Saints vs Falcons 2: Observations

Good, bad and ugly: The Saints ate Falcon for Thanksgiving dinner

The Saints are an unstoppable force. Michael C Hebert Saints website

The Saints continue to steamroll opponents. They cooked the Falcons for Thankgiving dinner in a 31-10 win for their 10th consecutive win. Here’s my take on how it went down:

The Good

-Drew Brees is known for spreading the love. He threw touchdown passes to four different guys who have a combined five years of experience including this year. Receiver depth isn’t an issue when Brees throws touchdown passes around like Mardi Gras beads. Did I mention all four guys were undrafted?

-The defense stepped up big time. They forced three fumbles and got a pick. Every fumble was forced with the Falcons in the red zone and the pick set up a touchdown to put them up by 21. Those are turnovers I call winning plays because they take points off the board.

-Sheldon Rankins is coming into his own. He’s “Great Value” Aaron Donald when he’s on (and a 1st round bust when he’s not). His inside spin move in the second quarter to pressure Matt Ryan into a sack by Cam Jordan was nasty! The move is something you see defensive ends execute when their first step is outside, but they plant and turn inside before the guard can blink. My fellow nerds who study the game will feel me on this one.

The Bad

-Brees threw only his second pick of the season in the first quarter. What’s worse is the refs missed defensive holding and pass interference on the receiver he was throwing to.

-Backup tight end Dan Arnold dropped a sure touchdown catch on 3rd & 2 from the four yard line in the second quarter. Saints had to settle for a field goal. The 6’6 Arnold is the closest thing Brees has had to Jimmy Graham at the position since Graham was traded to the Seahawks. He has to be a reliable target in the red zone.

-Falcon receivers continue to give Saints defensive backs fits. The pass rush rattled Matt Ryan and got six sacks, but the DBs need to step it up. 377 receiving yards (314 by Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu) given up was a blemish on what was an otherwise good defensive performance.  

The Ugly

-Sean Payton used a timeout early in the third quarter in what most thought was an attempt to get the right play called. Instead, Brees tried to draw the Falcons offsides, failed, and they took the delay of game penalty then punted. If you’re going to call the timeout, run a play dammit!

-Couple times this game the play clock went to zeroes and no flag was thrown. Delay of game could’ve been called on both teams. I bitch about the refs a lot and I acknowledge they have a tough job, but delay of game penalties can be called by any idiot with half-decent eyesight.

-In the Gow Media Pick Em challenge, my NFL pick was the over 60.5 in this game because the Saints have been on a roll. When the Saints played the Bengals, I took the under 53.5 because the weather was supposed to play a factor. I’ll start going oppo of whatever my head says when picking a Saints game.

The Saints are the best team in football. There, I said it. I’ve been hesitant to say so until I saw a more complete performance from the defense on a consistent basis. Their last three games holding opponents under 20 points, causing turnovers, getting sacks, and maintaining their top five rush defense has been just as impressive as their offensive counterparts. This team has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

 

Plus the head coach and general manager weighed in on Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil's futures

O'Brien's commitment to familiarity could be defining moment of his power

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

What we learned from Bill O'Brien's first public discussion since he was officially named the coach and general manager.

Tim Kelly is the new play caller for the Texans offense

Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly has been with Bill O'Brien since he took over as the head coach at Penn State. Kelly followed to the NFL when O'Brien took over the Texans and before last season Kelly was named the team's offensive coordinator.

Now, for just the second time as head coach, O'Brien is handing over the play calling duties. The last time O'Brien did this was when George Godsey was promoted to offensive coordinator and the offense regressed with Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Godsey would lose those duties and ultimately his job after the 2016 season.

This is one of the few changes to an offense that took a step back from 2018 last season. The defense was overhauled, as it should have been (more on them next), but little to no change occurred on the offense until Kelly took the headset. It would have been difficult to expect more from the offense in 2020 if nothing had changed but I believe this could be a significant change for the good.

