Against the Pats, the ‘good Saints’ were back! Or were they…?

Humans need to categorize shit.

I’m sure there is a mountain of scientific literature out there about how we feel the need to organize our things and put labels on people and events.  It’s also why we love to binge to Netflix – storytelling, an artsy-fartsy form of organization, allows our lizard-brains to make sense of the chaos that surrounds us in the universe.

It’s also why, time and time again in these columns, I try to squeeze the aftermath of Saints games into the framing device of some movie quote.  So, after the Saints beat the Patriots 28-13 to move to 2-1 on Sunday, let’s try this again.

After the game, head coach Sean Payton and a few key players were asked by the media to, in so many words, look in the mirror and tell us what they see; to do their best imitation of Junior Bevil and Yul Brenner from the greatest sports movie ever made: Cool Runnings.

After Sunday’s postgame media availability, it was clear that the team thinks it knows what it sees when it looks in the mirror: a group that finds a way to win and doesn’t care how.  It’s not much different from the tune they sang in 2020.

But does that reflect the reality of the situation? I don’t think we know exactly what we have in the 2021 Saints just yet, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It was actually our beloved Prince That Was Promised, Drew Brees, who had the best assessment of the 2021 Saints (thus far) on NBC Sunday night.  They’re a team without an offensive identity.

While the defense has been outstanding – 4th overall in scoring defense and 7th in yards allowed – the offense is by far the worst of the Payton era, limping to 14th in points and 31st in yards.  These stats don’t take into account Monday night’s Eagles-Cowboys matchup, but they are also not a typo.  The offense is bad.

Outside of the defense, which somehow got better without one of its starting corners and its two starting defensive tackles from last season, the Saints are an incomplete product.  The offense is a mess with an ailing offensive line, a new quarterback and receivers that should probably be on the practice squad.

This has resulted in a dizzying range of outcomes.  We’ve seen the Saints incinerate the Packers (2-1), get incinerated by the Panthers (3-0) and then embarrass the Patriots (1-2) in New England. When things go right, the Saints dominate.  But when they go wrong, they go very wrong.

It would be easy to sit back after three weeks and say that this is a defensive-minded team that will win games by shutting down opponents and running the football. The defense really has been amazing – 6 INT’s (including Malcolm Jenkins’ pick-6 yesterday) and 6 sacks through three games, plus a rookie cornerback in Paulson Adebo that’s been so good he’s kept Bradley Roby, a former Pro Bowler whom the Saints traded a third round pick for, on the bench for the Patriots game.

But I suspect that’s not what Payton intended. He doesn’t want to win with Winston throwing for fewer than 150 yards a game. His intent is not for the offense to sputter. And that will all probably change in a few weeks.

It’s going to take a while for the world at large to know who the 2021 Saints really are.  It’s evident that Jameis Winston and Alvin Kamara need help, and they’ll get it when receivers Tre’Quan Smith and Michael Thomas, tight end Nick Vannett and injured o-linemen Erik McCoy and Terron Armstead return in the coming weeks.

If the Packers game is any indication of what they can do, perhaps this will be a team that blows the doors off its opponents on a weekly basis, smothering teams under early double-digit leads led by a high-flying passing attack and a defense that creates pressure and causes turnovers.

Until then, we’ll probably have to hold our breath every time Winston fires a rocket into the back of the end zone as he’s going down.  It could be an incredible touchdown catch.  Or, it could be a hilariously bad interception.

We don’t know yet, and that’s okay.

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