick has really been stepping up his play too, and turned a checkdown last week into a game-winning sprint to the end zone.
OC Scott Turner is doing a good job designing the offense around his strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. Turner has added more read-option into the offense to take advantage of Heinicke’s legs and seems to be designing plays that encourage easier, shorter completions by using overlapping WR routes to clear out spaces for the underneath WR or using pick plays to get them open underneath.
3. If there’s one weapon offensively outside of Terry McLaurin that New Orleans should be fearful of it’s ____?
Antonio Gibson in the run game and Curtis Samuel in the pass game. Most people probably know about Antonio Gibson (at least if they play fantasy football), but a lot of people don’t realize we signed WR Curtis Samuel in the offseason because he’s been sidelined with a groin injury until recently.
He finally made a snap-limited debut last week and looked to have a real impact on the few snaps he played. This week will probably see an expanded role, so we’re excited to see how much he adds to the offense.
4. What’s the biggest misconception about the WFT right now?
That the DL is underperforming just as much as the rest of the defense. In reality, I think the DL has been playing pretty well, with the possible exception of Chase Young. According to ESPN analytics, the DL has a pass rush win rate of 47% (11th best in the NFL) and a run stop win rate of 33% (12th best in the NFL). Not elite, but not nearly as bad as the rest of the defense. The problem is that the coverage is so poor that opposing QBs can throw the ball to an open receiver before the pass rush has a chance to get home. If we can fix the breakdowns in coverage, I think the DL will look much better.
5. Your outsider’s perspective on the Saints?
I think you’re a team with a very talented roster at most position groups, but held back by a weak pass-catching group, the QB(s), and injury so far. I realize statistically Jameis hasn’t been the one holding the Saints back so much as the conservative way he’s being used, but I suspect that if Payton is afraid to let loose with him, it’s because of what he sees in practice.
That or he just has no faith in the receivers, but either way it results in a limited offense. The injuries will sort themselves out and I expect the team to get better as it gets healthier, but I think the offense will still hold them back from having playoff success. I see the Saints as a wildcard team in the playoffs this year, but would be surprised if they go much further than that.
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