Kelly has clearly been groomed for this position. He's stuck around as O'Brien hoarded the headset for himself when previous members of the offensive staff, like former Texans coach Sean Ryan, couldn't wait for the time O'Brien would relinquish duties. He's coached all over the offense. He's helped in implementing the offense. When he was, to me at least, clearly calling plays in the second preseason game of 2019 the Texans opened the game with a touchdown. Same in the fourth preseason game. The Texans didn't replicate that feat until week 17.

This also adds pressure to O'Brien's resume of clearly his decisions. If this backfires consider it one of the biggest failures in O'Brien's tenure. He heavily relies on people he knows and has worked with. He rarely goes outside with someone he hasn't coached with before. If Kelly isn't good, and O'Brien has to divide his attention again, consider that a strike against O'Brien.

Inside shot caller on defense too with Anthony Weaver 

With the extreme failure of the Texans defense last season, regardless of their level of talent, it was certainly time for Romeo Crennel to move on. The curious decision was, again, an internal promotion. This time defensive line coach Anthony Weaver was handed the keys to the defense.

O'Brien had high praise for Weaver and the various defensive coordinators he had worked under as a coach and player. He claimed Weaver would have his own style and he's been picking Weaver's brain about what he would do as the head man on defense for a while.

The last time O'Brien experimented with an in-house promotion for the defense was when Mike Vrabel took over in 2017 and the defense finished rated 32nd in points allowed. Despite the defensive failures, Vrabel was rewarded with a head coaching opportunity. Romeo Crennel took back over and the defense got back on track for a year before it went sideways again in 2019.

It would have made a lot of sense to go outside the organization here, but O'Brien again relied on someone he has been priming for this position it would seem. It also, like the offensive decision above, is a line on his resume. It would also be a strike on his resume if it doesn't work out.

Think of a scenario where the defense stays bad and the offense regresses again. That would be a horrible look for O'Brien the decision maker and bad for the results in 2020. But, I do like the youth movement from O'Brien. Weaver will turn 40 this year, and Kelly is in his mid-30's. The last time O'Brien tried both of these moves, it didn't work. If these two hit, O'Brien will look like a genius.

The new contract expert

This is notable as Chris Olsen has rarely made a mistake as the contract and cap expert for the Texans in his time there. His assistant will have his job now, but I can't buy O'Brien not knowing why the change was made.

If indeed this is Jack Easterby's area, he is the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations, O'Brien brought him into the organization and it wouldn't make sense he is on equal footing as O'Brien. Whatever the reason for Olsen leaving, Krajcovic will have a tough act to follow. Speaking of contract work...

Deshaun Watson and Laremy Tunsil could break the bank

Dehsaun Watson has technically two years left on his deal, with the fourth year of the contract and the fifth-year rookie option. Laremy Tunsil is currently slated for a big raise as his fifth-year rookie option has kicked in.

For Tunsil, his price has to be extremely high. Taylor Lewan and Lane Johnson have two of the largest and best deals at the tackle position. Tunsil has significant advantages over both of those in the negotiation process. He is better than Lewan, younger, and plays left tackle unlike Johnson who plays right tackle. The Texans also moved a huge amount of draft assets to get the left tackle. Most elite player don't play on the fifth-year option. Tunsil shouldn't and likely won't.

Deshaun Watson's contract could be heavily contingent on what Patrick Mahomes gets in his new deal. The Eagles and the Rams really upset the way of doing business when they paid Carson Wentz and Jared Goff a year before first round quarterbacks traditionally get paid. Both Watson and Mahomes should be seeking new deals, and it could be a standoff between the two to see who signs first. They each have been far better than Goff and Wentz and should be paid better than both.

O'Brien thumbs up on XFL

O'Brien mentioned the kickoff rule as one he liked. The NFL has to adopt that rule. It is the best way to do kickoffs.

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