Gameday

New Orleans Saints win season opener, but there's work to do

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Love the win.

Love the drama.

But it wasn't unconditional love that the New Orleans Saints had for their 30-28 victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night, a last-second thriller in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that was decided when Wil Lutz’s 58-yard field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired.

There were a few glaring deficiencies for New Orleans in its season opener, some areas of concern that partly were attributable to playing a quality opponent, and partly were due to some physical and mental lapses by the Saints.

There’s work to do, and an abbreviated week in which to do it.

OFFENSE: The final numbers are exactly where you’d want them to be: 510 yards, 7 of 11 on third down, 148 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven yards per carry, 74 percent completion percentage for 370 yards and two touchdowns. But New Orleans was 0 for 2 in the red zone in the first half, including an uncharacteristic interception by Drew Brees inside the Houston 5-yard line, and the running game was stuck (21 yards on six carries). The tale of two halves looked like this for the second half: 329 yards, three touchdowns, two field goals, 2 for 2 in the red zone, 127 rushing yards and a game-winning drive. You figured the unit would rise to the occasion, and it did, but it’ll want to better take advantage of early red zone opportunities. Sticking with the running game paid dividends, and the stars (Brees, receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara) came out to play.

DEFENSE: Houston put up three consecutive touchdown drives, spread over the second and third quarters, which traveled 94, 75 and 75 yards. Then, with the Saints protecting a 27-21 lead with 50 seconds left, New Orleans surrendered a two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that lasted 13 seconds. The Texans had a stretch of four conversions in five third-down attempts, and they moved the chains on third-and-6, third-and-8 (defensive holding), third-and-11, third-and-8, and third-and-10. Collectively, those scenarios should tilt in the defense’s favor, and New Orleans absolutely has to be better at getting defensive stops in those kinds of down-and-distance situations. The 13-second, 75-yard touchdown particularly was disturbing. The positives were that New Orleans punished Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (six sacks, 11 quarterback hits and an interception) even while Watson was completing 20 of 30 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. The run defense was too leaky (Houston had 180 yards – about 100 more than the Saints allowed per game last year – and a touchdown on 23 carries) but Marcus Williams’ interception proved to be huge for the Saints. New Orleans simply wasn’t able to make Houston one-dimensional, and that was problematic for the defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wil Lutz missed a 56-yarder to end the first half, but all is forgiven when you nail a 58-yard game-winner. Thomas Morstead is elite; two punts for a 44-yard average, including a 53-yard, coffin-corner job in the fourth quarter that went out of bounds at the 4-yard line and should have brought a smile to Ray Guy’s face. Deonte Harris showed his inexperience. He got away with fair catching a punt at his 4-yard line when Houston was penalized for an illegal formation and had to punt again, and later gave an invalid fair catch signal the next time he fielded a punt, to push the offense back inside its 10-yard line. The Saints are hoping that he experienced a couple of months of growing pains on Monday night and that those kinds of plays are out of his system.

Check out the game action between the Saints and Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during Week 1 of the 2019 season.

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