Of all the NFL’s unbeaten teams through two weeks, none is more confounding than the New Orleans Saints.
New Orleans’ defense has been elite, allowing just 16 points per game and only one touchdown that came in garbage time. Derek Carr is averaging more than 260 yards per contest, pitching it around to Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, and breakout star Rashid Shaheed.
However, the Saints have scored just 36 points over two games against a pair of rebuilding clubs in Tennessee and Carolina. In the latter, against No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young, New Orleans controlled the game but let the Panthers hang around before sealing an unconvincing 20-17 win in Charlotte.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Carr said after the game. “There’s so much we need to clean up, but it feels so good to clean it up when you win. We’re 2-0, and I don’t think we’ve played at the level we’re all expecting to play at yet.”
Carr was supposed to spruce up an offense that made the Saints the favorites in the preseason NFC South odds. Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, each still on the roster, had failed to solidify the quarterback position previously, and New Orleans didn’t pony up $100 million in guaranteed money to be 3-for-8 in the red zone and for Carr to have a 1:2 TD:INT ratio through two weeks.
“We won, but I’m still sick because I should’ve played better,” Carr said. “I can help the offense more.”
Jamaal Williams, signed as a free agent to shore up the running-back spot, left the game with a leg injury. Despite Tony Jones Jr.’s pair of rushing touchdowns Monday, the Saints are tied for 24th league-wide in yards per run play (3.4) and are 18th in rushing yards, averaging just 101.5 per game.
But, as Bill Parcells would say, the Saints are what their record says they are. That’s largely thanks to a defense that ranks fourth in opposing completion percentage (56.4%), seventh in passing yards against (320), and has four takeaways through two weeks.
- Wager on football this season: Learn how to bet NFL odds.
New Orleans smothered Young in his first home start, particularly in the first half, in which it allowed just three points and 73 yards and forced a fumble. That start enabled New Orleans to take a 6-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“To have that defense that can keep us in there until we got clicking in the second half, it helped us win the football game,” Carr said.
Carr repeatedly articulated that being 2-0 is far superior to the alternative. But that’s especially true since the surprising NFC South features three unbeaten teams through two games, with New Orleans sharing first place with two huge surprises, the Falcons and Buccaneers.
But the Saints are supposed to be the class of the division and could be a tough out in the postseason. Their defense says they still are, but if the offense keeps playing as it has, who knows?