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Saints offensive line coming together despite early-season injuries

Erik McCoy and Terron Armstead may be hurt, but the Saints’ depth may help Jameis Winston

NFL: New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints have had a lot of ups and downs through their first three weeks. They beat the Green Bay Packers 38-3, lost to the Carolina Panthers 26-7 and then beat the New England Patriots 28-13. While the former two games were decisive, the Saints’ win over the Patriots was a bit more of a roller coaster akin to their season.

After a dominant first half against New England, the Saints faltered in the second. The offense stagnated and the Patriots were able to mount a semblance of a comeback before the Saints ripped off a nearly 7-minute drive in the fourth quarter to go up 28-13 and effectively put the game away.

The difference for the Saints has been their offensive line. They’re currently 10th in the NFL in overall blocking per Pro Football Focus, with a grade of 78.8. The Panthers game was by far their worst overall grade, grading a lowly 65. The confusion up front was apparent, as the Panthers’ Phil Snow brought multiple blitzers all game. Jameis Winston and Cesar Ruiz weren’t up to assigning protections pre-snap, and Winston paid the price.

When the Saints pick up a blitz, Winston is excellent at moving the pocket. Here, they create a pocket that’s hard not to utilize. The Patriots bring blitzers on both edges, and Taysom Hill chips one going on a leak route, while Ryan Ramczyk easily picks up the other edge as Calvin Throckmorton handles the inside. The result is a good, clean throwing lane for Winston, who easily finds Deonte Harris coming across the middle.

The Saints have seen several permutations in their offensive line already, with center Erik McCoy and left tackle Terron Armstead injured. As a result, Ruiz is back to his college position of center while James Hurst is filling in at left tackle. It appeared that the Saints took a while to gel in the second half, but when they did it culminated in the long touchdown drive that sealed the game.

The line played so well here, that the Patriots were forced to half-heartedly stunt at the line of scrimmage. The blitzer runs into the united front of Throckmorton and Ramczyk and tries to find a seam in the middle. After Alvin Kamara impedes his route, Andrus Peat (who had an excellent game in his own right) is able to pick him up with ease. Winston goes through his progressions easily and the Saints convert a third and medium as a result.

The Saints have gone as their offensive line has gone for the past four years. That’s going to be especially true this year without Drew Brees directing traffic pre-snap. Winston appears to be figuring it out week by week, but it’s hard to get a read on Winston’s efficiency at this point.

The Saints are currently 31st in the league in passing, averaging just 113.7 yards per game. The Bears are 32nd, with last week’s one net passing yard disaster ruining the curve. Winston hasn’t been asked to do much in the Saints’ wins and outstanding defense has helped the cause. In the loss, a myriad of factors made his day harder.

If the Saints have found a permutation of their line that works, then it should translate to more success and and improved passing game. Hurst is looking like he may join a line of successful sixth men for the Saints up front. Next man up is a very important part of Sean Payton’s offensive lines and it’s been successful to this point. It will have to continue if the Saints are to compete in what’s proving to be a highly competitive NFC South.

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