When Sean Payton said Sunday’s 31-9 victory over Arizona would be “good tape” to watch, the New Orleans Saints coach didn’t at all nudge the truth.
In Drew Brees’ return after a five-week absence, the Saints (7-1) won their sixth straight game by dominating the Cardinals (3-4-1), who’d won three straight before running into the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
More accurately, New Orleans ran over Arizona.
New Orleans wasn’t to be denied in the final game before its bye week, which assured the Saints of remaining in first place in the NFC South Division. It was yet another standout performance among a handful of them during the first half of the season.
OFFENSE: Brees missed five weeks after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. He looked like he missed five snaps, or less. He fell right back into rhythm with the unit, completing 34 of 43 passes (79 percent) for 373 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception. Michael Thomas was what he always is (11 catches on 11 targets, for 112 yards and a touchdown), Latavius Murray offered a combination of battery and ballet for the second straight week (21 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown, nine catches for 55 yards and a touchdown) and the Saints’ offensive line continued its brutal march through opponents. New Orleans had 137 rushing yards and owned time of possession by the kind of margin (37:59 to 22:01) that isn’t often seen in the NFL. And the Saints were 4 of 6 in the red zone, 3 for 3 with goal to go – and still left some points on the field. It was impressive.
DEFENSE: No less impressive was the defense, which is in the kind of groove that is difficult to describe. For the fourth consecutive game, New Orleans allowed 257 yards or less (Arizona finished with 237). For the second straight week, the opponent didn’t show much stomach for the run game (Chicago had 16 yards on seven carries, the Cardinals totaled 40 yards on 11 carries). The Saints had 10 stops on 12 third-down attempts and slammed the door shut on both of Arizona’s fourth-down attempts. Plus, the defense rang up four sacks; Arizona had allowed three, total, in the previous three games. The Saints didn’t force a turnover but with all that going in their favor, they didn’t need to. As a unit, New Orleans has been clicking – like, read-each-others’-minds clicking – since the 12-10 victory over Dallas in Week 4. In the last five games, three opponents were held to 10, 6 and 9 points. That’s elite-level play.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A little cleaning up to do during the bye. Wil Lutz has missed three of his last six field goals. True, two misses were in Chicago and one was a 52-yarder with the wind pushing in his face. But the other two misses have been wide left and while there’s absolutely no reason to believe an “issue” is afoot, it’s at least a small concern to see him have a rough patch. Also, allowing a 39-yard kickoff return – a week after giving up a 102-yarder for a touchdown against the Bears – means attention will be given to that area, too.