New Orleans Saints (1-2) at Detroit Lions (1-2)
Sunday, Oct. 4, Noon
TV: FOX WVUE 8
Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM
Lions could be first step in win streak
For a season that looked like it held so much promise just three weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints performance through three games has been gob smacking. While shaky, they snagged a Week 1 win against NFC South rival Tampa Bay, but followed it with back-to-back losses in regular-season games for the first time since 2017. The Saints won eight straight after opening 0-2 and eventually finished the season as NFC South Champions at 11-5. They may run a similar course this year.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Black & Gold could go 8-2 in their next 10 games, starting with a four-game win streak. They face the Lions (1-2), Chargers (1-2), Panthers (1-2), Bears (3-0), Buccaneers (2-1), 49ers (2-1), Falcons (0-3), Broncos (0-3), Falcons, and Eagles (0-2-1). Their final three games are against the Chiefs (3-0), Vikings (0-3), and Panthers, where they could arguably go 2-1. That would give them an 11-5 season, which will make the race for the division crown and automatic playoff qualification that much more impactful on the Saints’ postseason chances.
The team has a lot to clean up, though, before they entertain playoff dreams. The defense has been plagued by penalties and big plays, and the offense hasn’t met the lofty expectations set under head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees.
There’s no doubt injuries have played a part in the offense’s struggles. Brees has missed receiver Michael Thomas, who has missed the past two weeks with a sprained ankle, as well as left guard Andrus Peat (ankle) and tight end Jared Cook (groin). Receiver Emmanuel Sanders has admitted it has taken him time to pick up Payton’s offense, and it seems Tre’Quan Smith should be contributing more. Combined, the Saints aren’t firing on all cylinders.
Luckily, running back Alvin Kamara has simply been amazing. He has carried the ball 31 times for 153 yards and three TDs and has 27 receptions for 285 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
There are whispers that Thomas could return this week. If he does, the offense will gain another reliable threat who has the full faith of his quarterback.
The Saints have been penalized for an NFL-high 331 yards, and the costliest mistakes have come on defense. The talented, improving unit was one of the main storylines going into 2020, but its maturation has not yet come to fruition. In three games, five Saints players have been flagged for 10 pass interference penalties, giving opponents 184 yards.
The Saints are hoping to rev it up on the road in Detroit on Sunday. The Lions are coming off of a surprising 26-23 road win over the previously undefeated Cardinals. Detroit’s defense is inconsistent, but intercepted Arizona QB Kyler Murray three times. Their offense has potential, but seems to stall, leading to more field goals than touchdowns.
Both teams are looking to get to .500. In the NFL, there’s a huge difference between 2-2 and 1-3.
At the Line of Scrimmage
When the Saints have the ball
The Detroit defense is currently ranked 28th in the league in total defense and may be just what the New Orleans offense needs right now. The Saints are averaging 364.0 yards and 29.3 points per game, while the Lions are giving up an average of 409.3 yards and 30.7 points per game. Expect Kamara to shine again and more involvement from Sanders and Smith, even if Thomas plays.
When the Lions have the ball
Lions QB Matthew Stafford is one of the most talented QBs in the game, but he hasn’t had the weapons to make Detroit a consistent winner. WR Kenny Golladay is a threat, but the running game is below average.
Despite the penalties, the Saints are ranked 10th in the NFL in total defense. They haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 46 consecutive games.
Goal to Geaux
The keys to a Saints victory rely on the Saints defense, namely eliminating third down conversions and drive-continuing penalties. New Orleans needs to pressure Stafford to keep him on his heels and prevent the Lions from finding time to attack the Saints secondary.
The Saints offense showed improvement last week against one of the best teams in the NFL. They’ll look to continue to work out the kinks against a less talented opponent and put points on the scoreboard.
Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 3
- Alvin Kamara is carrying the Saints offense right now, and he looks like he’s having fun doing it. He’s got six TDs this season, including a 52-yard score in the third quarter last week that we’ll see on highlight for years to come.
- How ‘bout Saints center Erik McCoy’s downfield blocking on that Kamara TD? The big guy reached a maximum speed of 16.22 miles per hour to get in front of and clear the way for the RB, who topped out at 15.28 mph, according to NFL NextGenStats.
- Defensive captain Cameron Jordan, who has 87 career sacks, has one QB pressure and zero sacks in 2020. Hopefully, DE Marcus Davenport can return from an elbow injury and invigorate the D line.
