Last year around this time, I was writing after the Saints traveled to a cold-weather AFC team for week 10, a team sitting at 5-3 in the standings, and dominated the matchup, coming back to New Orleans with a 37-point win.
Today, I’m writing after the Saints traveled to a cold-weather AFC team for week 10, a team sitting at 5-3 in the standings, and dominated the matchup, coming back to New Orleans with a 37-point win.
The Saints were completely unstoppable on offense, scoring at will in the first half and then continuing to score even when they were just trying to run down the clock in the second half. Thomas Morstead wasn’t called on to punt once, although he did have to hold for nine Wil Lutz kicks. The Saints scored five touchdowns on five possessions in the first half, then another touchdown and three field goals before running out the clock in the second, on their way to a 51-14 win.
I had been worried that this game had all the makings of a trap game after a difficult win the previous week. The Saints would be going on the road for a game that was out-of-conference and less important than the games surrounding it, and doing so after winning a hard-fought Game of the Year candidate against one of the league’s toughest teams.
Instead, the Saints stepped up and delivered an utterly dominant performance. The game seemed like it would be pretty close early on, as the teams traded touchdowns on their opening drives, but after the Bengals tied it at 7, they wouldn’t score again until a late touchdown after the game was well out of hand. The Saints offense continued to execute, while the Bengals made just enough miscues for the Saints to take full advantage.
The most prominent of those miscues was an Andy Dalton interception at the end of the first half. Trying to put the team in position to score, Dalton heaved a deep ball from the Saints’ 34 near the end of the half. Marcus Williams was able to get under it and field it cleanly, and with his speed and some good blocking, return it all the way to the Bengals’ 17. With eight seconds left, many teams would have kicked the field goal there, but New Orleans took one more shot at the end zone, and Drew Brees found the unstoppable Michael Thomas across the middle for the score and a 35-7 halftime lead.
The sheer unstoppability of the Saints’ offense in the first half was the real story here. Aside from that half-ending score, New Orleans had touchdown drives of 75, 75, 90, and 60 yards. On the flipside, the defense prevented Cincinnati from ever converting a third down, a welcome change from the team’s usual third-down performance and a a huge impediment to the Bengals’ efforts to keep up. It only took two of those stops and the Williams interception for the Saints offense to do the rest and put the game out of hand by halftime.
It’s hard to have much to say about a game that got so completely out of hand so quickly. Everyone got a little piece of the action: The usual suspects like Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara feasted on offense, but practice-squad callup Keith Kirkwood caught both targets thrown his way, including a 42-yard pass downfield, the longest completion of the day for the Saints. On defense, Sheldon Rankins got his fifth sack on the year, second on the team; Cameron Jordan came up with his sixth to lead the team. Alex Anzalone also got a sack on a blitz, and Eli Apple got his first interception as a Saint to go along with Marcus Williams’.
Looking at the events of this week, two big roster stories stand out for the Saints:
Saints sign Brandon Marshall. After the Dez Bryant Era abruptly ended with Bryant tearing his Achilles on his second day with the team, the Saints signed Brandon Marshall, whom they’d also brought in for a workout last week. Marshall is older than Bryant (he’s 34) and the last few years of his career haven’t been particularly encouraging. In 2016 he faced a dropoff from 1,502 yards receiving to 788 and his catch rate plummeted from 63% to 46%. In 2017 he only played five games with the Giants before going on injured reserve, catching 18 passes for 154 yards. This year, he played six games for the Seattle Seahawks, catching nine passes in his first three for 120 yards, but being phased out of the game plan after that, with two catches for 16 yards in his final three games before Seattle cut him.
So there’s some reason to be skeptical he’ll produce the desired impact, given that he was cut earlier this year to give a seventh-round pick named David Moore more playing time. That said, he doesn’t need to be a big playmaker to be an asset to the Saints; he just needs to be someone who can use his size and hands reliably to catch balls in tough spaces and important situations. If he can even be a credible threat to do that, he’ll have a positive impact on the offense.
Terron Armstead is going to miss several weeks with a pectoral injury. At last, it seemed like Armstead was going to finally make it through an entire season healthy, as he hadn’t missed a snap before the Bengals game. But he was injured in the second quarter and didn’t return; as it turns out, he’s going to be out for likely the rest of November. A frustrating turn of events for an offensive line that was firing on all cylinders, especially for a player like Armstead who’s struggled with nagging injuries his entire career (he’s never played all 16 games in a season). Still, though, if the team can play solidly and hang in there, he and Marcus Davenport should be back for the stretch run.
Jermon Bushrod took over at left tackle in the Bengals game and played capably enough. It’s uncertain yet as to whether the Saints want to keep that arrangement or try something else. It’s possible Andrus Peat or Ryan Ramczyk moves to left tackle, and Bushrod plays one of their positions. (It’s also possible that Cameron Tom would fill in at guard instead of Bushrod if Peat moves.) The team hasn’t tipped its hand yet as to how they’ll approach the problem.
The Saints host the Philadelphia Eagles next, and while the defending Super Bowl champions are having a bit of a disappointing season, they still have enough talent to be dangerous, particularly in their front four. The Saints certainly win this game– and are favored to– especially considering the injuries the Eagles have in their secondary. But it all starts with the blocking up front, and the Saints will have to spend the week preparing for the challenge of blocking Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and the team’s trio of old veterans in Michael Bennett, Chris Long, and Haloti Ngata. If they can win the war up front even without Armstead, the Saints stand a strong chance. The Eagles offense has faced a dropoff since losing assistant coaches John DeFilippo and Frank Reich to other jobs, so if New Orleans gets rolling on their side of the ball, the defense should be able to do enough to secure the victory. Once again, it’s time to be careful not to have a letdown game after a strong performance.
(Aside, sorry for the lack of GIFs this week– there were too many good plays to choose from. If you have any requests from this game, leave them in the comments (do we have comments?))