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Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Oct 9, 2018 - 12:30 am Michael Thomas wanted to set a tone. National stage. All eyes on the Saints. He wanted to let everyone know he and his teammates were ready to do whatever ...

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Old 10-09-2018, 08:20 AM   #1
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BY NICK UNDERHILL | nunderhill@theadvocate.com Oct 9, 2018 - 12:30 am

Michael Thomas wanted to set a tone.

National stage. All eyes on the Saints. He wanted to let everyone know he and his teammates were ready to do whatever it took to win the game, even if it meant having to rip it away from the Washington Redskins. They weren’t just going to give it to them. So he pulled a ski mask over his head before running out onto the field for pregame introductions.

Message sent.

“When you go out there on a big stage sometimes you got to put on that mask,” Thomas said. “Blackout and do anything to get this game to your brothers. Sometimes you have to set the tone. It’s a night game on a big stage. We want to make sure everyone knows what it is.”

Coach Sean Payton said afterward that he wasn’t the biggest fan of the symbolism, but it would be hard to call this one a simple stick up or anything like that. The 43-19 win was a complete dismantling. This game would be a statement victory for the Saints if defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins didn't refuse to corroborate that theory in the locker room.

So if the Saints’ best victory of the season on the biggest stage they’ve been on this season isn’t quite a statement, then it was at least a passionately argued hypothesis that needs to be proven again and again before the conclusion. But after last week’s game against the Giants, and this one, it’s starting to look like New Orleans is putting something together.

What that something might be will resume playing itself out after the Saints return from their bye week, but here’s one example of what players are thinking.

“I think we can be great. I think we can be one of the best (pass rushes) in the league,” Rankins said. “Once we really get rolling and everything starts clicking on all cylinders we can be talked about among the great pass-rushing units in this league.”

The Saints. One of the best pass rushes in the league? Imagine having that conversation a year ago, but with 12 sacks through five games, this group now ranks in the top half of the NFL and rookie pass rusher Marcus Davenport, who might have had a breakout performance on Monday night, is only getting better. There is still a long way to go to get there, but the possibility now exists for this group.

The defense as a whole looks to be trending in the right direction. Washington only gained 283 yards, including 39 on the ground for what is supposed to be one of the better running teams in the league. The Saints might have a ways to go before laying claim to being one of the better pass-rushing teams in the league, but New Orleans might already have its best run defense. It’s a statistical fact that only got stronger this week.

But it’s not there yet. No statements. But what about the offense? This looked like what New Orleans envisioned when it put the pieces together this offseason. Tre’Quan Smith served as the intermediate and deep threat, getting behind the Washington defense for a 62-yard gain on Brees’ record-breaking throw and again for another touchdown. Cam Meredith served as another option on short and intermediate routes. Thomas did all the things Thomas does, including bothering the Washington defense so much they complained about his antics after the game.

Right up until Meredith fumbled before the half, leading Washington to its first touchdown, the offense appeared nearly infallible and entirely unstoppable. Even the seam route was flowing to Meredith. It was that kind of night.

"Coach Payton was preaching last week and this week that we need to come together as a team even though we were winning," Smith said. "We play a better opponent, and it's not going to get it done. Each week we've been getting a little bit better and a little bit better. This week, it really clicked for us."

This wasn’t even the full complement the offense has to offer. Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. was sidelined with a knee injury, and Kamara, the most dynamic player in this offense, the guy that much of it flows through, was only used occasionally. That isn’t likely to continue, but it was clear the team wanted to back off of him a bit (he’s been listed with a knee injury) and allow Ingram to do the heavy lifting ahead of next week’s bye.

It was earned. Kamara averaged 22.75 touches per game from scrimmage during the first four weeks after averaging only 12.5 per game last season. Ingram logged 18 per game in 2017. That number fell way back on Monday night, as Kamara recorded nine touches to Ingram’s 18. But the rushing offense was potent all the same, making it clear how poor the options behind Kamara were the first quarter of the season.

It wasn’t until last week’s game against the New York Giants when the running game started looking like a strength of the offense. And even that one was skewed a little bit by one 49-yard run and a strong performance by Taysom Hill, who continued to show against Washington why he’s such a matchup problem.

One of the more striking differences during the first four weeks of the season was how much the running offense struggled to get anything going out of heavy seats. Two-tight end formations were reasonably successful for the Saints last season, as the team averaged 3.55 yards per carry on 10.43 attempts per game. This year, that figure has stood at 2.22 yards per carry on eight attempts per game.

There are likely mitigating factors here, such as offensive line performance or things related to specific opponents, which can skew the numbers in a small sample, but it is more than fair to say it hasn’t been as good as it was a year ago. That, too, changed Monday.

