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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

This is the last time you should get excited about the Saints being at .500 this season

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Jay Cutler sits on the Superdome turf after being sacked one of six times by the Saints

We'll have to admit that, during the preseason, we probably got a little too carried away thinking about the Saints being a Super Bowl contender. The simple fact is that football is violent sport with unpredictable consequences.

Who would've thought that the Bears would be coming into the Superdome after completely dismantling New Orleans' biggest division rival? Or that the Saints would start 0-1 after one of the most exciting season-opening games in recent memory — a game which also cost the team Marques Colston for a month and may have exposed several weak spots in the defense?

And yet, none of that matters now that the Saints responded to their loss to the Green Bay Packers (who, we shouldn't have to point out, are the defending Super Bowl Champions and should have been expected to win at home) with a dominating win in the Superdome that included an absolutely pummeling of the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler.

The Saints are 1-1 and Who Dat Nation is walking on air once again. It's easy to look back on that loss to Green Bay and think, "hey, the Saints are one goal line play from being 2-0!" Yes, life is always better after a win, but by how much?

Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins breaks up a pass intended for the Bears Johnny Knox

The offense was pretty spectacular once again. Drew Brees threw for 270 yards, three touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions. In typical Saints fashion, eight different receivers caught passes. Also in typical Saints fashion, New Orleans had 37 pass attempts to just 29 rushes. Mark Ingram, who has seemingly solidified his spot as the team's No. 1 rusher, managed just 51 yards on 14 carries. But unlike against the Packers, where a strong running game may have tipped the game in the Saints' favor, New Orleans was able to get by just fine with 118 rushing yards from five different players (including Robert Meachem and Brees).

The defensive side definitely showed some improvement, but it was nothing to pin Super Bowl aspirations on. For all the pressure the Saints' defense was able to put on Cutler, New Orleans also let Chicago running back Matt Forte gain 166 all-purpose yards. The Saints also committed six penalties and forced just one turnover. You can bet Sean Payton is pointing out all these flaws to his players today and that Gregg Williams will be pushing his defense to create more turnover opportunities.

The Saints are not without their blemishes and we still don't have a full picture on the overall quality of this team. After all, even though the Saints sacked Cutler six times, he was sacked by Atlanta five times in week one. The Saints' next opponent, the Houston Texans, have let up just four sacks and their defense has allowed an average of just 10 points a game in the first two weeks of the season.

The Houston Texans also have arguably the best wide receiver in football in Andre Johnson and, even with starting running back Arian Foster nursing a hamstring injury, they're averaging an astonishing 152.5 yards per game on the ground.

Because it's so early in the season, we can only look at NFL teams through the prism of past success and the small sample size of games we have thus far. In that context, we have all the reason in the world to be excited about the Saints beating the Texans in a close game this Sunday and moving to 2-1.

But as we said, football is violent and unpredictable. The Saints' most challenging stretch of the season still lies ahead of them. This weekend's game is the first big challenge before New Orleans gets to face a discombobulated Jaguars squad, but that's followed by a stretch where New Orleans plays four division opponents in six games.

Sunday may very well have been a prime indication of how the Saints could play for the rest of the season. And while there's no reason not to celebrate New Orleans' reemergence as one of the NFL's best, it also helps to take a step back and remember there is a long season left ahead of us.

Saints running back Mark Ingram breaks a tackle against the Chicago Bears

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