The New Orleans Saints are heading into week 9 without their starting QB in Jameis Winston. In the huge 36-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jameis tore his ACL and damaged his MCL when Devin White got him on a horsecollar tackle early on in the second quarter. Trevor Siemian held it down under center in a pinch and the defense held off Tom Brady and company long enough to secure the win. The Saints are 5-2 heading into the second half of the season and are still gunning for the playoffs with or without Winston. Let’s break down this team and see where they can go from here.
With the trade deadline behind us, the Saints need to stick with the three in-house options they have, Trevor Siemian, Taysom Hill, and the rookie Ian Book. Trevor Siemian had a nice showing against the Buccaneers and carried out Sean Payton’s aggressive game plan well enough to get the win against a tough defense. Taysom Hill was up against Jameis in the pre-season to win the starting job and despite losing the battle, he is the most familiar option for Payton. Ian Book is the final option under center for the Saints. The rookie from Notre Dame had some nice throws in pre-season but will likely need to continue developing. Siemian and Hill are the two best options for New Orleans. There is a case to be made for either of them. Siemian started two seasons for the Broncos in 2016 and 2017 and made a great case for himself against the Bucs. Siemian is an effective pocket passer who can get the ball to most spots on the field which would allow Payton to keep the offense open as it would be with Jameis. Taysom Hill is Sean Payton’s protege and has been since he arrived in New Orleans. He brings a dual-threat style of play to the position but really struggles with throwing the deep ball. My assumption is that Taysom will get the nod but we shall see.
The Rest of the Offense
The running back duo in the Big Easy is luckily a good one. Alvin Kamara is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league and has been having a great season thus far. He is rushing the ball very well and has been making plays in the receiving game as he usually does. The other half of this duo is the recently acquired veteran Mark Ingram. The former Heisman winner has only played in one game for the Saints this season and boy was he effective. He ran the ball between the tackles really well and also made a few key receptions. Boom and Zoom are back in New Orleans and they seem to be just as effective as they used to be. The wide receiver situation is a bit murkier. Tre’Quan Smith was much better against the Bucs than he was against the Seahawks and will look to keep the upward trend going as he comes back from a hamstring injury that had him on IR for the first six weeks. Unfortunately, Smith still doesn’t have what it takes to man the WR1 position. Deonte Harris has been an explosive player for the Saints and provides a deep option and a speedy presence in space. Former Tennessee Volunteer Marquez Callaway is a great zone beater who has proven to show up in big moments for the black and gold. At the bottom of the pack is Kenny Stills who hasn’t played much but has put a few good routes and catches on tape. The key to this all is Michael Thomas. When he comes back from the lingering ankle injury sustained back in week one of last season, he will open up opportunities for everyone. He is a proven star in the NFL who is one of the best at creating separation, route running, and making tough catches. His success will open up more opportunities for Tre’Quan Smith to make plays against lesser corners. Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, and Kenny Stills will be facing third or fourth-string corners every week rather than the first-string corners they have seen through the first half of the season. As for the tight end position, Adam Trautman has been the stellar blocker we all knew he would be but his pass-catching has definitely left something to be desired. He is raw and bursting with potential but has been struggling with ball security and creating separation. All Saints fans can hope for is that he will put it all together in the latter part of this season. The offensive line is elite as per usual. Pass protection has been stout and they just might be the best group of run blockers in the league. Whoever is under center should be given ample time in the pocket while Ingram and Kamara should have massive running lanes opened for them.
