If Monday night’s win over the Chicago Bears were a scene in a sports movie, this would be the game early in the season when the team that is the subject of the movie is still trying to get it together and the New Orleans Saints would be the villainous outfit.
That’s how it felt watching the defensive plays in succession. The Saints looked like an unstoppable machine, while the Bears were just kind of fumbling through the motions, losing more spirit with each ensuing sack or run stuff.
This, however, is not a sports movie. And the lackluster nature of the Bears makes it difficult to know how much stock to put into the overwhelming effort put on film by New Orleans. Is this a team that has finally figured it out? Or was the performance merely a solid one made to look great due to a lack of resistance?
It’s impossible to know. At the same time, it shouldn’t all be dismissed. There are several positives to take from this game that should provide hope moving forward.
The biggest thing that stands out from this performance is the fundamental errors that plagued New Orleans in recent games appeared to be eradicated.
Showing more 3-4 looks than it has at any point this season, the Saints showed better discipline in the run game, fit gaps, and did a good job maintaining edge integrity. The only major error came when New Orleans failed to set the edge on a Matt Forte run in the second quarter, but the play came back because of a holding call.
There were still too many missed tackles (seven were counted), but those mistakes did not lead to the same back-breaking results as in recent weeks since New Orleans did a better job swarming the ball — something the team spent time working on last week.
One example came in the second quarter when safety Kenny Vaccaro ducked a block from tackle Jermon Bushrod to get after Forte in the backfield. To even get there required a great maneuver by Vaccaro, but it’s debatable he would have been able to bring down Forte alone. However, it did not matter since cornerback Terrence Frederick came swarming behind him to make the tackle.
The other question leaving this game is whether or not the pass rush finally figured out how to get all parties firing at the same time. It’s a question that will not be answered until next week against the Falcons.
The biggest takeaway from this performance is that much of the success that went into accumulating seven sacks was due to a team effort (and perhaps poor blocking).
It wasn’t because one individual rose above the rest on a certain play.
David Hawthorne’s first sack occurred because of a solid play design that had three players blitzing the right side of the line, which caused guard Kyle Long to take his pick between blocking Hawthorne or Ramon Humber. He chose Humber and Hawthorne had a free pass to Jay Cutler.
Hawthorne’s next sack occurred after Kasim Edebali and John Jenkins flushed Cutler out of the pocket.
Junior Galette can thank Akiem Hicks for drawing two blockers on his first sack. However, Hicks has no one to thank for his sack, which came after he bull rushed center Roberto Garza into Cutler.
These are all things the Saints wanted to see. And they should provide some cautious optimism for the future. But it’s important to consider the quality of the opponent (now four games below .500) and the effort that the team put forth.
Here are the (abbreviated) grades for the Saints 31-15 win over the Bears:
QUARTERBACKS: 4 out of 4
This is the first perfect score given out this season. There isn’t much to complain about this week.
Drew Brees was surgical all night long and minimized his mistakes. That’s no small feat considering this game was played outdoors in wet conditions.
RUNNING BACKS: 2.5 out of 4
Pierre Thomas was the catalyst of the passing offense early in the game when New Orleans was still trying to get started. Would have liked to see Mark Ingram (17 carries, 59 yards) do a little more with his carries.
RECEIVERS: 3 out of 4
No dropped passes this week. Marques Colston had a vintage performance (five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown) and Toght end Jimmy Graham bounced back with seven catches for 87 yards after two quiet weeks.
One note to Graham: Stop trying to hurdle players.
It looks cool, but there’s no need for such risks.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 3 out of 4
Brees (29-of-36 for 375 yards and three touchdowns) did not face much pressure and had plenty of time to throw. Bryce Harris isn’t going to steal anyone’s job, but the backup tackle performed well after being forced into action early in the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 3 out of 4
There were some moments where the run defense could have been better, but there’s no need to pick nits.
This was a big step forward coming off a highly questionable performance against Atlanta.
LINEBACKERS: 3 out of 4
Hawthorne was the unquestionable player of the game on defense.
The Saints need their linebackers to make plays, and he stepped up in a big way.
SECONDARY: 3 out of 4
Two picks for safety Pierre Warren and another plus performance from Keenan Lewis. Kenny Vaccaro performed well in his revamped role covering the slot and Terrence Frederick was up to snuff at cornerback. Maybe this team finally found a formula that works.
We’ll know more after the Atlanta game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: 1.5 out of 4
Shayne Graham and Luke McCown botched the same 51-yard field goal in the first quarter twice. McCown mishandled the snap on the first try and subsequently threw a desperate pass incomplete, but New Orleans got another try at it because of offsetting penalties. Then, Graham slipped on the mulligan and was short on the try.
That’s not acceptable. The Saints signed Dustin Hopkins on Tuesday to spice up the competition.