This season won’t be about the New Orleans Saints making the playoffs. This is going to be the season in which they realize that Drew Brees with nothing much else around him isn’t enough anymore, and there’s some serious house cleaning to do, highlighting all of their mistakes in free agency, the draft and overall team building in the last few years.
The Saints lost to the Atlanta Falcons at home, 45-32. They actually took the lead when Drew Brees connected with the disappointing Coby Fleener on a 2-yard touchdown play. However, a foolish punt return collision between two of their players turned into a turnover, and the Falcons took control of the game. The Saints managed to even things at 14-14, but the Falcons raced for a 28-14 lead and were never in threat of losing their hold on the contest again.
Run defense was the thing on everyone’s lips. The Saints have been bad defensively for most of the last five years. This time, they allowed 217 rushing yards on only 37 carries. Matt Ryan couldn’t throw the ball too much to the injured Julio Jones (one catch, 16 yards), but it didn’t matter. Devonta Freeman ran for 152 yards on 14 carries, breaking out on runs of 48, 36 and 26 yards. He also caught the ball 5 times for 55 yards and a touchdown, being Ryan’s number one option most of the game.
Besides Ryan throwing two touchdown passes in an efficient night for him (240 yards, 20-for-30, 113.2 passer rating), there was Tevin Coleman, punching through the Saints defensive line whenever he felt like it. He finished with 3 touchdowns. Deion Jones returned a Brees interception 90 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, at that point putting the Falcons up by 20 points, enough to make them feel very confident for the rest of the game.
Brees wasn’t bad: He threw 3 touchdown passes and one interception, but the 376 yards on 54 passes aren’t what the Saints need. Their running game wasn’t bad either; the Falcons defense isn’t exactly difficult to figure out. But unable to generate any meaningful stops for a very long time after the botched punt return, the Saints were simply playing catch up with a team that has more offensive weapons to utilize, even in the domed stadium which is usually Brees’ playground. No more, not when the options he has in the passing game are extremely limited, if for injuries or for not having good enough players from the get go.
The Saints have very little cap space, and obviously can’t make too many changes this season anyway. The problem here is the future. They’ve committed huge amounts of money to Brees, who probably deserves it, but it left them very little to work with on a team that needs improving in almost every possible way. The Falcons won their first game in New Orleans since 2014, followed by two consecutive losses against the Saints. With the division looking like a mess right now, being OK and not completely flawed could work in their favor, especially if Jones’ injury doesn’t hamper him for long.