Old Orleans: The Sizzling Saints Look Very Familiar

In thrashing the previously unbeaten Miami Dolphins on Monday night, the New Orleans Saints looked every bit the team that ruled the NFL before Bountygate. The scary part is Sean Payton, Drew Brees and company actually can get better

Everything seemed to be going the Saints' way Monday night, as the defense forced Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into committing four turnovers. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Everything seemed to be going the Saints’ way Monday night, as Kenny Vaccaro (32) and the defense forced Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into committing four turnovers. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

In New Orleans, time has a way of standing still, Katrina be damned. Walk down Bourbon Street, and it smells the way it smelled to you in college. Have the beignets changed in Café du Monde? Not a bit. The Superdome, even with its post-hurricane facelift, is the same as it ever was.

And Monday night, Sean Payton proved you can go home again. His team looks as explosive and dangerous and as much a Super Bowl contender as his teams did before he left for his one-year suspension stemming from Bountygate. The Saints crushed previously unbeaten Miami 38-17, and as we get some clarity on the 2013 NFL pennant race, this is what we see: The Saints and the Seattle Seahawks, both 4-0, are the teams to beat in the NFC after a quarter of the season.

It could be a race to NFC home-field advantage in the playoffs, because Seattle certainly has the biggest home-field edge in pro football, and New Orleans might be second. Which could make Saints-Seahawks in Seattle two months from tomorrow night the biggest game in the conference this year. We’ll see.

For now, other than the fact this team can play some defense, what really has changed in the Saints’ world? Well, the running game is different, to be sure. The Saints struggled to run all September, and it seems like Payton, while the run game finds it legs, is content with Brees dumping the ball to Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas (just like in 2011) for the time being. The passing game? Well, you wouldn’t know anything was different. After four games this season, Drew Brees has thrown for 1,434 yards, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. After four games in 2011, Bress had thrown for 1,410 yards, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

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“Yeah, everything’s the same but the run game, which we’ve got to fix,’’ said guard Jahri Evans in a composed locker room late Monday night. “If you’re talking about being 4-0, and slinging the ball around like Drew does, and our defense taking the ball away, it’s amazingly similar.’’

Sure looked that way last night. Sproles, in space, and power forward/tight end Jimmy Graham are two of the biggest matchup problems in football for a defense, same as in 2011. The unknown Marques Colston is always precisely where Brees needs him to be, and he’ll get the ball another 80 to 90 times this year if his knees hold up. And Payton calls the kind of aggressive, merciless game well into every fourth quarter that opposing coaches dread. There was a great shot by the ESPN cameras Monday night after a turnover of Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman with his head in his hands. It was as if Sherman was saying to himself, “We need every possession we can get against these guys, because they’re going to score on almost all of theirs.”

The last touchdown, Brees to Graham up the right seam for 43 yards, was a perfect example of what a team in harmony can do well. Split slightly right, Graham ran upfield and nudged the cornerback in coverage off him, getting a two-step edge while Brees looked off the deep safety. By the time Graham caught it and held it while getting downed in the end zone, it looked so easy. Brees, unruffled in the pocket, and Graham, effortlessly shrugging off coverage, connected the way they’d done so often since Graham walked into the Saints’ lives in 2010. Philip Rivers has Antonio Gates. Brees has Graham. You see the way the Patriots mugged Tony Gonzalez on the last two plays of the New England win in Atlanta Sunday night? That might be the smartest way to stop Graham. Take two defenders and mug him so much in the five-yard bump zone past the line of scrimmage that Payton will have to start setting some subtle picks for him or Brees will have to look elsewhere. For now, Brees to Graham is as dangerous a combination as there is in football.

The Dolphins had a hard time slowing down Jimmy Graham, who tallied an even 100 yards receiving and now ranks second in the NFL with 458 through four games. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
The Dolphins had a hard time slowing down Jimmy Graham, who tallied an even 100 yards receiving and now ranks second in the NFL with 458 through four games. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Moreover, the Saints just look sharper. They’re already plus-five in turnover ratio. They don’t have many wasted plays, except runs. Brees and Payton are the dynamic duo again, pressing each other, Payton seeming to be in Brees’ grill when he needs to be.

