After Further Review: Five takes from Saints win over Panthers

After Further Review: Five takes from Saints win over Panthers
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, right, talks with quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Source: Gerry Broome)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Take One: No running backs, no problem

Need more proof that the Saints have a new offensive identity?

Sunday settled that for good. Running the football is the Saints new DNA.

On Sunday, they literally didn’t have their entire running back room available, and yet they dominated on the ground with 156 yards on 31 carries for over five yards per carry.

Ty Montgomery led the way with 105 yards. Montgomery practiced all week at receiver, then found out Saturday morning that not only did they need him to switch to running back, but that he was going to be the starter. Saints offensive game plans are notoriously detailed. To be able to switch like that on the fly, and not miss an assignment, is a testament to Montgomery’s football IQ.

The team also brought up Tony Jones Jr. from the practice squad who chipped in before leaving the game. Plus, Taysom Hill added some juice to the rushing attack.

What Sunday showed was simple. This offensive line is at its best when they are getting after defenses while run blocking. It doesn’t matter who is in the backfield, they are going to pave the way for those runners to get through.

Take Two: Brees getting back to normal

In his best game since returning from injury, Drew Brees was clean, efficient, decisive, and accurate.

He opened the game by going 4/4 passing, and connected with Jared Cook down the seam for a touchdown.

His second touchdown pass was particularly impressive. He checked pre-snap after seeing the Panthers defensive look and moved the back. Then, he went play action, and hit Emmanuel Sanders on a slant over the middle of the field.

His third touchdown pass to Austin Carr, Brees fit the ball into a tight window for the score.

Bottom line, Brees looks like he’s hitting his stride at the right time.

Take Three: Pick party

They say turnovers come in bunches. The Saints proved that theory right on Sunday.

On a day where they were without C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Williams and D.J. Swearinger, the Saints picked off five different passes.

Starters Marshon Lattimore and Malcolm Jenkins each had an interception. Steady reserve P.J. Williams had one as well. Undrafted free agent, Grant Haley, who was called up from the practice squad Saturday, intercepted Teddy Bridgewater in the end zone. Ken Crawley closed out the day by running down a P.J. Walker overthrow.

The crazy thing is, while getting five was great, they could have, and should’ve had more. Jenkins was in position for one, but Curtis Samuel was able to ou tjump him for the ball. Janoris Jenkins made an incredible break on an out route, and would’ve had a pick-six, but he dropped it. P.J. Williams also had a chance for a second pick, but somehow lost the ball to D.J. Moore.

Regardless, when you intercept five passes in an NFL game, there is a strong chance the team that did the taking away dominated. Which is exactly what the Saints did against the Panthers.

Take Four: Securing the two seed

By taking care of business Sunday, the Saints secured the second seed in the playoffs. Which guarantees that they won’t travel again until the NFC Championship, should they make it, and Green Bay is their opponent.

Homefield advantage won’t be what it normally is in the playoffs (Packers may have the best given the weather), but still the Saints would rather be inside the Dome than not. They’ve won six playoff games there under Sean Payton. Though, their last two have been losses.

Now that the postseason is here, the narrative of past postseason failures will undoubtedly come up. The Saints have a chance to shatter that narrative this time around. They have the talent, depth, and experience to finally finish the job that’s eluded them for over a decade.

Take Five: Other Observations

- The Saints special teams unit is having issues. Thomas Morstead struggled with distance on some punts. Wil Lutz missed an extra point. There was a point in this season where Lutz was automatic. That is not the case right now. This is a major concern heading into the postseason.

- Bridgewater’s interception to Haley in the end zone was one of the worst throws I’ve ever seen him make. He was benched after that play. Just listening to some of the postgame questions, it doesn’t sound like everyone is sold in the Panthers organization on Bridgewater.

- Emmanuel Sanders had eight catches, which earned him $500,000 in incentives. Brees said after the game, they wanted to make sure Sanders got those eight catches to earn his bonus.

- 6-0 in the NFC South. Not bad at all. In fact, the Saints are the first team to ever do it.

- As for the Bears, they have a defensive front that can give the Saints some issues. They’ll be a tough opponent, no doubt.

- Taysom Hill leaving the game is something to monitor for next week.

- Sean Payton didn’t want to talk about COVID-19 protocols after the game. But it is something he will have to closely monitor. They were one day away from not having Alvin Kamara available for the wild card round. Fortunately, the game is Sunday not Saturday.

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