Winston has had some growing pains for the Saints, but he’s slowly coming into his own
The New Orleans Saints went into their bye week 3-2, which is a small miracle given their obstacles early in the season. Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith were injured leading to an insane workload for Alvin Kamara, Jameis Winston was learning an offense implemented by Sean Payton (who was still figuring out Winston himself), and one of the Saints’ best defensive linemen was suspended in David Onyemata.
In spite of all of that, the Saints find themselves second in the NFC South, half a game ahead of a Carolina Panthers team that started 3-0 and is now .500. The NFC is starting to come into focus, and as of now it’s looking like the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and everyone else.
The Saints’ play calling has been changing week to week, with Payton introducing little wrinkles as he learns his personnel. Last week against the Washington Football Team, while Winston completed just 50 percent of his passes, two of them were for 40-plus yard touchdowns (albeit one came on a miracle Hail Mary to Marquez Callaway).
Prior to Week 5, the Saints had just three attempts of 40-plus yards. Calls to let Winston let loose were amplified after the Saints’ hyper-conservative second half against the Giants, and they obliged against Washington.
While Thomas and Smith may not add to the Saints’ downfield potential when they return to action, they will provide another outlet for Winston throw the ball. That will open the field even further for Harris, who has emerged as a burner himself. He’s a different prototype than the downfield threats Drew Brees had — Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson were bigger-bodied threats — but he fits Winston’s style extremely well.
Winston has an ability to hit receivers in stride down the field, and Thomas will command help in the mid range.
The Saints have run 11 personnel 50 percent of the time, which is not abnormal. The problem is, teams aren’t respecting the third receiver on the field or the tight end. While tight end remains a problem position for the Saints, at least having a true third receiver will let the Saints spread defenses a bit thinner.
The return of Thomas and Smith will also help Kamara. Kamara’s 109 touches are second in the league to the Titans’ Derrick Henry, and some reinforcements will do him good. He appeared fatigued at moments against Washington, and while his raw stats this season haven’t suffered (excluding a brutal aberration against the Panthers), he often looks closer to 2019 Kamara than 2018 or 2020 Kamara.
All things told, the Saints appeared more confident against Washington, and look for that to trend up against a Seattle Seahawks team that is without Russell Wilson. While it will undoubtedly be a challenge for Payton to get everyone involved, at least it will be due to working weapons into the system, as opposed to trying to account for a lack of them.