“It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what Sean does,’’ tackle Zach Strief said after the game. “But he’s a leader. He knows when to push, when to back off, when to stop a period in practice and go back over things we need to do better. And Sean being back takes pressure off a lot of people. Initially, it takes pressure off Drew.’’

“Last year,’’ said Evans, “you had this person and that person and another person.’’ He was referring to the removal of Payton, and then Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt (when he came off his suspension) alternating with the coaching reins. ‘Now you’ve got the guy who’s going to be there throughout the year. It’s his presence, and his knowledge of the game, and his connection with Drew. Those two guys are magical together, and it shows.”

And it’s going to make for a fun season, the Saints being in the spotlight, after being in the shadows for an ugly 2012.

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57 comments
ruggerrick9
ruggerrick9

Talk out of both sides of your mouth much?  Flores, a two-time SB winning coach, is not a HOF candidate, but Dungy, a one-time SB winning coach with a career losing post-season record is?  I know you work with the guy and there is certainly much to admire about him, but let's be serious. 

schampion
schampion

Yeah, Bourbon Street smells like it always did -- like absolute s

mtoews
mtoews

So in the middle of a saints article PK puts a video that says look at the 4-0 QBs that really make a team work and of course its the manning / Brady report.. what about the Saints?  Do you really think they are 4-0 without Drew Brees who just put on a clinic on Monday night?

I do like reading PK but man this ignore every quarterback but Brady and Manning is getting old.

Jon8
Jon8

If there must be a discussion of something as patently absurd as "Coach of the Year," thus far, then it must be Reid, hands down!!

Dana2
Dana2

how in the world can you select Bill Belichick as your coach of the year candidate through the first quarter of the season? "


Well that's a no-brainer.   Bill Belichick is from BOSTON / New England.   You must not read Peter King much ... If it's about Boston, NYC/Jets/Giants, scott pioli or Brett "lil Abner" Favre

King's all for it.   Probably has a shirtless poster of josh mcDaniels stapled to his bedroom ceiling.

Noooo .... there's nothing provincial about peter king!

:D


LuisDaniel
LuisDaniel

I've heard of (local high school) players complaining that the shell of the new helmets feels too feeble, thin and light. Regardless of the technology involved, if the player does not feel safe, he will go back to the outdated but thicker model. Kinda reminds me of my grandpa hating his new truck having a fiberglass bumper and not a steel one.

TigerFrankBurris
TigerFrankBurris

Hines Ward for the HOF? LOL, the only thing that tool was good at was taking guys knees out.


Nothing shocking about King picking his boy Bellicheat. 

Sdwalt
Sdwalt

I think there are a couple reason Rivers looks so much better, the coaching is WAY better, and the O line is doing a much better job. All you have to do is look at Eli and how he is looking right now with his bad O line.

IrisVonStrykAtkin
IrisVonStrykAtkin

No way Steelers are greatest team in history. Too many close games. The Triplet cowboys destroyed all 9 playoff opponents by double digits in winning 3 out of 4

Odin's Goat
Odin's Goat

Rex Ryan Coach of the Year?  HA!

He'll be out of a job at the end of the year.

eddie767
eddie767

So,Belichec is coach of the year since they are missing their top 5 pass catchers from last yr. If i'm not mistaken,it's their(Patriots)fault they're missing those players. Two dumb te's,Welker,and released wr's,so that should leave their coach out of the voting. But we see who did the voting.

dennis
dennis

It's a mystery to me how all of the so-called sports experts get their credentials to hold that title. Case in point -- before the season started, none of them considered the Saints in their playoff and Superbowl predictions. Is their memory of the '09, '10, and '11 seasons that bad? Do they actually think that the Saints defense would have been so bad last season if their head coach had been there? And that it would make no difference with him returning? I predicted the Saints to be 4-0 at this point, and it didn't seem like a stretch at all.

