Five Saints overreactions after their Week 1 win

Knee-jerk reactions to the Saints 30-28 win against the Texans

Seth Dunlap
September 10, 2019 - 12:23 am

The New Orleans Saints secured their first opening week victory since 2013, with a 58-yard Will Lutz field goal sailing through the uprights as time expired to beat the Houston Texans 30-28.  

Watching Week 1 of any NFL season causes a cascade of overreactions, as every play is turned into a litmus test on just how good, or bad, teams and players across the league are.  There is plenty to discuss after the Saints come from behind win.  Let's look at five possible overreactions.

1.  Will Lutz is the best kicker in the NFL!

This one is easy.  Lutz sent Saints fans into delirium when he drilled the 58-yarder to save his entire team from facing a full week of hang-wringing and second-guessing as they head into their NOLA No-Call rematch against the Rams.  Few are going to remember that Lutz missed a 56-yard field goal earlier in the night, and for good reason.  But can Lutz lay claim to being the best kicker in the league? 

His candidacy is intriguing.  Lutz made 28 of 30 field goals last season, putting him at No. 5 in the NFL in terms of percentage.  Let's look at the kickers who finished ahead of Lutz in that category last season:

  • Matt Bryant, Atlanta:  Considering the 44-year old Bryant retired after last season, only to be coaxed back into uniform by a desperate Falcons team during the preseason, let's disqualify him from this discussion.
  • Michael Badgley, Chargers:  Badgley was great for the Chargers last season after taking over as their full-time kicker in Week 6, making all but one of his 16 field goal attempts.  He's hurt currently, however, and didn't play in the Chargers' opening week win against the Colts.  Advantage, Lutz.
  • Aldrick Rosas, Giants:  The young Giants' kicker was exceptional last season, making 32 of 33 field goal attempts.  That was a bounce-back from a dreadful 2017 season when he made just 72% of his attempts.   It's not uncommon for young kickers to take a year or two to get their sea legs, pardon the pun, and the Giants seemed to have found a real gem in Rosas. 
  • Robbie Gould, 49ers:  Gould is one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, and although he's 36-years old that's really that old for a placekicker (see Bryant above or the ageless Adam Vinatieri).  However, Gould, like Lutz, missed a kick in Week 1.  He also missed two of his 27 extra-point attempts last season, and made two fewer field goals from 40+ yards than Lutz did last season.  While age would seem to give Lutz a slight advantage, Gould's career consistency makes this a wash. 

There are other veteran kickers, like Baltimore's Justin Tucker and the Rams' Greg Zeurlien, who also deserve consideration.  While it's too early to declare Lutz the best placekicker in the NFL, he should be in the conversation as one of the best.

2.  Trey Hendrickson should be starting over Marcus Davenport

Putting aside that the term 'starter' doesn't mean what it used to for NFL defenders, this debate is bound to heat up this week.  Hendrickson was sensational against the Texans, sacking Houston quarterback DeShaun Watson two times despite being limited to a situational pass rushing role.  Davenport, meanwhile, was almost invisible.   I say almost, because the one time he did stand out was when Watson made him look foolish on the quarterback's 21-yard touchdown run on a read-option in the first half.  The Texans seemingly designed that play to run right at Davenport, who they obviously believed to be a liability against the run.  They were right.  What's more concerning for Davenport was his lack of pass rush consistency.  He had no sacks and just one hurry, despite playing the majority of the game.

While the Saints shouldn't abandon the second-year player, somebody they invested a heavy amount of draft capital in to acquire last season, it's obvious that Davenport isn't developing at the rate the team had initially hoped.  It's way too early to call Davenport a bust, and fan expectations are almost always too high for any first round pick.  Still, the Saints need to evaluate whether Hendrickson or Davenport makes their defense better now.  There's little room in the NFL for a team to keep a superior talent on the sidelines in any situation, and that's especially true when said team is squarely in a championship window.  The Saints, to this point, have believed Davenport is that superior talent.  I'm not going to second-guess that evaluation.  However, the production disparity between Hendrickson and Davenport hasn't matched their talent evaluation in the preseason or Week 1.

Suffice to say, this one will be very interesting to watch going forward.  Remember, the team also gets David Onyemata back next week, and Sheldon Rankins' return looms as well.  The clock is ticking for Davenport to prove he deserves to be on the field more than the other very talented players he's surrounded by on this front-four.

