Saints fans, get ready to eat some W
The sky is falling! The season is over! Let’s get ready for the draft! Oh noes!!!
If it sounds like I am exaggerating, then you haven’t been paying attention to “Saints Twitter,” any sports network’s various shows, or any written piece about the Saints since it was announced that Drew Brees would miss some time with multiple rib fractures and a collapsed lung.
The truth is, if you missed all those pieces and shows, good for you, because the New Orleans Saints have been there and done that and the sky is far from falling. Let me refresh your memory: Last season, the Saints were 1-0 and playing the Rams in LA in a mouth-watering week two clash. In the first half of the game, Drew Brees attempted a pass and accidentally injured the thumb of his throwing hand by slamming it on Aaron Donald’s helmet. Minutes later, after trying in vain to grip a football again, Brees knew he was done for a while. Enter backup Teddy Bridgewater, a likable quarterback that hadn’t started a game in years and had looked pedestrian in both the preseason and mop-up duties. But what he was, was a backup quarterback whom the Saints believed in. Bridgewater played terribly for the rest of the game against the Rams, not having had the necessary reps to be thrust into an NFL game in progress and do well. The Saints lost 27-9, and looming for the then Brees-less team was a road trip to Big Bad Seattle. Back then too, the season was already over! Well except for the fact that New Orleans proceeded to beat Seattle 33-27 (and it wasn’t that close), then handled the Cowboys in an “uglyful” (ugly and beautiful) 12-10 defensive contest. Before you knew it, the Saints had gone 5-0 without Brees and would only lose again when the starting quarterback returned following the team’s bye week. Interestingly, the loss came against the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans’ opponent this coming Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
This time around, with Brees out for the foreseeable future, the backup quarterback unexpectedly thrown into the mix is one Jameis Lanaed Winston, a 6’4” former number one overall pick, who at the tender age of 26 has a chance to redefine an up-and-down NFL career that started in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The story of Winston this season bears some uncanny resemblances to that of Bridgewater last year. Like Teddy, Jameis signed a short-term contract with the Saints, hoping to revive his NFL career. Like Teddy, Jameis entered a game midway through after a Brees injury and did not play particularly well. Like Teddy, Jameis now has four to five games to prove to the Saints and to the entire NFL world that he can once again be a starting-caliber quarterback. It worked out well for Bridgewater, who is now the unquestioned starting quarterback in Carolina. How will it go for Winston? The redemption tour starts on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
Speaking of Atlanta: Winston is very familiar with the Falcons, having played them nine times with Tampa Bay before joining the Saints. How did the former Bucs quarterback fare against the Dirty Birds when he played in an offense far less proficient than the one he now operates in under Sean Payton? Let’s look at five eye-catching numbers for answers:
Winston’s best game against Atlanta actually came in a loss. This is one reason why wins and losses for quarterbacks can be treacherous numbers. On December 18, 2017 on Monday Night Football, Winston had his career-high passer rating against the Falcons at 130.5, after completing 27-of-35 (77.1%) passing attempts for 299 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 21-24 home-loss to the Falcons.
Not every quarterback in the NFL can be Drew Brees and complete an ungodly high percentage of passes week in and week out. However, a completion percentage of 65-plus percent in the NFL is getting it done. In nine games against the Falcons, Jameis Winston completed 65.9% of his passes, all while attempting 288 passes (32 att-per-game on average).
Betting that Jameis is going to throw some touchdown passes against Atlanta on Sunday? Well, you are probably right. Winston passed for 25 total touchdowns against the Falcons in his Bucs career, or about 2.8 passing touchdowns per game. These came along with two rushing touchdowns, for a total of 27 touchdowns against the Falcons thus far in the quarterback’s career, a number that is sure to grow in the next three weeks as the Saints face Atlanta twice in that span.
One thing that Drew Brees can do so efficiently is releasing the ball early and avoiding sacks. Jameis Winston isn’t too shabby when it comes to avoiding sacks either, albeit by using his feet to escape the pocket and prolong plays. That ability has gotten him into trouble at times, and yet in nine games against the Falcons, Winston has been sacked only 11 times (1.2 times per game). This will come handy on Sunday, as the Saints’ offensive line, one of the best in the league when healthy, is dealing with a couple of injuries, notably to left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Andrus Peat.
The number you’ve all been waiting for. And no, you’re not reading that wrong: Jameis Winston only had nine interceptions in nine career-games against the Falcons. as a matter of fact, the highest number of interceptions he threw in a single game against Atlanta was two (three times), while he had three games with no interceptions, and three with one interception apiece. In a Sean Payton’s offense that schemes beautifully to get receivers open, I am willing to bet that Winston will throw less picks overall. There will still be the head-scratching throw here and there, but with a gunslinger, you have to take the good with some of the bad. Sean Payton clearly likes the good much better than he is wary of the bad.