Green Bay, Wis. – For two quarters on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the New Orleans Saints did almost everything possible to lose a football game. Then, for two quarters, they pulled it together and dominated to win for the fourth consecutive game, their longest winning streak since they opened the 2013 season 5-0. New Orleans is 4-2 and ascending, a first-place team in the NFC South Division that is finding ways to win even when it's not at its best. The 26-17 win over Green Bay was a perfect example of it.
OFFENSE:On a day when the Saints had offensive balance that nearly was ideal – 331 passing yards on 38 attempts by Drew Brees, 161 rushing yards on 36 attempts (105 and 22 for Mark Ingram), 8 for 15 on third-down attempts (53 percent) and 36:56 in time of possession – they needed it all in order to overcome their own mistakes. Brees threw interceptions on the first two Saints possessions, one of them in the end zone, and there were a couple of penalties that will draw the ire of coaches. But what the offense did best was to continue grinding; in a turnover-free second half, the Saints posted a couple of touchdowns (a Brees 22-yard pass to Brandon Colemanand Brees' 1-yard leap over the top) and two field goals from Wil Lutz,and hogged the ball for 20:35 of the 30 minutes. And Ted Ginn Jr. (seven catches for 141 yards) was outstanding in his breakout game on offense. It was an impressive bounce back from an awful start. Well done.
DEFENSE:If you subtract the initial punch in the mouth by the Packers – a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the initial possession – the Saints limited Green Bay to 185 yards and 10 points the rest of the way. Sure, the Packers were minus quarterback Aaron Rodgers (Brett Hundley made his first NFL start). But, one, the Saints have suffered enough injuries over the last several years to know better than to sympathize with a battered team and, two, the only team you can beat is the one that lines up against you for that game. And New Orleans did just that. The Packers rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, and that's disturbing. But it was nine carries for 42 yards and no touchdowns in the second half. Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore(three tackles and a pass defended) is the real deal, and linebackers A.J. Klein(six tackles, a pass defended and a tackle for loss) and Craig Robertson(six tackles, and a tackle for loss) were active. And defensive end Alex Okafor(a sack, a forced fumble, a quarterback hit, a tackle for loss and four tackles) has been very impactful during the four-game winning streak. Well done.
SPECIAL TEAMS:There's work to do. Lots of work to do. As good as Ginn was on offense, he was as shaky on special teams. He muffed two punts (one was recovered by Green Bay but was wiped out by a fair catch interference penalty, and Ginn recovered the other muff and returned it seven yards). And there was a protection breakdown on a point-after attempt; it was blocked and Coach Sean Paytonsaid the Saints can continue to see that exact same block attack until they shore up the protection and prove that it's solid. Tommylee Lewisprovided a spark with a 39-yard kickoff return to open the second half, and both of Thomas Morstead'spunts were downed inside the 20. But the overall inconsistency is troubling, to say the least.