London – Back-to-back wins entering the bye week means the New Orleans Saints are 2-2 as they prepare for the break, and they’ve done it with consecutive standout games defensively. If you haven’t liked what you’ve seen, you certainly can’t argue with the result because the scoreboard always possesses the numbers that matter most. And the Saints have been on the best side, the latest being a 20-0 win over Miami on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. There was enough to like all the way around.
OFFENSE: We like the adaptability that the Saints have shown. They haven’t stitched together 500-yard games the last couple of weeks even though they’ve scored a total of 54 points in wins against Carolina and Miami, but they’ve cobbled together enough ball-control offense to complement a defense that has been outstanding. And for the fourth consecutive game to start this season, the Saints didn’t commit a turnover. In itself, that’s quite a feat. Drew Brees was an economical 29-for-41, for 268 yards and two touchdowns (he’s at eight touchdowns and no interceptions this season) and while the running game wasn’t as flashy as it was against Carolina (27 carries for 149 yards and a touchdown), those 28 carries for 86 yards on Sunday were keep-the-defense-honest, keep-the-offense-on-schedule carries and yards. Michael Thomas (eight catches, 89 yards and a touchdown) is a stud and Alvin Kamara (10 catches for 71 yards and a score) really supplemented the running game with his short receptions.
DEFENSE: The Saints pitched a shutout for the first time since Week 15 of 2012, held Miami to 186 yards and 11 first downs, produced a third-down stop rate (the Dolphins were 1 for 8) that was downright miserly, and tossed in an interception (by cornerback Ken Crawley) and four sacks for the second straight week. The group deserved to take a bow for the way it handled Miami, and for the way it has bounced back after the first two games (65 points allowed in losses to Minnesota and New England, 13 allowed in wins over Carolina and Miami). Crawley continues to impress after being inactive the first two games, and he combined with rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore to give the Saints some smothering coverage. The Saints didn’t allow Miami running back Jay Ajayi (12 carries for 46 yards) to run wild and they got after Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (sacks by A.J. Klein, Rafael Bush, Cam Jordan and David Onyemata). It was better than solid; it was the kind of defense we anticipated seeing coming out of training camp. Expecting shutouts isn’t realistic, but that’s the kind of competitiveness that was exhibited all offseason and preseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: You get the sense that Kamara (one kickoff return for 23 yards) or Ted Ginn Jr. (three punt returns for 26 yards, including a 17-yarder) are one alley or broken tackle away from breaking one. It’s a needed element for this team and each came close Sunday. Wil Lutz bounced back with a couple of made field goals after a miss, and Thomas Morstead just keeps booming good, angled punts. But the penalties have to cease. New Orleans committed several on special teams against Miami, and two were personal fouls that, obviously, hurt in terms of field position. Those are the hidden yards that Coach Sean Payton laments, and those errors have to be corrected.