The New Orleans Saints defense has stepped up and now the offense braces for a big change at quarterback.
Last week didn’t go quite as expected. Yes, the New Orleans Saints won their sixth straight game in another multiple-score victory against the San Francisco 49ers. Alvin Kamara scored three touchdowns and the defense showed up for the second week in a row, besides the opening drive. But all of that took an understandable backseat to the news that Drew Brees had suffered multiple broken ribs and a collapsed lung over the last couple of weeks. The five questions ahead of the Saints’ divisional matchup against the Atlanta Falcons lead off with relief pitchers Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.
Who gets the start with Brees out?
This one seems obvious to me, but it is very much a topic of conversation. Most of the national media seems to agree that it will be the Jameis Winston show on Sunday as the Saints host Atlanta. However, Head Coach Sean Payton continues to be mum on the subject not naming a starting QB until it’s absolutely necessary. He even took some time to mention both quarterbacks. Keep in mind that Payton did this same thing last year ahead of the Saints traveling to Seattle from Los Angeles, even teasing a two-QB system a bit. During the five games Teddy was the starter and I’d imagine this time around it will indeed be Jameis for the bulk of the contest. But might Payton throw a curveball and “start” Taysom by giving him the first snaps? We often credit the Saints’ coach for playing chess while others are playing checkers, could we see another illustration of that on Sunday?
If Jameis does start, how often do we see Taysom?
Last year, after starting off with 15 and 21 offensive snaps to open the season. That changed as Teddy Bridgewater was the starter in weeks 3-7. Those offensive snaps then dropped to 4, 6, 15, 11, and 13 respectively. Will that dip in snaps be the case this time around if Jameis Winston takes the bulk of the load as expected? There is a key factor to consider here and that is the other injuries around the team.
Both wideout Tre’Quan Smith and tight end Josh Hill suffered concussions in Sunday’s borderline brutal matchup. Both of those players, as Coach Payton mentioned following the game, have large roles in the run game. If Smith misses time, wide receivers Marquez Callaway and practice squad member Juwan Johnson could help fill that role. However, if Josh Hill misses time, that could translate into more opportunities for Taysom to get involved on the offensive side. Tight ends Garrett Griffin and Ethan Wolf are also options off the practice squad.
The downside of utilizing Taysom is that the team risks injury to him and losing QB depth if there’s another injury at the position. But, as Deuce McAllister pointed out, the Saints should be invested in putting the best weapons around Winston. Taysom is one of those weapons.
Can the Saints defense continue their upward trajectory?
After allowing only three points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we reasonably expected a little bit of a drop off the next week. That drop off did take place against the less-familiar and uber creative offense fo the 49ers. However, they lived up to the hope that the drop off would still land them in a position that improved upon their early-season performances. Not only did they only give up 13 points, they didn’t allow a score from 14:56 in the second quarter until deep in the fourth and also added a takeaway to seal the game ahead of the two minute warning. Raise your hand if you pegged Patrick Robinson to tie the team lead in interceptions.
The other factor of the Saints’ defensive success comes down to their continued domination in the run game. Football Outsiders did a fantastic breakdown on just how impressive New Orleans has been against the run. Bottom line, this season’s performance is one the best since 1999.
Which of the offensive weapons benefit from the change at QB?
A couple of things should vary with Jameis Winston and/or Taysom Hill periodically under center. Not the least of which being the amount of downfield shots and concepts that the team can open back up. As we know, air yardage does not translate directly to success, but it sure makes for a fun brand of football. If Sean Payton plans to dial up some of his 2006 – 2015 playbook which player stands to benefit the most? we’ve seen Michael Thomas make plays downfield despite the national view assuming otherwise. Emmanuel Sanders had more than a few big plays downfield for the 49ers last year and can still win with his routes to create that deep separation. What about the young guys like Tre’Quan Smith (if healthy), Marquez Callaway, and Deonte Harris? We’ve seen the Saints dial up deep shots to Harris on multiple occasions. Now we may see them be able to strike with more frequency. There is also the chance that Payton plays it conservative early on in this one to get Winston and Hill safe when whichever is under center. That could spell a big day for Alvin Kamara in the passing game.
What if Sean Payton does it again?
After years of unfounded conversation about whether or not Brees makes Payton or Payton makes Drew, Payton won five games in a row with Teddy Bridgewater as his starter last year. Took on the challenge of developing a gameplan that put Teddy in the position he needed to be in to win. And did so five games in a row including games against strong defenses. What if he does it again starting with a convincing win over the division rival Falcons? Deuce Windham did a fantastic breakdown of where Payton compares among some of the best offensive playcallers in the history of the NFL. Does creating a winning model with three, or possibly even four by the time Brees returns, different quarterbacks help to separate him a bit more in that conversation. I personally think it should.
Lagniappe: Which team wins the battle of the trenches?
What did you think of the Saints’ win? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.