Okay– we’ll have more to say about Drew Brees’ record-setting career in its own space. For now, though, let’s look at the Saints absolutely dominating once again at home in prime time, a game which seemingly confirmed that the team is, indeed, back to last year’s level of performance.
The Good: The Saints dominated Washington on both sides of the ball from the jump, as a huge hit on Adrian Peterson by P.J. Williams set the tone for the evening. By the end of it all, New Orleans had out-gained Washington 7.1 yards per play to 4.7. Both the running and the passing game hummed along nicely; Brees completed a ludicrous 26 of 29 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns. (Five games in and he still hasn’t thrown an interception.) Tre’Quan Smith turned his three targets into three catches for 111 yards. The defense made the Washington run game nonexistent and the pass game ineffective, keeping pressure on Alex Smith all day and forcing incompletions and interceptions even when they weren’t sacking him.
Mark Ingram is back: I suspected the team would be looking to get Ingram back into the rotation seriously, not only to break him back in but to give Alvin Kamara a rest. Not only did Ingram score the team’s two rushing touchdowns, but he also was the primary back for closing out the game. Ingram out-touched Kamara 18-9, which won’t happen every week, but it’s clear the team wants to keep Kamara as fresh as possible for the truly important games. And none of the other tailbacks they’ve kept on the roster in Ingram’s absence– Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams, and now Dwayne Washington– are the same kind of runner or all-around back as Ingram is, let alone understand the offense as well or execute it effectively. Having them both back diversifies the offense and gives Kamara some rest. Ingram played 36 of 66 offensive snaps Monday night, while Kamara played just 31 (meaning they shared the backfield once). Kamara’s 47% of the snaps was a marked downturn from the first four games without Ingram, where he played 82% (229 of 279) of the offensive snaps.
Michael Thomas watch: Thomas “only” caught four of five targets, but the missed completion was due to poor placement by Brees. His performance was not only enough to get big-money cornerback Josh Norman benched for part of the game, but to lead Norman and several other Members of the Washington secondary to complain about Thomas afterward. Maybe next time, play better?
Thomas is now at a 93.9% catch rate on the season, with 46 receptions for 519 yards. This would put him on pace for 147 receptions for 1,661 yards.
Several players left the game with injuries, a tough break after the team had stayed relatively healthy for so long this season. The biggest concern is Marshon Lattimore leaving the game early with a concussion after colliding with A.J. Klein on a play. With two weeks off, Lattimore will probably be cleared to play against the Ravens in week 7. But concussions are worrisome in that a player who gets them becomes more prone to them, and the defense cannot afford to be without Lattimore for long. They played admirably the rest of the game on Monday night, but that may be in part due to the Washington offense not being particularly geared toward its receivers, as having Alex Smith at quarterback tends to require a short passing game.
Klein himself also left the game with a lower leg injury, unclear whether he would return. With Manti Te’o already out, this theoretically would clear more playing time for Alex Anzalone, but he’s still not getting on the field much, and Craig Robertson played a few snaps as well. It’s not clear if the coaches have already lost faith in Anzalone or if his previous injuries have kept him from getting up to speed on the defense. Klein and Robertson are adequate but they’re no great shakes; if Anzalone is the player the Saints thought he was when they drafted him, he should be getting more playing time by now.
Ted Ginn also missed the game with a knee injury, although that gave Tre’Quan Smith the chance to show off his deep route-running and ball skills. (As seen above.)
Hopefully going into the bye week will allow everyone to get healthy. Lattimore is obviously the most important piece here, as his coverage abilities make the rest of the defense’s job that much easier. That said, Justin Hardee saw increased playing time after Lattimore went out, and I’d be remiss not to include his highlight of the day:
Marcus Davenport highlights
He’s playing more snaps every week and getting better and better. This is a good breakdown of how he made an impact on the field Monday night. Of course, the two plays you’re probably most interested in are the ones where he sacked Alex Smith:
(Okay, that first one wasn’t technically a sack, but how could I not include it?)
I was skeptical of the trade for Davenport and will always remain so of any major trade up (something that, in my opinion, the Saints do far too often), but Davenport’s development seems to be coming along nicely, as he gets increased playing time each week and seems to be doing more and more with it. It’s exactly what we hoped for; if his playing time continues to increase, finishing the regular season with 8 sacks or so is a real possibility, a very encouraging performance from a rookie who was expected to need some developmental time.
This version of the Saints is a Super Bowl contending team– an offense that can score at will and a defense that can stop opponents regularly enough to throw them off schedule and force them into unfavorable down and distance situations, then take advantage when they are forced to play from behind. Not every team the Saints play will have the kind of lack of downfield passing Washington had, though. On the bright side, Washington’s line is very good, with a lot of high draft picks invested into it, and the Saints’ ability to consistently pressure Smith despite that speaks well to how the pass rush is coming together.
Hopefully the Saints use the bye week to get healthy and to tweak schematics as they see fit. We need the best version of this team going forward. The five weeks after the bye are brutal: at Baltimore, at Minnesota, home vs. the Rams, at Cincinnati, and home vs. Philadelphia. The Saints could easily be 5-5 at the end of week 11. If they can hold on to something more like 7-3, they’re in great shape to get a first-round bye in the playoffs. (And if they beat the Rams at home, that tiebreaker could be a huge leg up on home-field advantage.)
Coming up on the bye week
A look at how Drew Brees became the all-time passing yards leader, as well as an evaluation of the team to date and some projections looking forward.