NEW ORLEANS — Early season stumbles are the hallmark of recent Saints teams.
Here are four things I captured from that disappointing loss.
- The best player on the field was Raiders tight end Darren Waller. He just couldn’t be guarded and Raiders coach Jon Gruden banged that drum all night. Waller had 12 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 16 times! On the TV broadcast they ripped Malcolm Jenkins and certainly he was a part of that, but the Saints tried everything and every body on Waller and nothing worked. And, it is a Jon Gruden staple that until you figure out how to stop something, he’s going to keep hammering that nail.
- The best long term positive from the game was Alvin Kamara. He looked great. He had 22 touches for 174 yards and two touchdowns, but everyone in New Orleans really knows that with number 41 it’s really about the eyeball test. Kamara was quick and slippery and his efforts may not have helped win this game, but he will help win a bunch of games this season.
- Saints fans should stay off the ledge. Slow starts are normal for this team and they have not been a problem over the past three seasons. 2017, 18 and 19 were all great years that started slowly and that all ended in division championships. In those three seasons the Saints were 2-4 in their opening two games, but then went 35-7 the rest of the way. This Saints team has been here before and rebounded in a big way before and they’ve done it three years in a row. The Saints are still the favorites in the NFC South and I’d bet on a rebound again.
- There are now legitimate questions about whether Drew Brees can do it any more. ESPN put out a stat after the game that showed that Brees averaged 4.82 air yards per pass so far this season. That’s the lowest so far of his time in New Orleans. It’s also the lowest of any quarterback in the entire NFL since 2009. The stat of 4.8 yards in the air means he’s throwing everything short. That raises the question as to whether the 41-year-old Brees still get the ball upfield, but keep this in mind: Beginning in 2017 Brees has cut down dramatically on his interceptions. In his first 11 seasons in New Orleans, he averaged just over 15 picks per year. In the past three years, during this team’s division title and playoff runs, he has averaged 5.7 picks per year. That is not an accident. It is not a coincidence. So, the question is how much of the very poor 4.82 air yards per pass is Brees just being risk averse, which he has been over the past three years and how much of it is that he just can’t get the ball upfield like he used to. Honestly, it’s probably a combination of both. But, the fact is, through two games, we really don’t know yet.
The roster is enormously talented and the division does not look real strong. But, for any kind of realistic Super Bowl shot, quarterback play has got to get better.