Cheer up, New Orleans Saints fans. Being 5-1 isn't all that bad.
Sure your team lost a 30-27 heartbreaker to the New England Patriots, but there's a silver lining that shouldn't be ignored.
The Saints are slowly uncovering depth that will be worth its weight in gold as the season unfolds. Despite the lack of production from tight end Jimmy Graham (zero catches) and receiver Marques Colston (one catch for 11 yards), the top two primary targets respectively, the Saints found a way to put themselves in position to ultimately win—on the road against one of the best franchises in all of football.
In addition, fellow rookie Nick Toon has flashed at various times, providing reassurance that Colston and fellow veteran Lance Moore will have adequate replacements whenever that time comes.
Furthermore, two running backs scored touchdowns against the Patriots, and neither was named Pierre Thomas or Darren Sproles. Running backs Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet both looked like they could step in and contribute at a moment's notice.
And remember that faulty offensive line that has been bandied about? Well that unit played its best game of the season, while keeping quarterback Drew Brees clean as a whistle (how is a whistle clean again?!).
Struggling tackle Zach Strief missed the game, and his replacement Bryce Harris looked pretty good in his stead.
We already know how plentiful the talent is on defense.
There's not a team in the league that can rely on so many different players, and have them all produce in some manner.
The Saints will undoubtedly be good for the foreseeable future.
Imagine this. ESPN had them ranked as the 14th-best team in the NFL just six weeks ago!
Congratulations, you officially have a runaway train on your hands...
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After a few more wins, it will be time to only worry about keeping pace with the elite in the NFC. But I wouldn't quite worry about that yet, as the Saints have unfinished business in their own division.
I've said it before: Saints fans always worry about Atlanta, when it's Carolina that has the brightest future.
As much as I love the defense that New Orleans has built, the Panthers' version has become even more frightening! They are currently the No. 1-ranked defense in the entire NFL. They have major talent among the front, with linebacker Luke Kuechly anchoring it all.
Call me crazy (among other things), but I believe the Falcons may go on a run. I've been an advocate of them going back to a scheme that's more physical in nature. The loss of receiver Julio Jones may force their hand.
It's been stated that they may employ more "12 personnel," while leaning on running backs Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. Quarterback Matt Ryan is the very best in the NFL at the short-to-intermediate game, featuring that style will suit him best. Tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Levine Toilolo have the makings of a formidable duo.
Now if only they could find a defense...
It's time for Tampa to start focusing on the offseason and crank up the effort to find another coaching staff. Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith would be a great hire for them. They have excellent talent on defense, and Lovie would be the rock that pulls everyone together.
Heading into the bye week, the Saints have a great chance to get most of these guys healthy. Strief should be ready to go in the next game against the Buffalo Bills, so should safety Roman Harper.
Has anyone ever seen Tyrunn Walker, Tom Johnson, Glenn Foster and Akiem Hicks in the same room together? Each week one of these defensive linemen appears on the injury report, but one of them always ends up making a significant impact. But you rarely see any of them actually get injured during the game. Conspiracy theorists beware.
Things that make you go hmmmm...
On a serious note, Graham left the Patriots game with what has been reported as a foot injury. Although his production was nonexistent in the New England game, the amount of attention paid to him was significant.
Every receiver will need to step up to in attempt to recover the production lost by the NFL's hottest player (prior to the Patriots game). It may be time to go back to the four-receiver set.
Things to Improve Upon
The Saints need to do a better job at getting production between the hashes from the receivers. As funny as it seems, the Saints seemed a lot more explosive when receiver Lance Moore was dominating in the short-to-intermediate game.
Even before Moore was injured he wasn't a very prominent player in the scheme (four catches for 44 yards). The Saints seem to be committed to attacking the seams in an effort to go downfield, or attacking outside the numbers to get receivers in space.
The horizontal part of the scheme hasn't been as productive as in past years. Rookie Kenny Stills would be an absolute stud in this role, as I believe he's nearly indefensible in the short-area game.
Stills' ability to get in and out of his breaks in uncanny. His agility, quickness and speed will open up yards after the catch—something the Saints could desperately use.
If Graham has to miss time, I fully expect the Saints to exploit this aspect. It would be just another arsenal to add to the machine that is the Saints offense.
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