We certainly suspected that the Saints would be at the top of the NFL this year. In a way-too-early prediction, we even speculated that they might take it as far as the Super Bowl. And then superstar quarterback Drew Brees got injured and our hopes were dashed… until backup QB Teddy Bridgewater stepped up and kept the Saints offense rolling. Now Brees is back! And after Week 8, New Orleans has one of the best records in the league at 7-1. So now we’re back where we started: Thinking that the New Orleans Saints look like true Super Bowl contenders.
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The Return of Drew Brees
After missing five games in a row, Week 8 brought back the Saints’ starting quarterback. Brees suffered a tear to a ligament in his right thumb in Week 2 which required surgery to get him back into fighting shape. This week, he returned to take on the Arizona Cardinals and help the Saints rack up their sixth straight win, throwing for 373 yards and 3 touchdowns (to Latavius Murray, Taysom Hill, and Michael Thomas). Not bad for a 40-year-old returning to the field post-op, huh? Despite a few blocked passes and one interception, the legendary QB retained his composure, completing 34 of 43 passes and avoiding any sacks.
It was uncertain whether Brees would return this week or wait until after the Saints’ bye week for a bit of extra recovery time. According to the QB, he felt like he was ready to go ahead and speed the healing process along. Brees played with a wrapped hand, but it didn’t seem to hinder his accuracy or confidence. According to the man himself, he “felt really good.” And it showed. Brees performed better than anybody could have expected, and this team is now looking like the NFC team to beat. For the first time since Week 1, the offense broke the 500-yard mark with 510 explosive yards. And that’s without running back Alvin Kamara.
After the game, Brees said, “A lot of it was just the ability to get a grip on the ball and be able to throw the ball accurately and be myself and not think about it. So as soon as I could grip it and rip it, I wanted to play. I wanted to be out there with my teammates.”
Of course, we can’t forget that backup QB Teddy Bridgewater helped get the Saints to this point, keeping the Saints’ record near pristine by winning all five games in which he started. Bridgewater returned to the field in the final few minutes against the Cardinals when the Saints were up 31-9. The fact that the coaching staff put him in at all suggests that they may keep playing him despite the return of a healthy Brees. And that’s fair – having a competent, capable backup quarterback is never a bad thing for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
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That Saints Defense
It’s been easy to focus on Brees as the main headline of the week, but let’s not forget the formidable defense that’s kept the Saints afloat while he’s been away. In two games so far this season against two different opponents, this defense has allowed zero touchdowns… the first time that’s happened since 2006 when Sean Payton became head coach. In five consecutive games, the defense has allowed fewer than 300 yards (and fewer than 257 in four of them), not to mention their 34-game streak of allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards.
Leading the defense, the Saints have defensive end Cameron Jordan who has eight sacks this season and nearly 80 in his career. He’s one of the best pass rushers and defensive ends in the league right now. They’ve also got talented young players like Marcus Davenport, David Onyemata, and Sheldon Rankins, not to mention folks like veteran AJ Klein at linebacker and Marshon Lattimore at cornerback.
Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen pushes for a defense that’s fast, physical, and aggressive, and it’s clearly working. That intense mentality has created a team that currently ranks number 7 in total defense and number 11 in scoring defense – numbers that Allen says would be better if they didn’t relax so much late in the game. (Many of the Saints’ opponents are finally able to put points on the board in the fourth quarter.) He’s aiming to improve those stats as he constantly reminds his defense not to get too comfortable.
Stopping opponents from getting to the end zone is one way to win games, particularly when your offense is this explosive and you’ve got Drew Brees leading it. The Saints defense is also great at shutting down opposing receivers and sacking quarterbacks – they’ve got 24 sacks this season, good for fifth best in the league. Best of all though, the Saints look well-rounded and balanced, and as we’ve seen in years past, that’s been a critical characteristic of Super Bowl winners. We’ll just have to keep watching to see how the Saints hold up going forward!
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