Beat the Saints
Seaside Joe 1308: The Seahawks could be one win over a mistake-prone team away from first place in the division
Going into the season, I made a few bold predictions but not without the caveat that making predictions is a fool’s errand, whether they be bold or completely devoid of any heat. One of those 60-yard heaves into double coverage, also known as the “Jameis Winston” of predictions, was that the Saints would win the NFC South and challenge for the number one seed in the conference.
In one hand, the Saints are only one game behind the Bucs. In the other hand, the Saints just gave the ball away again.
Hey New Orleans, use two hands.
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Through four games, the 1-3 Saints ranked 32nd in turnovers, 32nd in fumbles and fumbles lost, 32nd in average starting field position, and 32nd in humidity.
The Seattle Seahawks travel to New Orleans in Week 5 with a better record than the Saints, which something that few people—least of all me—had predicted. It’s still too early in the season for us to adequately judge teams based on their win-loss record (after five games last season, the Ravens were 4-1, the Chargers were 4-1, the Cardinals were 5-0, the Chiefs were 2-3, and the 49ers were 2-3) but in the Saints’ only victory so far they trailed the Failcons 26-10 in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans could be eyeing a franchise quarterback in the next draft, if only they hadn’t traded their 2023 first round pick to the Eagles for injured tackle Trevor Penning—a bit of a “win” for the Seahawks over the Saints once already this year.
It was one thing to expect the Saints to be good based on their talent at almost any position other than quarterback, but New Orleans has already taken a loss to Baker Mayfield, a game that any half-decent team should at least be competitive in, and they have been behind a losing score for most of the season.
The Saints trailed the Falcons 10-7 with 12:12 remaining in the second quarter and didn’t get the lead until :19 seconds left in the game
The Saints were up 3-0 against the Bucs for most of the first half, then tied 3-3 until the midway point of the fourth quarter before collapsing down to a 20-3 deficit a few minutes later.
The Saints fell behind 7-0 midway through the first quarter against the Panthers after a fumble recovery TD and Carolina’s lead was never in doubt
The Saints trailed for most of the first three quarters against the Vikings in London on Sunday, briefly took a lead, gave it up, tied the score, and lost in the final minute
After turning the ball over once in Week 1, five times in Week 2, and three times in Week 3, New Orleans had hoped that backup quarterback Andy Dalton (Winston has a back injury) would at least plug the leak. Instead, Dalton was sacked late in the second quarter, lost a fumble, and gave Minnesota a free three points. After a defensive stop early in the third quarter, the Saints fumbled the ensuing punt and that led to another free field goal for the Vikings.
Given the 28-25 final score, these were significant errors.
Were it not for a fumble by Marcus Mariota that the Saints recovered in Week 1, they would be 0-4.
How could this be the same team that I expected to shock the conference?
While the problems for Jameis and Dalton are expected—Dalton seems like the better option of the two and while isn’t clear yet who will start against Seattle, it’s worth pointing out that he played better in Week 4 than Winston did in the first three games despite not having Alvin Kamara or Michael Thomas—the sum of New Orleans’ parts being so much less than having probably eight or nine Pro Bowl caliber players is what I didn’t foresee.
The Saints defense includes these players:
Elite defensive end Cam Jordan has one sack and four pressures in four games
Pete Werner and Demario Davis could be the best linebacker duo in the NFL
Cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been named to the Pro Bowl in four of his first five seasons—he doesn’t have many stats to show for his season, that doesn’t mean he’s struggling
Tyrann Mathieu returned to Louisiana this year, intercepted Kirk Cousins in the most recent game
The success I had predicted for New Orleans was largely based on their defense and though they are 11th in points allowed per drive. seventh on third downs, and third in the red zone, plus it’s hard to play well when the offense keeps giving the ball away, the Saints also don’t seem elite either. Especially as the game goes on.
The Saints play their worst football in the fourth quarter: They’ve allowed 8.1 yards per pass attempt, 8.8 adjusted net yards per pass attempt, and two touchdowns with no interceptions in the fourth quarter. New Orleans has only forced four turnovers in four games, with half of those coming against Atlanta. The Saints have only intercepted one of the 131 passes against their defense so far and it would be malpractice for any NFL writer to ignore the biggest change that New Orleans made all year:
Dennis Allen went 4-12 in his first season with the Raiders in 2012, 4-12 in his second season with the Raiders, and 0-4 in his final season with the Raiders. He is now 1-3 in his first season with the Saints.
The Saints have gotten an adequate return on their defense and even though they have allowed at least 20 points in all four contests, that would not have happened if not for leading the league in turnovers. New Orleans might have even more talent on offense than they do on defense, but it feels like they’re driving a car without any nuts or bolts to hold each part together.
A consistently great offensive line has been playing without guard Andrus Peat (maybe returns, maybe doesn’t) and lost Terron Armstead to the Dolphins in free agency, but also still retained the likes of Ryan Ramczyk, Cesar Ruiz, and Erik McCoy, all top-50 picks in the draft like the ones that Seahawks fans have pined for over the years.
Receiver Michael Thomas has played well (16 catches on 22 targets, 171 yards, 3 TDs in three games), although he won’t be confused with the Michael Thomas that won Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 with Drew Brees as his quarterback. Running back Alvin Kamara has 24 carries for 100 yards and five catches for 19 yards with one fumble lost over two appearances. His days of catching exactly 81 passes seem to be over and he hasn’t been dynamic as a running back since 2020.
Over Jarvis Landry’s last three games, he has caught an Alvin Kamara-like eight passes for 52 yards and he’s yet to score this season. The team’s best weapons are that-running-back-tight-end-you-all-wanted-to-be-a-quarterback and rookie receiver Chris Olave.
What’s most interesting about Olave to me so far is that virtually all of his production this season has come when the Saints are losing.
When the Saints are losing, Olave has caught 18 of 25 targets for 317 yards.
When the Saints are leading, he has caught three of eight targets for 18 yards.
When the Saints are tied, Olave has caught zero of three targets.
So when things get bad, that’s when New Orleans starts forcing it to their dynamic rookie receiver. And as I’ve said, things have often been “bad” for the Saints this season. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Seattle’s defense to make things right.
After giving up 45 points to the Detroit Lions in Week 4, the Seahawks rank 31st in points allowed, 32nd in yards per play allowed, 32nd in yards per pass attempt allowed, 30th in yards per carry allowed, and they’ve only forced six turnovers on 254 defensive snaps.
Against the Saints, the Seahawks must take advantage of every opportunity given to them by Winston or Dalton, not to mention the others who have fumbled: Mark Ingram twice, Kamara in only two games, Olave, Deonte Harty, and Adam Prentice.
If they do that… if Geno Smith is kept clean in the pocket against a defense that only has seven sacks so far… if Smith doesn’t throw a pick against a defense that only has one interception so far… if Rashaad Penny can wear down a defense that has seen the fifth-most rushing attempts so far because of how often they’re trailing… if Seattle can get an early lead and force New Orleans to play from behind again… and if they can pressure either quarterback against a line that has allowed the seventh-most sacks… then perhaps the Seahawks can not only win and improve to 3-2…
They could be in first place in the NFC West.
On Monday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams and made Matthew Stafford look practically unfixable while doing so. It makes Seattle’s own ineptitude against the 49ers look much more forgivable with hindsight and highlights how close the four teams in the division might really be at this moment. All four are now 2-2, but the Seahawks might be a few more Saints mistakes away from sending Dennis Allen back into the coaching market (Kris Richard would be an ideal interim replacement, so Seattle could help out a former assistant in the process) and end up somewhere that nobody was predicting they’d be in October.
Beat the Saints.