The New Orleans Saints are off to their worst start to the season in three years at 1-2. While no one in The Big Easy is hitting the panic button yet, the Saints will have to turn things around fairly quickly in order to keep pace in a competitive NFC South. Though they have a key win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they already find themselves a game behind their divisional foe due to two early losses.
Nationally speaking, many are starting to question them as true contenders. Some have called Drew Brees’ arm “shot.” But, still, it’s hard to count out this team, seeing as they clearly still have some of the most dangerous weapons on both sides of the ball.
So before we start declaring the Saints’ NFC South dynasty over, let’s take a closer look at the Detroit Lions’ Week 4 opponent.
New Orleans Saints
13-3 record (1st in NFC South), Lost in Wild Card game vs. Vikings
3rd in points scored, 13th in points allowed
Overall DVOA: 2nd (4th on offense, 8th on defense)
The Saints were undeniably one of the best teams in 2019. Despite the injury to Drew Brees, the team not only kept their head above water, they thrived. Offensively, they were the same team they’ve been, led by a high-power passing attack (4th in DVOA) and complemented by a serious running game (6th).
However, unlike previous disappointing seasons, they had a defense to match. The pass defense was more than acceptable (14th in passer rating allowed), but it was their run defense that really stuck out. Though they allowed 4.2 yards per carry, only 20.6 percent of rushes against them earned first downs (fifth-best).
Of course, it all fell apart in the postseason. Despite a 13-3 record, New Orleans was the three seed and hosted the Vikings for a Wild Card game. The offense sputtered and needed to score 10 fourth-quarter points just to force overtime. Then the defense couldn’t stop the Vikings on the first possession, and the Saints were sent golfing without a postseason win.
Key free agent additions: S Malcolm Jenkins, WR Emmanuel Sanders, QB Jameis Winston,
Key losses: CB Eli Apple, S Vonn Bell, QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Ted Ginn Jr., LB A.J. Klein, G Larry Warford
2020 NFL draft picks:
Round 1: C Cesar Ruiz
Round 3: LB Zack Baun
Round 3: TE Adam Trautman
Round 7: QB Tommy Stevens
It was a modest, but calculated offseason for the New Orleans Saints. After Bridgewater’s impressive 2019 season, he priced himself out of a return to Saints. So, instead, the Saints threw themselves into the 2020 foray of cast-away quarterbacks, signing Jameis Winston.
However, their most important moves came by signing Malcolm Jenkins and Emmanuel Sanders, two players that have already played key parts in the Saints’ 2020 season.
They lost some key players on defense with Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and A.J. Klein, who combined for a total of 2556 defensive snaps last year. But, really, their offseason was more defined by extending their own players: David Onyemata to a three-year deal, Zach Wood to a a four-year deal, and Janoris Jenkins and Taysom Hill to two-year deals.
2020 season thus far (1-2)
- 8th in points scored, 27th in points allowed
- 11th in DVOA: 10th on offense, 12th on defense, 8th on special teams
The Saints’ offseason strategy hasn’t quite worked thus far in 2020. Through three weeks they almost have the same loss total from all of 2019. It’s worth noting, however, that the Saints haven’t exactly played the easiest of schedules. The Bucs, Raiders and Packers all have winning records. And while they looked outmatched against the Raiders, they very well could’ve won Sunday night’s game were it not for a couple of bad mistakes.
That being said, there are some serious concerns with this team. The defense hasn’t been able to get stops when they need to—and they’ve given up sixth-most points in the NFL. They’ve also allowed the sixth-most yards per drive and third-most points per drive.
Additionally, the Saints passing offense hasn’t been nearly as electric without Michael Thomas over the past two games. The longest reception from a receiver this year is just 18 yards, leading many to wonder if Drew Brees even still has the arm to go vertical.
Key injuries: WR Michael Thomas, DE Marcus Davenport, LG Andrus Peat, TE Jared Cook
The Saints could very well get Thomas and Davenport back this week. Thomas hasn’t practiced since his Week 1 ankle injury and may still be 50/50 this week, but defensive end Marcus Davenport has a much better chance to play. Davenport hasn’t made his 2020 debut yet, but he returned to practice late last week and could provide some additional pass rush this week.
But the Saints appeared to have lost starting left guard Andrus Peat for some time. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 3. In his place, the Saints will likely slide Nick Easton to the left side and put rookie Cesar Ruiz at right guard.
Additionally, tight end Jared Cook suffered an ankle injury late in Sunday’s game. His status is unknown for Week 4, but Cook is third on the team in receiving yards through three games (114).
Biggest strength: Alvin Kamara
Is it fair to call a single person a strength of this team? When he’s Alvin Kamara, the answer is yes. The recent bag-securer is rushing for 4.9 yards per carry this year, but it’s his receiving acumen that has kept the Saints offense chugging along. His 285 receiving yards is by far the most on the team, and ranks fifth among ALL NFL players (including wide receivers). He currently is responsible for six of the team’s nine offensive touchdowns. He is their offense.
Biggest weakness: Tight end coverage
The Saints have been extremely vulnerable when it comes to covering tight ends through three games. Take a look:
Week 1: O.J. Howard + Rob Gronkowski - 6 catches, 47 yards, 1 TD
Week 2: Darren Waller + Foster Moreau - 13 catches, 136 yards, 1 TD
Week 3: Robert Tonyan + Jace Sternberger + Marcedes Lewis - 9 catches, 104 yards, 2 TDs
The Saints actually sport a fairly talented group of linebackers in Demario Davis, Alex Anzalone and Cameron Jordan, but in terms of covering tight ends, they just haven’t been able to get it together. T.J. Hockenson fantasy owners, take notice.
Vegas line for Sunday: Saints by 4