The New Orleans Saints’ week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans resulted in a 16-15 win for New Orleans. While it did not come without some hiccups, a win is a win at the end of the day, especially in a division such as the NFC South. With that, we start our weekly series by choosing one player who broke out in the previous game, and going over why their contributions were so critical to the game.
This week we start off with a player who won their training camp battle as an undrafted free agent, and in his first game proved he was the right choice. This week we have Lou Hedley as the breakout player of the game, here is why:
Consistency of kicking range
The first thing that was blatantly noticeable about Lou Hedley was that, simply put, he could punt effectively. He ended up punting five times during his debut game, every single one of them landed within the 25-yard line, four of which were inside the 20 (although 3 were returned). For a rookie to come in after winning a training camp battle and put on a display where none of his punts were shanked, off-line, or returned beyond the 31-yard line is pretty exceptional, to say the least.
He also averaged 48.2 yards per punt, which puts him 13th out of 30 punters who have played week 1. The reason he is not higher is because he had to punt five times, compared to six of the punters ahead of him punting four or fewer times. While he did not have an opportunity to really show off the distance, he was able to consistently pin the opposing team within their own 30 and even 20-yard line.
His punts were hard to track and handle
One of the reasons that returners were not making it beyond the 30-yard line is because Hedley’s punt is an absolute heater. Watching it for the first time yesterday was certainly interesting, as you could really hear how violent the kick was. This can be seen in his stats, as the average hang time of his punts was only 3.72 seconds, which is typically not great, however, the velocity in which he kicks the ball makes the returner adjust on the fly, allowing the gunners to get in place to make the tackle.
What impact did he make on the game?
Lou made a huge impact on this game, and at a position that is rarely discussed, I figured he should be the breakout player of the week. In a game that was all field goals until the second half, Hedley was able to force the Titans’ offense to work for points and gave the Saints’ defense every opportunity to make a stop or make a play.
One of the reasons we saw the Saints have three sacks and three interceptions was because the defense had the length of the field to stop the Titans and were given the positioning to make plays. This is a stark contrast to previous years where a shank or two a game would put the defense on the back foot and force them to dial in immediately or surrender points. Overall, this was a great debut from both rookie special teamers Lou Hedley and Blake Grupe, but Hedley was my choice for player of the week.