drfastman
drfastman

"The scary part is Sean Payton, Drew Brees and company actually can get better". Wow Pete you're really going out on a limb here. But wait didn't you and your pal Tony Dungy come to the same conclusion about PM? Maybe Tom Brady and his receivers can get better too? This is the cutting edge commentary that I'm sure holds America enthralled.

dfasab
dfasab

"people are rightfully so fond of that Steelers team because they were so good for so long, and they did things the right way". Seriously? That team was at the forefront of steroid usage, to the point where Chuck Noll was asked about it his comment was: "I didn't want to know". The entire offensive line has been dying off young, not to mention the defensive players that have passed prematurely. They won, but they didn't do it "the right way".

tonybot3
tonybot3

a lot of players got a paid a nice bounty after last night.

gary41
gary41

How McCoy has made a difference with Rivers is a good question, not answered here in one sentence.      

mjkuhns
mjkuhns

Suggestion:

Let's just replace the current Hall of Fame selection process with internet fandom. We won't even require formal voting; we'll count online comments, Tweets, anything. As soon as a player has more than five people saying on the internet that he should be in the Hall, he goes in.

Everyone will be happy!

MarkCleary
MarkCleary

Aaaaand the college that Jimmy Graham attended waaaas......?


Careful, SI.  You're saying nice things about one of ours.

SpartanTarget
SpartanTarget

"Walk down Bourbon Street, and it smells the way it smelled to you in college."

Like vomit and regret?

wavemkr
wavemkr

Peter King picking Bellicheat for coach of the year..... hilarious, you have to remember, King even moved from NJ to Boston to be closer to his favorite team and coach..... LOL

CoreyLivermore
CoreyLivermore

I love how Peter always talks about how it's the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Very Good, yet when confronted with a question about one of the great coaches in the Super Bowl era, he's just a Very Good coach.

Flores won a pair of Super Bowls - one as a player and one as a coach.  He is only the second player in NFL history to do this, and the other is Mike Ditka.  He was the first Hispanic QB, the first minority QB to win a Super Bowl, and the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl.

If Peter is going to consider how good of a blocker a WR is when they come up for consideration, then he certainly has to consider what it meant to the league and for sports in general for Flore to win a Super Bowl.  And if you consider that the only other person to win a championship in the Super Bowl era as a player and a coach is already in the hall of fame (Ditka was elected in 1988 as a player), then surely Flores has to get more consideration for his enshrinement.

Mike26
Mike26

HInes Ward is the epitome of Hall of Very Good.  Anything else is homerism.

mtoews
mtoews

@Jon8 I wouldnt disagree but then the Saints were 0-4 last year without a coach and finished not much better and this year are 4-0 with him and people are saying Superbowl contender.. Sounds pretty Coach of the Year to me.

ruggerrick9
ruggerrick9

@LuisDaniel Helmets should be thinner and lighter.  Helmets cause more concussions than they prevent because players view them as weapons and use them that way.  It's the only contact sport in the world where players purposely and forcibly ram their heads into other players.  Christ, they don't even do that in MMA.  

Jon8
Jon8

Except that kids are teachable, trainable and old folks are set in their ways!

Paul60
Paul60

@TigerFrankBurris Hines Ward is going to the HOF for being a great player AND a fan favorite.  You must be a Bengals fan.

Jon8
Jon8

And Rothlisberger!

Paul60
Paul60

@IrisVonStrykAtkin The Steelers rule over the Cowboys.  Not just because we've been to 3 Super Bowls since your last one (to one playoff win for Dallas).  The greatest fans support the Pittsburgh Steelers.  They support a non-flashy, non-glamourous organization with no cheerleaders (which is a GOOD thing).  And because they're from Pittsburgh.  Greatest team in history, no question, especially when compared to Dallas.

SpartanTarget
SpartanTarget

@eddie767Uh, it's Peter King's pick for best coach of the first four games. I doubt there was much voting involved.

Sdwalt
Sdwalt

@dennis Yep Dennis, Si should fire PK and hire you.

