MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S SCOUTING REPORT: New Orleans Saints

Posted Oct 11, 2017

Mike O'Hara takes a look at how the New Orleans Saints shape up on offense, defense and special teams.

Drew Brees took advantage of the New Orleans Saints’ upcoming bye week after an impressive 20-0 win over the Dolphins in London in Week 4 to look ahead two weeks to the next game against the Detroit Lions.

The future Hall of Fame quarterback liked what he saw in his team.

The Saints reversed the start of the season by winning two games to get to 2-2 after starting the season with losses to the Vikings and Patriots.

Most impressive in the wins was the improvement on defense. It backed up a strong performance in a 34-13 road win over the Carolina Panthers with another solid effort against Miami to go with Brees’ customary efficiency.

No wonder Brees felt good heading home from London.

“That’s winning football,” Brees said in his postgame press conference. “That’s complementary football.”

On offense, the Saints are developing young playmakers in second-year receiver Michael Thomas and rookie running back Alvin Kamara to go with veteran tailback Mark Ingram. 

On a vastly improved defense, two more rookies have been plugged in as starters in the secondary with Marshon Lattimore at cornerback and Marcus Williams at free safety. Up front, Cameron Jordan’s three sacks lead a pass rush that has 11 sacks and ranks ninth in the league in sacks per play.

With the Lions’ recent problems on offense, and a key injury to defensive tackle and team leader Haloti Ngata, facing a Saints team on the rise in Sunday’s road game is a formidable challenge for the Lions.

Even in a losing start, Brees said he saw positive signs.

“Go back to two weeks ago,” he said. “Obviously, we were in a rough spot starting the season 0-2. It’s not the start we all wanted or expected. We were starting to play better. We felt like we were closer than maybe everyone was trying to make us believe.

“The formula is there. We just have to keep trusting that formula. There’s a winning formula on offense. There’s a winning formula on defense. It might not be the most fancy performance you ever looked at, but it’s winning football.”

Here’s how the Saints stand going into Sunday’s game:

Bye to AP: The Lions won’t have to deal with Adrian Peterson, which isn’t a bad thing. They saw enough of the three-time league rushing champion in the 10 seasons he played for the Minnesota Vikings.

The Saints traded him to the Cardinals on Tuesday for what has been reported as a conditional draft pick. Peterson struggled through four unproductive games. He had 81 yards on 27 carries, and only four yards on four carries against the Dolphins.

Offense – Kamara production: Not that he needs much help, but Brees has benefitted from Kamara’s versatility. The rookie’s ability to run and catch is part of what made Peterson expendable, head coach Sean Payton said Wednesday in his conference-call interview. 

Thomas leads the Saints with 25 catches for 310 yards and two touchdowns, and Kamara is next with 20 catches for 147 yards and a TD. Kamara had 10 catches on 10 targets against the Dolphins and scored his TD on a 16-yard screen pass. He’s still working his way into the running game, with 15 carries for 83 yards, and a 5.5-yard average per carry.

Brees’ overall passing yards are down. With 288.8 yards per game, he could average less than 300 per game for the first time since 2010.

The Saints’ offensive line has done a good job of protecting him allowing just four sacks, and he has responded by throwing eight TD passes without an interception. 

Defense – point production: The Saints’ improvement on defense shows up on the scoreboard. They’ve given up an average of 19.5 points, tied for 12th fewest in the league.

They were one of the worst defenses in the league the last three years, allowing 26.5, 29.8 and 28.4 points per game from 2014-16 to rank 28th, 32nd and 31strespectively those years.

The Saints gave up 65 points in losing the first two games to the Vikings (29) and Patriots (36) but only 13 in the last two, topped off by shutting out the Dolphins.

“We started the season off slow and felt we played better in Carolina,” Payton said. “And we played better against Miami. We’ve gotten some takeaways.”

The Saints have a big advantage in big plays on defense – 11-4 in sacks by the defense versus sacks allowed, and 4-0 in turnover margin. They have four takeaways, all on interceptions, without an interception or a lost fumble.