The New Orleans Saints improved to 6-2 on the season with a 30-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints jumped out to a nine-point lead in the first quarter, and maintained control of the game with an efficient passing attack, and a productive running game. On defense, the Saints held Tampa Bay to just 88 yards in the first half, and never let the Buccaneers offense establish momentum. Following the win, New Orleans remains half a game ahead of the Carolina Panthers as the NFC South division leader.
Week Nine New Orleans Saints Takeaways
Kamara Continues to Show Value
Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara has become the second most important player on this offense behind quarterback Drew Brees. Following a two-fumble game by Mark Ingram last week, Kamara started at running back instead, but he lost a fumble as well early in the second quarter. Kamara made up for this mistake just before the half as he dodged tacklers and scored a touchdown on a 33-yard screen pass.
By the end of the game, Kamara had scored a rushing and receiving touchdown, and picked up 152 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches. That averages out to 9.5 yards per touch. Kamara’s presence has brought back a dual-threat element that’s been missing from the Saints offense ever since they moved on from Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. He has quickly emerged as one of the NFL’s most dangerous running backs, and should be considered a top candidate for 2017 Rookie of the Year at this point.
Another Stifling Defensive Performance
For the third week in a row, the Saints defense was a nightmare for their opponent’s quarterback. Jameis Winston threw for just 67 yards in the first half, and an injury caused him to miss the second half. Backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played slightly better and threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but the game was far out of reach by then. The Saints picked up four sacks, and hit Winston and Fitzpatrick on nine other pass attempts.
The Saints biggest weakness in 2017 has been defending the run, but they showed progress in this area against the Buccaneers. After allowing over 100 yards rushing in five of their first seven games, the defense held Tampa Bays running backs to just 41 yards on 21 attempts. Admittedly the Buccaneers entered week nine ranked 29th in rushing yards, but any improvement against the run will be valuable for New Orleans as they face four top-15 rushing attacks in their remaining games.
Fumbles are Becoming a Problem
There’s not much left to complain about on this Saints team, but one growing issue is an increase in fumbles on both offense and special teams. Aside from Kamara’s fumble, both Ted Ginn Jr. and Willie Snead dropped the ball on punt returns. Ginn also dropped two punts in week seven, and Mark Ingram lost two fumbles last week. New Orleans is not only fumbling more often, they’re struggling to recover loose balls. Both of Ingram’s fumbles in week eight were recovered by the Chicago Bears, and the Buccaneers recovered two of the Saints three fumbles this week. The silver lining here is the Saints played well enough to overcome those mistakes, and win both games.
After losing their first two games, New Orleans has pulled off their longest winning streak since the 2011 season with six straight victories. Beyond their growing win total and impressive stats, the Saints have managed to form a distinct identity at the midpoint of their season. They’ve found a blueprint for winning games that involves building an early lead, and forcing opponents to pass against their aggressive defense.
In the Saints previous three seasons, they were the team trying to overcome early deficits in games; Brees had to be great every week for New Orleans to have any chance of winning. Now, Brees is able to be more flexible and efficient, and each Saints win this season has been a team effort.