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Zach Strief: Saints have killer instinct and find ways to win

Zach Strief
September 24, 2018 - 12:37 am
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Okay everyone, do this with me…big deep inhale through your nose, long exhale out your mouth.  Alright, we all needed that.  

The Saints march into Atlanta and run out of Mercedes Benz stadium with a thrilling 43-37 overtime win.  For the past 7 days the story around this team was, are they really as good as we thought they were?  Are they a team that isn’t going to be able to live up to expectations?  

I will say the same thing I said before the win…we just don’t know yet.  There is one thing, however, that is becoming very clear.  This Saints team has a killer instinct and can find ways to win.  That is not an accident, that is a skill.  Are there questions still swirling around this team?  Yes, there are.  Them and every other team in the NFL right now.  We’ll get into them, but I’ll take a winner any day.

The Falcons put on a valiant effort, as they have before, but ultimately wasted Matt Ryan’s 374 yard, 5 touchdown game.  He is only the 2nd QB in NFL history with that stat line to come away with a loss.  The other is New Orleans native, Eli Manning.  Both of them, lost to Drew Brees.  

Drew called Ryan’s 5 touchdowns and raised him a 7 yard touchdown scamper complete with a spin move off Brian Poole for a sensational touchdown that tied the game at 37.  It was a rare moment for Brees, rarely a runner, but NEVER a spinner.  I talked to him after the game and he described it as “just playing ball.”  

If there is anything Brees knows, it’s playing ball.  He certainly didn’t do it alone.  Alvin Kamara was everywhere, accounting for 190 yards on his 30 touches, a workload the Saints would rather back off of.  

Michael Thomas continues his historic assault on the NFL with 10 receptions for 129 yards, none bigger than his 3rd down conversion for 6 yards in overtime.  He now holds the NFL record for the most catches through 3 games, 38, a title he stole from Julio Jones.  

The Saints continue to evolve the offensive game plan for QB Taysom Hill.  His read option run for 35 yards was a spark in the running game the Saints needed.  They finished the afternoon with 143 yards, nearly 100 more than the Falcons.  This Saints offense has lived up to it’s reputation and will sit among the league leaders, after this 534 yard performance, come Tuesday.  

Defensively, I will spend the rest of my week defending what I’m about to write.  I am very excited about what the Saints did defensively.  

The front seven had one of the better games I remember them playing in recent memory.  The Saints held the Falcons to 48 yards rushing on 22 carries, and much of that without safety support.  

The front 4 played fantastic getting consistent pressure in the middle and finishing the day with 3 sacks and several more opportunities and disruptions.  The Saints created 5 tackles for loss in the running game and players like A.J. Klein and Demario Davis made several plays both in the run game and in coverage.  

What the Saints struggled to do, was keep the ball in front of them.  This is a reoccurring issue through the first 3 weeks for the Saints.  It is, however, fixable.  I have a lot of faith in Dennis Allen and Aaron Glenn.  

The season is still young and I believe if the front four continues to play the way it did today, the Saints defense will be a strength by the end of the season.  The defense, most importantly, got a stop when they needed it most.  A.J. Klein had a perfectly timed blitz that forced Matt Ryan off the mark on a 3rd and 4 that forced the Falcons to punt and preserved the tie score they started the drive with. Atlanta would never get the ball back.  Yet, none of this would have been possible without the play of the day from a rarely used special teams player.

To call Alex Okafor a special teams player is done a little tongue-in-cheek.  He is not a regular on the unit, but made his presence felt in a big way.  Players like Okafor are often unsung in the NFL.  Not great at any one thing but good at them all; his greatest strength is simply the effort he is able to play with.  Okafor’s punt block in the 3rd quarter came as the Saints trailed 21-16.  

It’s always hard to look back and see what might have been, if the game unfolded differently.  I know, that Ted Ginn Jr. had his heals on the 10-yard line waiting to field the punt.  Instead, Drew Brees and the Saints offense took over at the Falcons 16, suddenly finding themselves with the momentum, after Craig Robertson’s recovery and return.  

From that point on the Saints offense was nearly unstoppable.  They gained 252 yards from that point on, scoring a touchdown on every drive till the end of the game.  Momentum is a funny thing and it often has effects that are hard to see.  If you want to find a turning point in this game, look no further than Alex Okafor and Craig Robertson’s big play.  

I’m sure many times through the rest of the season I will be called a homer on more than one occasion.  I’m okay with that, but I don’t always agree.  I spent 12 years on a professional football field and I’ve seen how games take on lives of their own, how teams reverse their fortunes, and how improvement comes when no one thinks it will.  

I have as much confidence in this Saints team as I did when the season started.  Do they have problems to clean up?  You bet.  Yet, my confidence is as high as ever.  I believe completely, this is one of the most talented rosters the Saints have assembled in the Sean Payton era.  I know, this is the most talented coaching staff.  The Saints have all the pieces they need to go a long way this year.  None more important, than their ability to win.

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