NFL Week 3: Keys for New Orleans Saints offense vs. Patriots

·5 min read

Jameis Winston must improve, but the real concern falls on the New Orleans Saints offensive line against the disruptive New England Patriots defense. Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s hands-on approach has built a unit that can frustrate many opponents. Sean Payton must be on top of his game to get team back on track after last week’s upset loss. Their keys to the game:

A total reversal for the offensive line

Jul 31, 2021; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) performs offensive line drills during a New Orleans Saints training camp session at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Things need to turn around in a hurry up front. The Saints have invested too many draft picks, too many big contracts, and too many years of coaching and development into this unit for the Saints to get pushed around on Sundays. Getting a full week of practice in with their position coach should do a lot to help, but at the end of the day veterans like Ryan Ramczyk and Andrus Peat need to win their battles and execute their assignments. And the Patriots will challenge them. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower's abilities are starting to regress with age, but he's still one of the sharpest minds around and he'll help get teammates in position to exploit New Orleans' vulnerabilities. That happens after Bill Belichick has spent a week watching Phil Snow's Panthers pressure packages give the Saints fits. The Cesar Ruiz-Calvin Throckmorton combo have a big target on them and must respond accordingly.

Wide receivers must punch above their weigh class

Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills (12) during warm-ups before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Let's be real: this is an incomplete unit. Michael Thomas and Tre'Quan Smith were expected to be the receiving corps' best two players and they're both out of action with injuries. That puts backups like Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway into roles they aren't prepared for with higher expectations than they've earned. Adding Kenny Stills to the group should help, even marginally, but someone has to step up and make a play. Maybe that's Callaway finally flipping a switch and playing some bully ball. Maybe it's Harris using his speed to knife through the Patriots secondary, or Stills taking advantage of attention going elsewhere. Things should improve after the bye week once Thomas and Smith return (fingers crossed in hopes they remain on schedule) but if the group doesn't start to pull its weight soon there's a real possibility those two starters return to a team with a losing record.

Jameis Winston has to bounce back

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 19: Quarterback Jameis Winston #2 of the New Orleans Saints before the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Winston's Week 2 outing brought back too many bad memories of Tampa Jameis, even if it wasn't all on him. Between the offensive line meltdown and the lack of quick separation from receivers, he had too much pressure on him from the first series. That still doesn't excuse the two interceptions he flung into crowds of Panthers defenders. If other factors improve, Winston's baseline should too. Even if they don't he still can't get reckless and put the ball in harm's way. He's supposed to be the kind of quarterback who elevates everyone around him, who throws with accuracy and anticipation and who recognizes a blitz before the snap, adjusting his protection to account for it. He hasn't done those things often enough. Sooner or later we've got to see all his offseason workouts pay off, and time is quickly running out.

Get Alvin Kamara up to speed

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) prior to an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Sep. 19, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Brian Westerholt)

Yeah, this feels obvious, right? Kamara has forced just one missed tackle through the first two weeks for the first time since his rookie season. He's the best player on the team and the Saints likely go as far as he can take them. So it's concerning that the Patriots are known for taking No. 1 options like him out of the game plan with extra attention. Here's Sean Payton's opportunity to climb the NFL coaching pecking order. His reputation as a creative play caller could become ironclad if Kamara has a big game against a defense fully committed to neutralizing him. Whether he gets Kamara going as a runner or receiver (preferably both), making him a big factor is critical. The more heavy lifting Kamara is able to do, the less pressure falls on Winston and their supporting cast.

Winning on early downs

Sep 19, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) hands off to running back Tony Jones Jr. (34) in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints need to make it easier on themselves on third down. Through two games, they've seen their yards to go grow to 7.67 on third down after it was 6.25 last year, meaning they're averaging just 2.33 yards gained on first and second downs before approaching third down (last season, they gained 3.75 yards in such sequences). Shortening the distance to the first down marker will do a lot to open up the playbook and disguise their intentions. And, as with many other things, it begins by playing better up front. Creating more yards for Kamara and Tony Jones Jr. before contact with a defender gives them a better running start to pick up a fresh set of downs, and puts them in a better position to make a play. If the Ruiz-Throckmorton combo can settle in while veterans like Peat and Ramczyk pick up the slack, the whole offense benefits. It's just going to be tough sledding against a well-coached and very prepared opponent.

1

1

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting