TAMPA 48, NEW ORLEANS 40

The good, bad and ugly from Saints-Buccaneers

Drew Brees had a big day. Michael C. Hebert, New Orleans Saints team Web site

The New Orleans Saints opened their 2018 season by losing at home to the Tampa Bay Bucs in a shootout 48-40. The game resembled one of those college football games in which last scoring possession wins. Not a good way to open the season for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. Let’s take a look at some observations:

The Good

-Drew Brees went Drew Brees against a game Tampa defense. Showing no signs of age slowing him down, he went 37 of 45 for 439 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Lots of so-called experts have long predicted Brees’ downfall, or the beginning of it. If today was any indication of what’s to come, Brees will put up video game numbers again this season.

-Michael Thomas is the real deal. Coming into his third season, he’s now seen as one of the league’s top receivers. With 16 catches on 17 targets for 180 yards and a touchdown, he’s proven that he’s not a flash in the pan. Another strong performance this year, and he’ll solidify his top five receiver status, or make an argument for top three for sure.

- Alvin Kamara also made his presence felt catching the football. He had nine catches on 12 targets for 112 yards and a touchdown. With Mark Ingram out, and a bunch of randoms helping fill the void, Kamara will be counted on heavily until Ingram returns from suspension.

The Bad

-One of the randoms helping fill in at running back, Mike Gillislee, fumbled after the Bucs took a 24-17 lead with about four minutes left in first half. The fumble was returned for a touchdown and Tampa was suddenly up 31-17. Backup running backs are a dime a dozen. This was not a good way to endear yourself to your new team, especially after they put a promising rookie on the practice squad in order to sign you.

-For all the good Thomas did receiving the ball, his fumble came when the Saints were down 41-24 and had just gotten into scoring range. Sure a 50+ yard field goal would’ve only cut the lead to 41-27, but it’s the ensuing touchdown Tampa scored after the fumble that made the 48-24 lead too much to overcome.

-The Saints only tallied 43 yards rushing. For a team that averaged about 130 yards per game last year, this was well below the new standard they had set. Sure, Ingram is serving a four-game suspension for PEDs, but that’s no excuse. This team returned five guys on the offensive line that played a significant role in the run game resurgence from last year.

The Ugly

-Speaking of the run game, where in the hell was the balance on offense?!? The Saints attempted 45 passes and only 13 runs. A ratio above 3:1 when it comes to pass/run plays called is not winning football. Unless you’re Mike Leach, then it’s totally acceptable.

-The cornerbacks were supposed to be the deepest and most quality position on a revamped defense. Their man coverage was amongst the best in the league last season after they found their groove. Not today. They were torched by Ryan freaking Fitzpatrick to the tune of 21/28 for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Ken Crawley in particular seemed to be the whipping boy of choice as he routinely gave up big plays. Last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore was also beaten badly on a go route by Mike Evans for a touchdown.

-No sacks, interceptions, or fumble recoveries and allowing 8/13 third down conversions this game by the defense. That’s a piss-poor stat line for a defense that prides itself on turnovers and getting off the field on third downs. To make matters worse, they only forced one punt all game. This side of the ball must improve if the Saints want to make any major moves this year.

Giving up 48 points in your home opener is a serious blow to a team’s confidence. This was an awful performance, but hopefully it’ll serve as an early season wake up call they need to round into shape. I can’t stress enough the optics of last season’s opening loss to the Vikings. The doom and gloom that came along with it made it appear as if another 7-9 season was looming. They have 15 more games to get it together.

 

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It's all about Deshaun. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Texans moved to 3-7 following their 27-20 win over the Patriots. They are still without a permanent head coach and general manager. There lies the problem, and those problems will be settled this upcoming offseason. The new general manager and head coach will steer this franchise in the direction it needs to go in. Undoubtedly, Deshaun Watson will be at the forefront of what they do. How can he not be? You don't take a job like this with a quarterback like him and not consider him the centerpiece. What else would make one take either of those jobs? The salary cap hell the team is facing? The lack of draft picks coming off a terrible year? The faith ownership has placed in the NFL's version of Littlefinger?

Watson is the lone attraction to the flaming dumpster fire Cal McNair allowed to occur on his watch. If he's not careful, it could get worse and he'll find it hard to recover from. Watson signed an extension that'll keep him in Houston for another four years. He'll still be in his prime (barring any serious, career-threatening injury), and be eligible to hit the market as a free agent before he turns 30. So who do the Texans hire as head coach that can get the most out of Watson? Who can convince him to stay and re-sign after his extension is up?

The main cast of characters will most likely take better jobs. The Jets job is more attractive because of the cap space and draft picks. If the Falcons job opens up, so is it because of Matt Ryan and that offense. What coach/coaches would be interested in taking on this job that would be viable candidates given that the best of the best would take other jobs? Jayson Braddock and I tackled this topic not too long ago on Late Hits. Here are a few guys off the beaten path we felt were contenders:

Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator: Daboll is a guy who, according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, is openly campaigning for this job. The work he's done with Josh Allen has been remarkable. Allen has gone from a raw prospect with all the physical tools to an MVP candidate. Who wouldn't want a guy like that in Watson's ear guiding him over the foreseeable future?

Greg Roman, Ravens offensive coordinator: Roman has done wonders for Colin Kaepernick and Lamar Jackson. He helped Kaepernick reach a Super Bowl with the 49ers and turned Jackson into last season's league MVP. Given his history with athletic quarterbacks, he should be a natural fit and given full consideration.

Tony Elliott, Clemson offensive coordinator: Here's where it gets interesting. Elliott has been the OC (or co-OC) at Clemson since 2015. He has an established relationship with Watson and a proven track record as a coordinator of high-powered offenses in college. He's the type of hire that won't cost as much as some big names will, but might be able to provide the same spark.

Note that all three of these guys are offensive coaches. I fully understand that the defense is an issue and needs help desperately. I also understand that the previous two coaches were offensive guys as well. But Watson is your franchise quarterback and the most attractive piece in a pile of flaming dung that resides on Kirby. If anyone is going to take this job, it'll be because of number four. I know these aren't the sexy names most folks would want to hear, but these names are more realistic as candidates. None of them has head coaching experience. That fact cheapens their price tag and lends itself to them being long shots. A lot of this depends on the general manager hire. We'll get into that in another articel. For right now, dwell on this and let me know what you think.

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