Ralph Malbrough - Contributing Writer
NEW ORLEANS - In improving to 5-0 the New Orleans Saints showed the kind of toughness Super Bowl winning teams need to have by winning on the road against a first place team.
The Saints went to a place they had never won under Sean Payton and came away with a 26-18 win. Ask Seattle, New England, Kansas City and Denver if going on the road against winning teams is easy. Only the Chiefs and Broncos managed to stay perfect like the Saints.
The Saints might not have the offense of Denver or the defense of Seattle but they are better on both sides of the ball than either of them is. I’m not discussing Kansas City as elite until they beat an elite team.
On Sunday the Saints used the familiar script we’ve seen so far in 2013…Drew Brees was incredible, even by his high standards. He completed nearly 83 percent of his 35 throws. He also showed his underrated mobility by avoiding a Chicago pass rush and helping an offensive line that continues to struggle.
This might be Brees’ finest season yet. The Saints are trying to break in new receivers and the offensive line might be the worst he has had as a Saint and he keeps rolling along and is basically ignored in the MVP race.
Jimmy Graham continued to play at a level that no tight end has ever done in the NFL. Graham caught 10 passes for 135 yards and stunningly on quite a few of them was open by five yards. Do you realize how incredible that is? Every week the Saints opponent goes into the game saying, “We got to stop Jimmy Graham.” And the guy is consistently getting wide open.
I joked on Twitter Jimmy Graham’s contract extension might be more valuable than the entire gross national product of Bolivia. We might be rapidly approaching the point where Graham says, “You know Mickey Loomis, I don’t want to just be the highest paid tight end. I want Calvin Johnson type money.” And the request won’t be ridiculous.
Forget the receiving records for tight ends; Graham is taking dead aim at the best season ever for a wide receiver.
Pierre Thomas touched the ball 28 times, scored twice, and had as good a homecoming as you could ask for. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Sean Payton got Thomas nearly 30 touches when he is playing in front of friends and family. Things like that matter to players and you can add it to the list of reasons why Payton is a great coach.
While the offense continued to do its thing, Rob Ryan and the defense showed us something new and delightful; Ryan broke out the blitz. The Saints pass rush has been the catalyst for the most consistent defense of the Sean Payton Era but until Sunday it was pressure created almost exclusively from four guys.
Against Chicago Ryan unleashed Malcolm Jenkins, Kenny Vaccaro, and David Hawthorne from different angles. It produced three Jay Cutler sacks and three straight three and outs during the first half.
We have a lot of fun with Rob Ryan, his hair, and fact he likes to celebrate by hitting certain New Orleans watering holes but the guy can flat out coach. Bill Belichick doesn’t hire somebody to coach his linebackers unless they know what they are doing. The national media might not give Ryan the credit he deserves as a great coach but he is.
The best part about the defense is it can get better. Once Brodrick Bunkley returns the Saints won’t have to play rookie John Jenkins so much. While Jenkins has been great he is playing more snaps than the Saints would probably like. This pass rush isn’t a mirage; it’s here to stay.
Super Bowls aren’t won in October but contenders usually show themselves by this point. The Saints are the most complete team in the NFL right now as their flaws aren’t as glaring as others. Sometimes to win a Super Bowl a team has to go on the road in a tough environment and get a victory. The Saints showed Sunday they are more than capable.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.