Five numbers that will make you believe that the playoffs may not be a pipe dream for the Saints this season.
The 2021 New Orleans Saints will suffocate you on defense, then let their, ahem, barely capable offense take over and go three-and-out. In the end, the defense will tire out, the offense will keep sputtering and the team will find itself down 20. The offense will then score a bunch of useless points in the fourth quarter once victory is out of reach. But in Tampa on Sunday night, something different happened: the defense never got tired. Instead, it kept landing blows on the Buccaneers offense, until the Bucs surrendered. The Saints won 9-0. Yes, the offense was still putrid, but the defense was so good that a touchdown was not even needed to win the game. How did they do it?
100.5 - Franchise Legend
Cameron Tyler Jordan, better known to Saints fans as Cam Jordan is quickly entering the hallowed hall of New Orleans Saints franchise legends. In Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers, Jordan recorded two sacks of Tom Brady. While the sacks raised Jordan’s season total to a modest 6.0 sacks, they took his career total to 100.5 sacks in the regular season. With three games left this NFL season, the prolific defensive end has a chance to further narrow the gap between he and the only other Saints’ player ahead of him in total career sacks in the regular season, none other than Hall-of-Fame defensive end Rickey Jackson, who has 123. Jordan, who will turn 33 next year ahead of the start of the 2022 NFL regular season, probably needs to perform at a high level for another three NFL seasons to have a chance to become to franchise’s all-time leader in sacks. I would not put it past him.
57.1 - No Goats Allowed Here
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback we have seen in our lifetime. There will certainly be another quarterback better than him coming along someday, but whether said quarterback is already alive today or not is the great unknown. What we know however is that since moving to Tampa Bay following the 2019 NFL season, Brady’s bête noire has been the Saints’ defense led by Dennis Allen. On Sunday night in Tampa, Brady’s passer rating was 57.1 (for perspective, a perfect passer rating is 158.3). The GOAT was 26-of-48 passing, with 214 yards and no touchdowns. He also coughed the ball up on a fumble once and threw an interception. The Saints swept the Bucs in the regular season for the second year in a row, dropping Brady to 0-4 against New Orleans in his two seasons in Tampa. Ming boggling, yet real.
15 - As in Years
December 10, 2006 is the date. Just over 15 years ago. That day, the New England Patriots descended on Miami to play the Dolphins armed with a 9-3 record, to face a 5-7 Miami team that would end the season 6-10. The Dolphins won the game 21-0, shocking the NFL world in what would be their last win of that season. It was also the last time that a Tom Brady-quarterbacked team was shut out in an NFL regular season game until Sunday, when the Saints shut out the Bucs 9-0. This goes to show you just how rare what the Saints accomplished in Tampa against the Bucs is. And even more impressive being the fact they accomplished it basically with one hand (the offensive one) tied behind their back.
9 - Out of the Dark, a Shining Light
How bad was the Saints’ offense on Sunday night in Tampa? New Orleans punted 9 times in the game, the most this season was 6 punts, which the Saints have done three times already this year (did I say their offense is bad?). But out of all the darkness that is the Saints’ offense, when it has to give the ball up, punter Blake Gillikin has exceeded all expectations in his first season in New Orleans. Gillikin punted nine times, with no touchbacks (which is what you want). He pinned the Bucs inside their 20 four times and recorded a net average of 41.2 yards (including return yards). With the struggles the Saints have scoring and moving the ball, having a reliable and sure-footed punter is vital to stay in games. Gillikin was a big part of why the Saints managed to blank the Bucs on Sunday.
112 - A Glimmer of Hope
The Saints’ wide receivers have not exactly distinguished themselves this season. In fact, New Orleans’ leading receiver in 2021, Marquez Callaway, has caught 36 passes for 555 yards and 6 touchdowns. Those are the numbers for a number two, or even a number three wide receiver on several teams. Callaway is currently ranked as the 55th wide receiver in the league in receiving yards. On Sunday in Tampa however, Callaway had 112 yards on six catches. This marked the first time a Saints’ wide receiver has gone over the 100-yard mark this regular season. The currently suspended Deonte Harris had come close with 96 receiving yards on December 2 against the Dallas Cowboys, before Callaway finally broke the seal. This shocking result is the culmination of three things: 1) The absence of a true number one wide receiver on the Saints, with Michael Thomas missing the entire season after ankle surgery. 2) The absence of a competent quarterback able to consistently deliver the ball with great timing and accuracy. 3) The lack of viable receiving threats in the passing games, with the current players being better suited for supporting roles or not being experienced enough at this level. The glimmer of hope here for the Saints is that if (and hopefully when) Michael Thomas returns next season, the Saints should have a very good number two option in Marquez Callaway, and viable options at number three and four in Deonte Harris and a combination of Juwan Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. So, when it comes to building for the future, the Saints should have the foundations to attract a viable free agent quarterback this offseason. The future of New Orleans’ offense is not as bleak as its play currently looks.
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