LomaxHunter
LomaxHunter

@dennis Hello dennis, while you may have had confidence in the Saints defense improving, I don't think it was out of line to believe that their D would be a significant problem in 2013.  Remember last year, they had a 4-3 defense run by Steve Spagnuolo.  It stunk.  Badly.  Sean Payton is an offensive coach who admittedly gives significant rope to his defensive coordinator (hence, the Bountygate trainwreck), so I'm not sure the defense would have been any better if he was around in 2012.

As for this season, the Saints have a new coordinator running a 3-4 alignment.  I believe it was reasonable to expect them to have difficulty making the transition from 4-3 to 3-4 and adjusting to the style/personality/play-calling of Rob Ryan before the season began.  This is compounded by the fact that, despite his reputation, Rob Ryan's defenses haven't consistently been above the league average (hence his dismissal from the Cowboys).

Prior to the season, from what I read most experts believed that the Saints had a playoff/Super-bowl caliber offense, but had a "wait-and-see" attitude towards their defense.  Was that unreasonable?

Finally, given their schedule I doubt many "experts" would have the Saints' record at anything worse than 2-2 after four games.  They were favored in every game to this point except for the Atlanta game.

rivetzpdx
rivetzpdx

@dfasab Interesting point, but you gotta have something/anything concrete to indicate that the Steelers used more than other teams of that era, otherwise it's just anecdotal.

Mike26
Mike26

@SpartanTarget Yup, it's still a window to hell down there.  Nasty city before and after Katrina.

SpartanTarget
SpartanTarget

@wavemkr The guy's 4-0 with a group of receivers and backs most people -- even Patriots fans -- couldn't have picked out of a lineup six weeks ago. He leveraged a so-so defense with a double-team coverage strategy last week that most coaches would regard as too risky and choked the Falcons offense off. You could argue there are others as good as BB. Who's better?

Richard A
Richard A

@CoreyLivermore Flores actually won four Super Bowls, 2 as head coach 80' and 83' 1 as assistant coach 76' and 1 as a player KC 69'. He is more deserving than Madden. Madden got in based on his TV work and video game. With the talent the Raiders had Madden should have won more than one Super Bowl he had a hard time beating the Steelers. Flores was a better coach than Madden. PK is once again showing his anti Raider bias. Dungy does not deserve to be in the HOF he was too soft as a coach. He left Tampa and Gruden won the Super Bowl with his team. In Indy he won one Superbowl but routinely flamed out early in the playoffs.

BY
BY

@CoreyLivermore I accept that Flores might be as worthy as Ditka as a coach of being in the HOF but there is no way Flores holds a candle to Ditka as a player. Personally don't think Flores or Dungy should be in HOF. Dungy did not win with the TB team, Gruden did and Gruden is not a HOF coach either.

donald5
donald5

@CoreyLivermore I hardly see Ditka as a comparison. Mike Ditka did make 5 pro bowls and 5 All Pros and known as one of the best TEs in football history.  He won TWO superbowls as a player and an NFL Championship before the merger.   Ditka would have gone in to the HOF even if he never coached.  

evileyefleagle
evileyefleagle

@CoreyLivermore  

Flores won two Super Bowls as a coach, at Oakland in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1983.  And he had two things working against him, the trauma of the move from Oakland to Los Angeles and the problem anyone had in trying to coach the Raiders with Al Davis looking over his shoulder.

CoreyLivermore
CoreyLivermore

@Mike26 Agreed.  Peter King will talk all day long about how you shouldn't judge solely on number of rings, but he'll make the case that Ward should get in because he's got a pair of them.

Ward is good, but I don't think he's HOF material, especially when you consider the guys ahead of him who aren't in.

Jon8
Jon8

I guess you missed my sarcasm for "thus far!"

We have no idea who will be COY and, in order to determine same, we must let the season play out!

Simples!

dennis
dennis

@LomaxHunter @dennis  Yeah, anyone can wait and see and predict the obvious. The skill of an expert is to observe training camp and preseason and make an educated prediction that's not obvious to those who only read what other writers keep repeating. And you not being sure is only a sign of being gullible.

dfasab
dfasab

@rivetzpdx @dfasab According to Jim Haslett: "It started, really, in Pittsburgh. They got an advantage on a lot of football teams. They were so much stronger (in the) '70s, late '70s, early '80s," Haslett said. "They're the ones who kind of started it."