3.  The Saints' secondary is a huge liability

Had the Saints not come back to win, this would have been the lead segment on nearly every sports talk radio program in the state tomorrow.  The defense allowed the Texans to march down the field for a go-ahead touchdown in 13 seconds.  That's not a typo.  Watson needed just two passes to move the Texans 75-yards for a score.  Stellar defense that was not.  

Anybody using that one drive to definitevely classify the Saints' secondary as a terrible unit is missing the bigger picture.  Safety Marcus Williams flashed his range multiple times, including on his third-quarter interception of Watson.  Marshon Lattimore sure looked like one of the better cornerbacks in the league for most of the night.  It's hard to find too many complaints about Eli Apple's play, other than an early play where he was burned by speedy Texans' receiver Will Fuller.  

There's no masking the inexcusable lapses by nickelback P.J. Williams or the what-are-you-doing moments from safety Vonn Bell, but those are fairly typical Week 1 miscues.  I'd be shocked if Bell somehow regresses heading into unrestricted free agency, especially considering how good he looked in the preseason.  We'll get a better idea of just how good, or bad, this unit is when they play the Rams next week.  Hold of on the apocalyptic view of the back end of the Saints defense until then.

4.  NFL officiating is as bad as ever

In a great encapsulation of how NFL officiating is judged, the crew that worked the Saints-Texans games called, in my view, an exceptional game.  Except for one inexcusable moment, that is.  

Near the end of the first half, with the Saints driving, Brees found Michael Thomas near the left sideline for a catch near the first-down sticks.  Thomas made the grab with :41 seconds left but was ruled just short of the sticks and, with the clock running, Brees hurried the offense to the line of scrimmage and called a quick quarterback sneak that seemed to give the Saints a first down.  But hold on, the play was stopped for a booth review.  After consulting with NFL VP of Officiating Al Riveron in the New York officiating command center, the Thomas catch was changed to give the Saints a first down.  Because the review happened with under two minutes left in the half, and because the game clock was running when the review happened, rules dictate that the offense must use a timeout or suffer a 10-second runoff.  

Here's the rub.  Instead of enforcing the 10-second runoff at the 41 second mark, when the Thomas play ended, referee John Hussey and his crew began the runoff at the 26-second mark, when the Brees-sneak play began.  

It was an embarrassing flub for the officiating crew and the NFL, and perhaps cost the Saints a chance at a touchdown.  Riveron issued a mea culpa after the game while admitting the error.  Saints fans are tired of Riveron admitting errors.  They'd prefer those errors don't happen in the first place.  

I have an great deal of respect and admiration for NFL officials, regardless of the all-time catastrophe that was the NOLA No-Call.  I know that view won't endear me to many Saints fans, but I just know too many good men and women who work in the profession.  Yet it's unforced errors like this one that continually give NFL officiating self-inflicted wounds.  Obviously, mistakes like the one tonight can't happen. 

When you have former referee John Parry admitting the NFL treats in-season training like an online course at a community college, something's drastically wrong.  The NFL tried to put a (very large) bandage over a gaping wound the No-Call left on their product by implementing review of pass interference calls.  That looks good on a press release, but there are systemic problems that the league seems unwilling to address.   

5.  Sean Payton made a mistake by kicking a field goal with under one minute to play

There's never been a more results-oriented take than this.  Social media lit up after the Texans 13-second evisceration of the Saints defense that gave them a lead with 37 seconds remaining.  But if you really look at Payton's playcalling on the Saints second-to-final drive, it's obvious he was playing the correct odds.  Payton play-calling forced the Texans to burn all of their timeouts while putting the Saints in relatively-automatic range for a Will Lutz field goal with under a minute to play.  The Saints were up by just three points, 24-21, when that drive started and adding three more points would force the Texans to score a touchdown to win the game.  That is an exponentially more difficult task than if Houston needed just a field goal to send the game into overtime.

Sure, Payton could have been ultra-aggressive and tried to throw the ball to get a game-sealing first down.  That can backfire in a variety of ways, like incompletions that stop the clock or a disastrous turnover.  Remember, Brees had already thrown an ugly interception earlier in the game in a spot where you would think the veteran quarterback would be extra-careful with the football.  

If the Saints can't rely on their defense to stop an opponent from driving the length of the field for a touchdown with 50 seconds left in the game then they have a major problem.  Payton's playcalling wasn't an issue, the defensive meltdown was.  If there's any coach fans should be expecting answers from it's defensive coordinator Dennis Allen who has seen his units collapse too many times late in football games during his tenure in New Orleans.  Going back to the NFC Championship loss, that's consecutive games where Allen's defense has had opportunities to win football games but were unable.  That is truly concerning.  

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