“There’s a physicality with (Ingram). It’s hard to measure the importance relative to Alvin,” Payton said. “It’s a good run front. I was pleased with how we finished the game. It’s great to have him back. That combination, those are two real good running backs. It’s a lot easier to call the game.”

Ingram ran 13 times out of heavy sets and gained 45 yards (3.46 per attempt). That average is only a slight increase from the first four games, but two of those runs came from the goal line. Ingram also caught a 28-yard screen pass from one of these looks. The added potency to this layer, and the ability to keep running the ball while running out the clock makes this offense even harder to defend.

The Saints looked like world beaters on Monday night. For all the fanfare and that came with Brees setting the all-time passing record, fans of this team should feel equally elated about the performance this team put together. It looked great on both sides of the ball.

The offense was finally peaking, and the defense put together a strong performance despite losing Marshon Lattimore to a concussion early in the game. Imagine that being a possibility a few weeks ago.

The Saints look like contenders. Now they just need to continue to prove it moving forward. Statements are one thing that that won’t come the easy way.
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Old 10-09-2018, 08:27 AM   #2
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

Keep grinding. One game at a time.

The Saints D line is becoming stout & Davenport hits really, really hard.

A good week of preparation, film study and execution = a W.

Side note - I hope Stallworth is OK .. the rookie has played well. I'd definitely bring back Bromley.
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Old 10-09-2018, 08:47 AM   #3
 
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

Four in a row... teams don't want to play us now.
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Old 10-09-2018, 10:58 AM   #4
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

I'm still not sold on our defense, but they're getting better. I want them to step up and shut me up. Serve me some crow.
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Old 10-09-2018, 11:15 AM   #5
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

Hell Yeah!!!!
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Old 10-09-2018, 12:19 PM   #6
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

Originally Posted by saintfan View Post
I'm still not sold on our defense, but they're getting better. I want them to step up and shut me up. Serve me some crow.
The secondary ... yes I agree but on the D line ... full of dawgs. Cam, Davenport, Rankins, David O have all been solid starting at camp.

If we can "fix" the #2 CB spot, I think this defense is talented enough to make a serious playoff push.
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Old 10-09-2018, 12:29 PM   #7
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

After watching the MNF game, I'd love to see Hardee get a chance to be the 2nd CB. He looked really good.
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Old 10-09-2018, 12:45 PM   #8
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

Need to see how we do in the next 3 games. Looking at the teams we have played so far none of them are top 10 teams. I’d like to see how we play against playoff caliber teams before saying we are the team to beat.
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Old 10-09-2018, 10:49 PM   #9
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

Originally Posted by K Major View Post
The secondary ... yes I agree but on the D line ... full of dawgs. Cam, Davenport, Rankins, David O have all been solid starting at camp.

If we can "fix" the #2 CB spot, I think this defense is talented enough to make a serious playoff push.
Don't think it's that easy to fix that No. 2 CB spot as it's more than just that...

Our safeties are not helping limit those over the top plays as they should be and were last season...

Folks are moaning about Coleman's play, but both he and Bell still looked lost and seemed to be missing assignments regularly...

Again, Coleman's light shined best when he was in a Cover-2 system - so why are we not running cover-2 with our CBs in man-to-man?!?

Think it's time someone in the defensive coaches meetings ask D.A. to explain exactly what he's trying to do with the safeties...

And why he's having our best pass rushers drop into coverage...
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Old 10-10-2018, 07:32 AM   #10
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Re: Underhill: Saints starting to look like contenders after win over Redskins; here's what's changed

Originally Posted by jeanpierre View Post
Don't think it's that easy to fix that No. 2 CB spot as it's more than just that...

Our safeties are not helping limit those over the top plays as they should be and were last season...

Folks are moaning about Coleman's play, but both he and Bell still looked lost and seemed to be missing assignments regularly...

Again, Coleman's light shined best when he was in a Cover-2 system - so why are we not running cover-2 with our CBs in man-to-man?!?

Think it's time someone in the defensive coaches meetings ask D.A. to explain exactly what he's trying to do with the safeties...

And why he's having our best pass rushers drop into coverage...
All valid points and all questions for Dennis Allen to explain.

Having Okafor drop in coverage ....

Bell has shown well (outside of a few missed open field tackles) this season but damn Coleman looks really bad thus far. I expected him to play a lot better here.

Looking around the league though ... Jacksonville, KC, Rams, Eagles & Vikes have all been torched this year on defense --- specifically in the secondary. With the way that defensive front has looked this summer and in subsequent regular season games, I like our chances to improve each week.

Keep grinding boss.
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