This Saints defense has been incredible through seven games this season. Let’s take a look at each position group in order to truly grasp how good this defense has been. The group of edge rushers in New Orleans is really starting to get things going since Marcus Davenport’s return from IR. Cameron Jordan has been his usual self in the run game, making plays in the backfield and plugging lanes. However, his pass-rushing ability has seemed to take a decline. He is still fighting through double teams and generating pressure but isn’t finishing plays with sacks like he used to. Opposite of Cam Jordan is Marcus Davenport who has been the best pass rusher on the team thus far. He only has one sack through three games played but is generating pressure at an elite rate and is also laying big hits on the quarterback game in and game out. Behind Jordan and Davenport are former Chief Tanoh Kpassagnon and 2021 first-round pick Payton Turner. Tanoh leads the team in sacks with four through six games played and has been a great change of pace from the starters. He is a 6’7″ freak athlete who has really started to capitalize on his potential with this Saints coaching staff. Payton Turner has struggled with injuries thus far but when healthy he has been making plays left and right. In four games played he has a sack, three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, while only playing about 40% of snaps during the absence of Davenport. On the interior of the line is pass rush specialist David Onyemata, run-stuffer Shy Tuttle, and the second year do it all big man Malcolm Roach. Onyemata has only played one game since returning from suspension but logged a few pressures in a limited role. Shy Tuttle and Roach have primarily been used at the one-tech spot to stuff run lanes and that is just what they’ve done. The interior of the defensive line could use an upgrade but the three of them have been getting the job done. In terms of the linebackers, they have found more than one suitable running mate for Demario Davis. The rookie and former Ohio State Buckeye Pete Werner has been incredible at the WILL spot for the Saints. He is playing tight coverage on running backs and tight ends and is flying has been flying around making tackles like a true sideline to sideline linebacker. He has played five games this season and has started four of those games logging 33 tackles through those starts. Also in this linebacker room is the savvy veteran Kwon Alexander. Kwon has a real problem staying healthy but looks like a top-tier linebacker when on the field. He can hit, run, cover, and even rush the passer as seen by his game-sealing sack on Tom Brady. Zack Baun was a third-round pick by the Saints in the 2020 draft and has fit nicely into the SAM role. He struggles in coverage and wasn’t doing well in the sideline to sideline role he was asked to play when Kwon and Werner were out at the beginning of the season. Now that he is in an aggressive downhill role, he is doing much better. Of course, the heartbeat of the defense and the star of the linebacker room is Demario Davis. In his tenth season, Demario is still flying around the field making huge plays and leading his defense to perfection. He is tied for the second-most tackles for loss in the league and leads his team in tackles as he has since arriving in 2018. Davis is one of the most feared off-ball linebackers when it comes to rushing the passer and has three sacks on the season so far. The front seven in New Orleans is pretty dang impressive. As for the secondary, they have come pretty far since the pre-season and is looking like a fierce unit. Marshon Lattimore is one of the true lockdown cornerbacks in the league and has held the likes of DaVante Adams, Robby Anderson, Terry McLaurin, Tyler Lockett, and Mike Evans to under 60 yards and under-five receptions each. Lattimore is on pace to finish second all-time for the most passes defended in a single season and has been locking down opposing teams’ best receivers left and right. Opposite of Lattimore is the rookie third-round pick from Stanford Paulson Adebo. After a rough start to the season in terms of coverage, Adebo has really taken the next step through the last couple of games and has played well enough to keep the job away from Bradley Roby and Ken Crawley. Speaking of Bradley Roby, he provides an excellent third option on the outside who would start for most teams. Roby also gives Dennis Allen the ability to rotate Adebo out for him depending on the matchup at receiver. Covering the slot for the Saints is former Florida Gator Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Chauncey, also known as Ceedy Deuce, is an excellent cover man who makes big tackles in the box and plays the ball well against bigger tight ends and running backs with superior athleticism. He also can play both safety spots for the Saints if needed. Behind the cornerbacks is one of the best safety duos in the league. Saints 2009 first-round pick Malcolm Jenkins mans the strong safety spot for the Saints. He is still just as consistent a tackler as he used to be but what has really been impressive is his coverage ability. He plays the ball well and makes sure to keep an eye on the ball when it’s in the air. Finally, at free safety is Marcus Williams. Williams is on the franchise tag this year and has been playing great football for the black and gold. He has put up 30 total tackles through seven games played, along with one forced fumble, two interceptions, and four passes defended. The best asset for the Saints defense has been defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. He has schemed up some great game plans this season and has held every opposing offense to less than 28 points, which is especially impressive when you consider they have played teams like the Bucs and Packers who have scored over 28 points in a combined seven games this season.
Dome Field Advantage
There are few stadiums in the NFL where home-field advantage can be the difference between winning and losing but the Caesars Superdome is one of those crazy atmospheres. The Who Dat Nation brought the thunder against the Bucs in the second true home game the Saints have played this year and they could be a real driving force for this team in tough games. It is a party in the Dome every time and these fans love their team more than life.
This is a gritty Saints team that won’t go down without a fight. They have some incredible coaches, veterans, and leaders in that building who will lead the way for the black and gold the rest of the season. I see this team squeaking into the playoffs simply because I think this defense is playing too well and Sean Payton is too good of a coach for them not to. Where they go beyond the regular season is what is in question. The offense will come together and the defense is stellar but the quarterback situation is very much up in the air. This is absolutely a team that could have a season similar to the Eagles in 2018 when Carson Wentz tore his ACL and Nick Foles led his team to a Super Bowl victory. There is enough offensive firepower to take them far with the likes of Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, especially with an offensive line this talented. The Saints are rocking with one of the best fan bases in the NFL that can sway certain plays, drives, and even games in their team’s favor. The defense is sure to bring the heat against any offense but the success of the team will lie on the shoulders of Taysom Hill or Trevor Siemian. If one of those two can effectively move the ball down the field and score a few touchdowns a game, then this is a playoff team and a scary one at that.