Ralph Malbrough / Contributing Writer
If the New Orleans Saints were a college football team everyone would analyze their 17-13 win over the 2-8 Atlanta Falcons like the Zapruder film and they’d probably drop in the polls. Good news for the Saints is they are a pro football team and five minutes after the game was over Thursday everyone had already forgotten it and was focusing on the next game in Seattle.
About the only thing really exciting about the Saints win was Jimmy Graham breaking the goal post after hauling in a Drew Brees touchdown pass. Don’t confuse boring with poor though because the Saints won a game on three days rest, without Jahri Evans and Darren Sproles, plus newly missing Jabari Greer and that is no easy feat no matter the opponent.
Drew Brees had a very workman like game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 278 yards and two scores. The offensive star of the night for the Saints was Pierre Thomas. He had 15 touches for 130 yards.
Pierre Thomas is quietly building a resume that in two years we might just call him the best running back in Saints history. After Thursday he’s fourth in career rushing yards behind Deuce McAllister, George Rogers, and, Dalton Hilliard. Add in 2,100 yards receiving and suddenly Thomas’ career looks pretty special.
The Saints offense did enough, didn’t turn the ball over, but looked exactly like a team who played a draining physical game four days earlier. Some people might say they looked flat but to me they looked tired. Sometimes in life something isn’t an excuse it’s a reason.
While the offense was grinding out 17 points, the defense at times was all over the place.
The Saints defense did good things (5 sacks, allowed only 13 points, created a turnover) and some bad (allowed 50 percent 3rd down conversions, let Falcons win time of possession by 7 minutes, and had Matt Ryan complete 12 straight passes against them at one point). The bottom line is although a turnover and missed field goal helped the Saints, the Falcons didn’t dent the scoreboard the second half.
Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks might be the best defensive end combination in football. Jordan had 2.5 sacks and Hicks added 1.5 more against Atlanta and at times both were completely unblockable. As great as Jordan is Hicks might have a higher ceiling. Hicks is just destroying people and I’m not sure he’s totally figured out how to play yet. The thought of Hicks getting even 25 percent better is pure happiness. It’s probably the reason Rob Ryan had a giant smiley face on his defensive play calling sheet. You’d be smiling too if you knew you had those two guys signed through at least 2015.
The only real long term concern on defense the Atlanta game showed is the loss of Jabari Greer might not easily be overcome. Atlanta identified Corey White and worked him over like a boxer does to a punching bag in the gym. It wasn’t pretty but White did recover a Falcon fumble so give him credit for fighting through a tough night.
If you are thinking there might be a player available the Saints could sign to solve the problem you need to wake up. It’s almost Thanksgiving and there aren’t any free agents who could help the Saints secondary. The solution is simple; Corey White needs to play better. It’s the only viable fix and after Thursday the jury is still out if White is up to it.
I could probably mention some more details about the Saints game but let’s be honest in three weeks about the only thing we’ll remember from this game is Jimmy Graham breaking the goal post and Falcons coach Mike Smith showing absolutely no courage and kicking a 52-yard field goal instead of going for it down 17-13.
Seriously Mike, you are 2-8 and yet you are going to kick a field goal down 17-13 with less than three minutes left? That’s the dullest and most conservative call a coach can make. Again, YOU ARE TWO AND EIGHT what exactly is the downside of going for it on fourth down? Mike Smith’s decision infuriated me and I hate Atlanta. I can’t imagine dealing with that every week. Next time Sean Payton gets a little reckless and gets aggressive in the wrong spot just remember kids, we could be stuck with Mike Smith instead.
I’ll take the occasional reverse to third string tight end in a big situation instead of Mike Smith any time.
Even if it was easily forgettable, beating Atlanta is always fun, but now it’s on to something bigger. How big? The Saints are about to play the biggest regular season game in team history. The Saints have had regular season games where playoff spots were at stake but they don’t measure up to what December 2nd means. The Saints head to Seattle for a Monday Night game where the winner gets the inside track for home field throughout the playoffs in front of the entire country. Did I mention both teams are practically invincible at home? Because the Saints were able to take care of business on three days rest, we get to enjoy the next 11 days looking forward to the biggest regular season game in Saints history. When people ask us why we love football it’s because of games like Seahawks vs. Saints. In regular seasons it doesn’t get much better.
Gonna be a long 11 days.Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on facebook, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.