It's not as simple as plug-and-play.
The New Orleans Saints (8-2) simply have a way of making it appear that way.
In their latest exhibit of showing the ability to win without a key member – this time, Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees – the Saints pushed around Atlanta 24-9 on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with an offensive and defensive flex that won their seventh straight game and assured they would remain in first place in the NFC South Division.
Quarterback Taysom Hill assumed the reins at quarterback, the defense put together one of its most dominant performances of what fast has become an outstanding season, and New Orleans again showed why it's one of the most formidable teams in the conference.
OFFENSE: Taysom Hill hadn't started a game at quarterback since 2016, his senior year at BYU. And while Coach Sean Payton repeatedly has said he believes Hill is a starting-caliber NFL quarterback, there wasn't much on Hill's resume to buoy the belief. There's something on the resume now. The Saints totaled 378 yards and three touchdowns against Atlanta, and Hill accounted for 261 of them (210 net yards passing and 51 rushing) and two touchdowns (both rushing). New Orleans again dominated time of possession (33:41) and scored touchdowns on 3 of 4 trips to the red zone. The 168 total rushing yards, against a team that entered the game allowing 90.4 per game, was especially impressive given that Atlanta had to know the Saints wanted to run to relieve some pressure from Hill. Still, the Saints pushed around the Falcons. And Michael Thomas (nine catches for 104 yards) had his best game of the season.
DEFENSE: The scoreboard didn't look as good as it did in New Orleans' 38-3 win over Tampa Bay, but the defensive performance was just as dominant, if not more so. The Saints squeezed Atlanta down to 248 yards, and made stops on 12 of the Falcons' 14 third-down attempts. The one time the Falcons reached the red zone, New Orleans held and forced a field goal. And that's not even the best part. The league's No. 2 run defense gave up a scant 52 rushing yards, and the defense produced two turnovers (interceptions by Marcus Williams and Jackrabbit Jenkins) and eight sacks – three by Cam Jordan, two each by Trey Hendrickson and David Onyemata, and one by Demario Davis. The Saints were one sack shy of tying the franchise single-game record, and Jordan was one short of tying the franchise individual single-game mark (which he tied against Atlanta last year). The Saints wouldn't let Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan get comfortable, and when he had time initially, coverage in the secondary was so clingy that Ryan didn't have anyone open.
SPECIAL TEAMS: "Solid" was all the Saints needed to be, and solid is what they were. Two of Thomas Morstead's four punts were downed inside the 20, and they averaged 20 yards on three kickoffs. Returner Deonte Harris left the game with a stinger; the Saints have an able filler in Marquez Callaway if Harris has to miss time. And it's always a bit of a shock when Wil Lutz is unsuccessful on a field-goal attempt (his 53-yard try banged off the left upright). But we know what this unit can do, and it's always capable of a breakout game.
Game action photos from the New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons matchup in Week 11 of the 2020 NFL season.