Minneapolis – If the New Orleans Saints are in the middle of their toughest stretch this season, they're showing they have the toughness to deal with it. And flourish.
A 30-20 victory on Sunday night over Minnesota was the fourth road win of the season for the Saints (6-1), without a loss. Better, it was the second straight road win against a division leader, which allowed New Orleans to maintain its lead in the NFC South. And it was another entry of complementary football by the Saints, who forced two turnovers, produced four sacks, ground out 29 running plays, punched in a couple of touchdowns and kicked three field goals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Saints, by all measures, are a very good team after eight weeks.
OFFENSE: It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. New Orleans totaled just 270 yards and Drew Brees passed for only 120 of them. But they paired a long touchdown drive (81 yards) with a short one (18) and were efficient on third down (4 of 9, 44 percent) against a defense that had allowed opponents to convert just 23 percent of the time entering the game. The Saints ran for 109 tough yards and even though they turned it over once – Brees' first interception of the season – they were protective otherwise on a night that they needed to be careful. Sometimes, being gritty is plenty enough.
DEFENSE: Best performance of the season. Sure, the Saints have allowed fewer points and yards than the 20 and 423 that Minnesota totaled. But they forced two huge turnovers – a fumble in the second quarter by linebacker Alex Anzalone and cornerback P.J. Williams and an interception in the third quarter by Williams – and parlayed them into 14 points (Williams' turnover was a 45-yard pick-6). And they got a fourth-down stop to give the offense the ball back. And they sacked Kirk Cousins four times (twice each by defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and defensive end Marcus Davenport). A couple of sacks were coverage sacks, and that was encouraging for a secondary that took some lumps early, but didn't crumble by any means. There's work to do, but they should be pleased with this one.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Well, kicker Wil Lutz (field goals of 52, 42 and 42 yards) is just about automatic these days. He's a great luxury to have, in addition to the unreturnable kickoffs. We loved what we saw from the coverage units, too, especially from defensive back Justin Hardee (two solo tackles and one assist on special teams). Minnesota returned one punt for four yards and two kickoffs for 37, and that's outstanding work by the Saints. Add in a 15-yard punt return by Alvin Kamara, and two kickoff returns for 50 yards by Taysom Hill, and it was a very productive evening for the special team units.