As the year goes on we begin to get a clearer picture of who the Saints offense is, and what they need to do to be successful. Early in the year the offense had little ability to move the ball running or passing until the game was well out of hand, but then starting in Carolina the run game started to come alive. Since that game the Saints running backs have been the biggest positive on the offensive side of the ball. However, there have been flashes of the offense I think they will become going forward, and I believe they started to put the pieces together against Green Bay in the second half. The Saints have now gotten to the juicy center of their schedule and there is a lot of opportunity to make a run at the playoffs. The offense hasn’t been the death star doom machine we have grown accustomed to, but they are still putting up points and moving the ball. The grades are below.
The Saints first two drives ended in interceptions by Drew Brees and that would normally kill his grade. However, one was a pass I think was affected by the rain, but the second one was a terrible read to a blanketed Michael Thomas where only a perfect throw would do. Other than those two passes Brees mostly shredded the Packers defense. Brees finished the game 27-38 for 331 yards and 2 TDs (one rushing). That isn’t a spectacular game, but considering his historical issues in the rain (he’s always lacked arm strength which is a big part of that) I’m not going to kill him for having a few off target throws. I also gave him a bit of a break on the interceptions because the defense made sure Green Bay got zero points from them, that shouldn’t impact Drew’s grade, but it does. Other than the interceptions Brees completed over 70% of his passes, orchestrated an offense that in the 2nd half moved down the field at will, and if he just doesn’t throw those picks we’re talking about a game where the Saints scored 30+. His second half gave me hope for the rest of the season for this passing game.
Offensive Line: A-
The Saints offensive line had one booboo on an otherwise dominant play. Nick Perry used a bull rush on Terron Armstead and Armstead tripped over Andrus Peat’s giant foot and got bulldozed. Other than that play the Saints line put on a clinic in both the running and the passing games. Andrus Peat is turning into an absolute road grader in the run game and is anchoring well in the pass game as well. Armstead is just as good as he ever was, and Ryan Ramczyck is yet another rock solid rookie from this so far impressive draft class. The only negative thing I have to say about the Saints offensive line is my disappointment in their injury luck. Just as they started to get fully healthy starting right guard Larry Warford suffered an abdominal injury and will now be out for several weeks. Senio Kelemete is a tremendous backup lineman, but the Saints will be facing a monstrous interior rush in two out of the next three weeks when they face the Bears (coming up next) and Buffalo in two weeks. Not having Warford for those games is concerning, but at least against the Packers Kelemete filled in admirably and we can hope he can continue his excellence as the Saints emergency lineman.
Tight Ends: C
Another game, another average day from the Saints Tight End group. The Saints are paying Coby Fleener about league average for the level of production he had in Indianapolis, he is producing like Josh Hill. The Saints will need a greater level of production from their tight ends in the passing game if they are ever to reach the level they are capable of. The group continues to block well (although Hill got called for another extremely questionable penalty), but you want to see more production from a unit that has historically been an asset in Sean Payton’s offense.
Wide Receiver: A
The Saints finally got a good game from 3 wide receivers in the same game. Brandon Coleman was excellent at blocking all game, and froze Green Bay rookie Kevin King with an excellent inside-out double move to get free for a Touchdown. Ted Ginn was nearly a major problem for the team because he couldn’t hold onto a punt to save his life, but he compensated for that by being a terror in the short and deep passing games totaling over 130 yards on the day. The most important receiver for the Saints remains Michael Thomas, and the Saints finally did what I have been asking them to do for a while, get Thomas inside and use him over the middle of the field. A lot of Michael Thomas’s failure to produce through the early parts of the season has been due to him lining up outside a lot more than he did last year (at least it feels like its more, I’m not Nick Underhill I don’t have every alignment charted). Thomas has his greatest success working the middle of the field, and getting the ball into his hands early so he can use his excellent YAC ability to produce. Thomas isn’t in the “#1 receiver” mold of guys like Julio Jones, Deandre Hopkins, and AJ Green (to name a few), but he can be just as productive if he’s put in a position to maximize his skillset. Thomas is a next level yards after catch playmaker, has incredible hands, excellent balance, and he’s very strong. I’ve often described him as turbo Colston, and I think the Saints passing attack will continue to produce at a high level if going forward they focus their attacks on the interior of the field first, and then move outside when possible (Thomas and Ginn did practically all of their damage from inside the numbers).
Running Back: A+
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for over 200 yards from scrimmage between them. That’s an A+ every week, the Saints running backs have been the key to the offense this season, and their ability to be both productive and versatile has been a major asset for the offense. The Saints running game and their ability to win the time of possession battle is helping the defense stay fresh, keeps the offense in rhythm, and produced advantageous down and distance that helps keep the offense from having to take too many unnecessary risks. Everything ties together, but right now the Saints are a team powered by their running game, and it is beautiful to see.