Even if everyone else did it, the Steelers had the edge, and even if they didn't, one doesn't get to proclaim that "they did things the right way."

schampion
schampion

@Mike26 @SpartanTarget If you only spend time on Bourbon, yeah. That's like forming your opinion of New York by only visiting Times Square.

mtoews
mtoews

@SpartanTarget @wavemkr the Saints were 0-4 without the coach . they are 4-0 with him. I would say Payton is coach of the year if they win more then 10 games.

SpartanTarget
SpartanTarget

@wavemkr I also love how the letter writer pointed out that "The Patriots are ALWAYS good because they have Tom Brady."  Uh, except that year they went 11-6 with Matt Cassel.

SpartanTarget
SpartanTarget

@evileyefleagle @CoreyLivermore Just going to throw out there that unlike a lot of fans, HOF voters seem to value win-loss record over Super Bowl wins. Dungy was 139-69, while Flores was 105-90. Flores had a much better playoff record, and the two Super Bowl wins, so I think that should even them out, but the voters might differ with me.

Whatever. I'd put them both in, but I can understand how each would be close calls.

Carnifex
Carnifex

@evileyefleagle @CoreyLivermore Read: Peter King likes Dungy as the first minority coach in the HOF because Dungy is a close personal friend of King's while Flores is not. The criteria King originally listed: pioneering coach of color + Super Bowl win, do not actually apply as it turns out. Flores came along 20 years before Dungy and won twice as many Super Bowls, but since King isn't buddies with Flores, he's an okay coach while Dungy is an all-time great. Nepotism.

pk_sea
pk_sea

@CoreyLivermore @Mike26 Ward should get in because he as the straightest teeth of any NFL player.  Those things are white sparkling Chicklets.

bobinpowell
bobinpowell

@CoreyLivermore @Mike26 No, he didn't make here and won't that Ward should get in because he's got a pair of rings.  The question was about the log-jam of potential HOFers at wide receiver.  He said he would support Ward because of his blocking ability.  Are you sure you actually read this article?

CoreyLivermore
CoreyLivermore

@bobinpowell @CoreyLivermore @Mike26 Yes, I read the article.  In fact, I've been reading King for years now.  And while he didn't make any indication in this article about the number of rings Ward has, he has continuously throughout the course of his columns made it a known fact that the number of rings a player or coach has is a factor that he considers when determining how he votes for hall candidates.

That's the point I'm making here - that no matter what he says in this article, he is still going to base his decision on how many rings Ward has.  Not his blocking, not his catches, not his attitude.  Rings, plain and simple.

Which is sad really, when you consider that he advocated for Dungy in Monday's column (although he did indicate it's hard to know for sure seeing as we don't know if Dungy would come back to coaching) based on his "pioneering" of the coaching position, but he refuses to back Flores for his pioneering 20 years before Dungy.  And Flores has twice as many rings as Dungy.  Blows up my theory about ring consideration, but then again, Peter is flaky and he does tend to support only those people who he actually like.  Which happens to be everybody on the East coast, and nobody on the West.

rivetzpdx
rivetzpdx

@bobinpowell @CoreyLivermore @Mike26 Yeah, I get sick of hearing about how Ward was such a terrific blocking WR. It's becoming like a go-to opinion for anyone to throw out there to show they know something about pro football. All of the WRs in that logjam were excellent blockers and outstanding route-runners, etc. Marvin Harrison? Gimme a break, he was a terrific blocker at wideout when needed.

People sometimes point to Ward like he left all those guys in the dust in that department, which isn't really the case at all. The truth is that part of the reason these WRs piled up stats is because a) they did enough of the little stuff that you couldn't take them off the field, and b) those contributions moved the chains for good offenses. Honestly, is there anybody in that stack of WRs who took plays off? Andre Reed on all those screens for Thurman Thomas? Please.

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