Quotes of the Week
“We play one down good, then give up something cheap.” – Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins on the team’s inconsistency
“Talent really doesn’t get you much in this league on paper – especially when you’re as undisciplined as we’ve been playing, mainly on defense. Whether it’s been penalties, assignments here or there…. It’s early in the season, and those are things we can correct, but we gotta do it if we want to be the team we set out to be.” – Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins
“Listen, he’s a special football player. It’s nice when you’ve got a weapon like that, that you just get the ball in his hands in space, and he’s tough to tackle, and he’s just kind of a human highlight reel.” – Brees on Kamara
Inside the NFC South
W L T Win % PF PA DIV
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2 1 0 0.667 82 61 1-1
New Orleans Saints 1 2 0 0.333 88 94 1-0
Carolina Panthers 1 2 0 0.333 68 81 0-1
Atlanta Falcons 0 3 0 0.000 90 108 0-0
Atlanta Falcons (0-3) at Green Bay (3-0)
The Falcons have blown 29-10 and 26-10 leads in the last two weeks. They face Green Bay on Monday. I won’t question the Falcons professionalism, but will they continue to buy in to head coach Dan Quinn’s plan much longer? A win against the Packers could turn the Falcons’ season around, but that’s not likely to happen with the way Green Bay is playing.
Carolina Panthers (1-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals (2-1)
Even without star RB Christian McCaffrey, out with a high ankle sprain, the Panthers snapped a 10-game losing streak with an unexpected road win against the Chargers last week. They forced three turnovers and sacked rookie Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert twice.
The Cardinals are looking to bounce back from an unexpected loss to Detroit, in which QB Kyler Murray threw three interceptions. It’s not high profile but could be an entertaining matchup.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (1-2)
Tampa moved into first place in the NFC South with a 28-10 victory over winless, injury-riddled Denver. Tom Brady went 25 of 38 for 297 yards and three touchdowns. They’ll look to keep their lead in the division against a Chargers team that lost to Carolina last week. Rookie QB Justin Herbert is looking worthy of being the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft, but the Bucs simply have more firepower.
NFC Playoff Picture
Playoffs? You’re talking about playoffs? Sure, it’s just Week 4, but the race for the postseason is fun to track. Below are the current NFC standings. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams – four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.
Seed Team Division W L T
1 Seahawks West 3 0 0
2 Packers North 3 0 0
3 Buccaneers South 2 1 0
4 Washington East 1 2 0
5 Bears North 3 0 0
6 Cardinals West 2 1 0
7 Rams West 2 1 0
8 49ers West 2 1 0
9 Saints South 1 2 0
10 Lions North 1 2 0
11 Cowboys East 1 2 0
12 Panthers South 1 2 0
13 Eagles East 0 2 1
14 Giants East 0 3 0
15 Vikings North 0 3 0
16 Falcons South 0 3 0
The Extra Point: Brees’ Arm
Through three games this season, Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees has completed 70.2% of his passes for 760 yards, six TDs, 1 Int, and a QB Rating of 106.3. While those look like typical Brees numbers, he has been plagued about questions about his arm strength and accuracy this season. For his part, the Saints’ passer has blown off concern about stats saying the running and short passing game are working.
“I don’t care how far I have to throw the ball down the field. My job’s to make good decisions,” Brees said after Sunday night’s loss to Green Bay. “I’m not gonna force it if it’s not there.”
Brees, 41, went 29-of-36 for 288 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Packers, but according to NFL Next Gen Stats, only five of his 36 passes traveled more than 10 yards and he didn’t have an attempt over 20 yards.
While he threw a dart on his 10-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders at the end of the first half, he hasn’t shown a willingness to throw the deep ball. At times it seems he’s playing like he doesn’t want to make the mistake that costs the team a chance to win. That may be because he’s still trying to get comfortable with his receivers and offensive line.
Experts are analyzing his every play, and some are suggesting head coach Sean Payton give backups Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill a chance to add a spark.
The Saints aren’t there yet. They need to immediately curb the penalties but give them time to get healthy on both sides of the ball and let’s see what happens.
In the last three years, Brees has had the highest single-season completion percentages in NFL history – 2018 (74.4%), 2019 (74.3%) and 2017 (72.0%). Michael Thomas is coming back from injury. Sanders and Tre’Quan Smith are getting more involved in the attack.
The Saints are entering a more favorable section of their schedule. The Saints are 11-0 in October over the last three years.
The first three games have, no doubt, been cause for concern, but it’s not time to panic. It appears that brighter days are ahead.