Five numbers that will make you grin after the Saints’ 33-22 win against the Washington Football Team.
53.6 - Welcome Back to Gillikin Island
It was back in week 2 of the season, that we took our first trip to Gillikin Island. Despite a disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers that day, Saints’ punter Blake Gillikin started turning heads when he unleashed a booming 60-yard punt from the Saints’ one-yard line. On Sunday at FedEx Field in Maryland, Gillikin officially announced himself as one of the best punters of the young 2021 NFL season, and perhaps the legitimate heir to the legacy of Thomas Morstead. Gillikin punted 5 times against Washington for a gross average of 53.6 yards. That in itself is outstanding but look at his net punting average: 51.6 yards! That means that not only did he punt ridiculously far, he also did so directionally in a way that limited or eliminated returns by Washington’s dynamic returner Deandre Carter.
Before the Saints scored on an incredible Hail Mary at the end of the first half, Gillikin’s outrageous 60-yard punt rolled out of bounds at Washington one and half-yard line, forcing “Riverboat” Ron Rivera to play conservatively and eventually punt the ball back to the Saints. Because of how deep the WFT was, the Saints had great field position at the WFT 48-yard line, and as they say, the rest (Jameis’ Hail Mary TD pass) is history. Gillikin was an intricate part of the Saints scoring just before halftime and eventually winning that game.
6 - Who Needs Two Hands?
Remember how the Saints paid Marshon Lattimore earlier this season? It happened right after the first game of the season, when New Orleans pummeled Green Bay and “Shon” had just frustrated Packers’ wide receiver Davante Adams to the tune of 56 receiving yards on a meager five catches, and no touchdowns. Lattimore accomplished that against one of the best wide receivers in the NFL despite badly injuring his finger during the game. He then missed the Panthers’ game following surgery. With his hand in a plaster, Lattimore came back just two weeks after having surgery, and has looked every bit the 5-year/97 million dollars contract the Saints invested in him. But the best was yet to come on Sunday against the Washington Football Team, as Lattimore guarded his former college teammate, WFT wide receiver Terry McLaurin and recorded 6 passes defensed. This the second-most passes defensed in a single-game in NFL history, behind only Lito Sheppard of the Philadelphia Eagles (2006, vs. Dallas Cowboys) and Duane Starks of the Baltimore Ravens (1999, vs. New Orleans Saints). The last time a player had 6 passes defensed in a single game in the NFL was 2017, when Kyle Fuller of the Chicago Bears accomplished the feat against the Cleveland Browns. Oh, and just for fun, with his 6 PDs, Lattimore passed three former Saints who each had 5 PDs in a single game: Janoris Jenkins (2020 vs. Atlanta Falcons), Kevin Kaesviharn (2007, vs. Arizona Cardinals) and Ashley Ambrose (2000, vs. Carolina Panthers).
9 - Pick Off Artists
With two more interceptions on Sunday against Taylor Heinicke and the Washington Football Team, the Saints vaulted themselves to second in the NFL in interceptions with 9, tied with Buffalo and behind only the Dallas Cowboys (10). The Saints are also third in the league in total takeaways with 10, behind Dallas (12) and the Buffalo Bills (15). While New Orleans’ pass defense has been a bit leaky at times in terms of total yards allowed per game (25th at 275.0 ypg), the Saints have shown a propensity to limit the average passing yards per play (10th, 6.71 ypp) and have taken the ball away. Their interception rate is third best in the league (4.39%) and with an offense still finding its identity, short fields are exactly what the doctor ordered for the Saints.
72 - Career-Best
It took Jameis Winston’s 81st game in the NFL for him to throw the longest touchdown of his ongoing career. He had come close before, throwing both a 70-yard touchdown pass in 2017 and a 71-yarder in 2019 while playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But it was to be in a Saints’ uniform, with a team he is still getting familiar with, that Winston would throw a perfect 72-yard deep ball to Saints’ wide receiver Deonte Harris for a touchdown. With all the speculation about Sean Payton not trusting Winston to throw the ball more, it was obvious that Payton came into the game against the WFT looking to exploit a secondary that has been part of a disappointing defense so far this season in Washington. Winston threw the ball 30 times, 7 passes over his highest number of passing attempt so far this year. An early interception and a fumble on a drop back did not deter the Saints’ head coach, as Winston was trusted to throw some more and ultimately delivered. Saints’ fans hope to see a lot more of that moving forward, and as Winston and Payton get more comfortable with each other, I believe they will.
44.4. Better Get a Good Kicker
I know what you’re thinking, but this is not what you are thinking. The Saints are first in the NFL in Goal-to-Go percentage, with 44.4%. What is that? Well, when a team has first-and-goal, this metric represents how many times the team is scoring a touchdown vs. either settling for a field goal, or not scoring at all (by either missing said field goal or being stopped on fourth down). Your New Orleans Saints are atop the entire league in preventing teams from scoring touchdowns despite having driven the ball inside the 10-yard line. In other words, you better have a good kicker that will make chip-shot field goals easily if you are playing the Saints, otherwise you will get nothing and you will like it. Like every statistic, this one of course could be slightly misleading: if teams can score long touchdowns, then they are rarely in the red zone or inside the 10-yard line and don’t need to anyway. This is where it bears mentioning that the Saints are 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per play (3.35) and 10th in passing yards-allowed per-play (6.71), thus, not exactly a team that allows big plays on a regular basis. Yes, the eye-test can be quite deceptive, and the 2021 New Orleans are a defensive team. Who would’ve thought that?
Given how they’ve looked so far, are the Saints going make the playoffs?
Yes they are!
No they are not!
Maybe, ask me again in 5 games.
Playoffs!!! Playoffs??? You kiddin’ me?
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