NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Take One: Complete offensive effort
The Saints checked all the boxes of clean, offensive football. They were balanced, converted third downs (12/14) and scored touchdowns in the red zone.
From the game’s opening drive the Saints offense set a tone of efficient play. They opened with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took over half of the first quarter. That drive ended with a Jared Cook catch in the back of the end zone. On that drive, they ran it eight times and passed it six.
In the final drive of the second half, Drew Brees executed a two-minute drill to perfection. After the Panthers went up 17-14, he connected on all six of his passes (his only incompletion was a spike) and found Deonte Harris for a touchdown with just two seconds left on the clock. Sean Payton called that drive the game-winner that they just didn’t know it at the time.
All in all, the Saints only had seven total drives. But they were able to amass 415 total yards, held a 34:41 to 25:19 edge in time of possession and didn’t punt at all. It was one of their most complete offensive efforts of the season.
Take Two: The Sack
The Saints didn’t generate much of a consistent pass rush Sunday. They only got to Teddy Bridgewater once, but the timing of that sack couldn’t have been better.
On third-and-11 on the Panthers final drive, the Saints blitzed Alex Anzalone, while Marcus Davenport, standing up on the right, twisted inside and trucked the blocking running back to smother Bridgewater for an eight yard loss at their 47-yard line. The exact loss of yardage proved crucial.
The Panthers went on to attempt a 65-yard field goal. Joey Slye missed it by mere inches. Had Davenport’s sack been a loss of seven, instead of eight, the kick would have likely been good and the Panthers would have tied the score.
As for Davenport, it was great to see him come up with such a clutch play after a injury-plagued start to the season.
Take Three: Coverage busts and red zone defensive woes
Two common problems for the Saints defense popped up again Sunday: coverage busts and red zone.
The secondary had more breakdowns that led to Panthers big plays. The biggest came in the second quarter, with the Saints up 14-3. The Saints appeared to be in a cover two or cover three zone coverage. On the snap, D.J. Moore ran a post route in front of Marcus Williams, but Williams inexplicably bypassed Moore to help Marshon Lattimore cover a receiver on the sideline. Moore ran free down the middle of the field, Bridgewater saw it immediately and connected with him for a 74-yard touchdown. There were other instances of busts but none were bigger than that.
As for the red zone, when teams get inside the twenty-yard line on the Saints, they’re almost assured a touchdown. The Panthers were down there twice Sunday and scored two touchdowns. This despite that the Panthers had one of the worst red zone offenses in the league. Against the Chargers two weeks ago, they gave up three touchdowns on three red zone trips.
When you combine how susceptible they are to breakdowns that leads to big plays and their ineffective red zone issues, the Saints defense is just not playing consistent football. This could eventually lead to problems down the road.
Take Four: Marquez Callaway rises to the occasion.
With the absences of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, the Saints may have discovered a hidden gem in undrafted rookie wide receiver Marquez Callaway. Brees clearly trusts Callaway and targeted him ten times on Sunday. He came down with eight receptions for 75 yards and should have had at least one more and a touchdown but a questionable offensive pass interference call on Tre' Quan Smith negated his score on a wheel route.
Callaway has a good feel for the soft spots in zone coverage at the first and second levels of the field. At one point, Brees went to him on three straight passes on their final scoring drive. Hopefully the injury he suffered at the end of the game isn’t too serious. He’s earned more reps within this offense.
Take Five: Other Observations
- Brees and Bridgewater had nearly identical stats on Sunday. They also shared a cool moment when he ran out of bounds on the Saints sideline and went and sat between Brees and Taysom Hill. Brees was looking at the tablet and jokingly asked Bridgewater what he sees.
- This was a sneaky big game for the Saints. They needed it to keep pace with the Bucs in the NFC South. By beating the Panthers, they’re now 2-0 in the division with a big matchup in Tampa Bay in two weeks.
- The Brees leap is still unstoppable. Brees did it again in the second quarter for the Saints second touchdown.
- With Terron Armstead leaving the game with an injury, James Hurst filled in and struggled. He whiffed on a block on Brian Burns that forced the sack/fumble and called for a crucial false start penalty.
- Wil Lutz is still perfect on the season.
- Cesar Ruiz had his best effort of young career.
- The Saints got nifty on one of their twelve third down conversions. On a third-and-one in the third quarter, Brees handed it off to Alvin Kamara who ran right then threw it back to Brees, who then fired a strike to Smith for a 23-yard gain.
- Speaking of Kamara, how incredible was that third and 14 catch and run where he tightroped the sideline and was still able to stretch the ball for enough to get the first down before going out of bounds?!
- C.J. Gardner Johnson did not have a good day. It felt like he was chasing receivers all day long. Gardner-Johnson is solid matchup for bigger receivers and tight end but struggles against quicker receivers like Robby Anderson Sunday.
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