For the 2nd consecutive week, the New Orleans Saints looked and played like one of the better teams in the NFL. Despite having a handful of rookie players starting at several key positions, particularly on defense; this young Saints team has quickly turned their season around after a terrible 0-2 start.
The Saints defensive unit was particularly impressive, earning their first shut out over an opponent since a 41-0 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back during the 2012 season.
Perhaps even more impressive: the Saints offense has now gone 4 straight games to open the 2017 NFL season, without committing a single turnover. That makes New Orleans only the 3rd team since 1933 (the first year of the forward pass ever in the sport of Pro Football), to not commit a turnover in each of its first 4 games of a season.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 1, 2017
As a result, the Saints improved to (2-2) on the season, and are on a "Bye" next week; before they return to action at home against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, October 15th.
More importantly, the Saints are now playing with a great degree of confidence; after looking nearly downright horrible in those 2 embarrassing losses to Minnesota and New England to begin the season. And now with a whole week off and 12 games still left to play things are starting to "look up" for New Orleans.
With that in mind, here are the Saints News Network's 5 biggest "winners and losers" from today's great "shut out" win over the Miami Dolphins in London, England.
THE BIGGEST LOSERS
5. WIL LUTZ, KICKER
This is "nitpicking", but Lutz did miss a kick late early in the 2nd quarter that would have given the Saints a 3-0 lead. It was only from 41 yards out, but he missed it badly off to the right of the right upright, which kept the game scoreless at that point.
Wil Lutz making a bold statement in London by missing Right
This game needs fake news pic.twitter.com/2764lwHmca
— joe (@JoeAno1) October 1, 2017
Much to his credit, Lutz did bounce back and hit a pair of 45-yarders, and finished the day 2-out-of-3 with no other issues along the way.
For Lutz, it just remains an issue of consistency; because just when you think that he will be the kicker of the future for the sSaints fir the next decade plus, he has a bad miss like today that makes you wonder just how consistent he can really be -- especially whenever a game is "on the line" at the end.
4. MAX UNGER, CENTER
You almost can't blame Saints veteran center Max Unger for having issues with snapping the ball in the shotgun formation to QB Drew Brees, for one simple reason: Unger had the misfortune of having to go one-on-one all day with Dolphins All-Pro nose tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Suh was dominant at times, and was one of the few bright spots in the contest for Miami. He was so dominant that it became obvious that Unger had problems with stopping him; which in turn led him to snap the ball a little TOO early in anticipation of having to stop Suh --- which lead to two errant snaps that Brees had to recover and was lucky to get back both.
Someone needs to settle max Unger down. That's two bad snaps. Last one was AWFUL.
— Jacob Revere (@Jacob_Revere) October 1, 2017
Unger is a solid veteran and it's uncharacteristic of him to make any sort of sort of mistakes like the ones he had today; but considering he had to fend off a beast like Suh, it's perfectly understandable. The Saints were fortunate that the bad snaps didn't come back to bite them, in the end.
3. ALEX ANZALONE, LINEBACKER
It's certainly not his fault that he got hurt, but rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone becomes a "loser" in the sense that he will now miss an undisclosed amount of time that likely will cause him to lose his starting role at "Will" / weak side linebacker going forward.
Anzalone left today's game with a shoulder injury during the defense's opening drive of the contest; and grabbed his arm in an obvious state of pain and discomfort after making a tackle early on during that initial Miami drive to open the game while trying to tackle Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi.
Anzalone was replaced in the line-up by veteran Craig Robertson, who in turn showed his value to the team by playing solid throughout the remainder of the contest. Anzalone has been a starter for the team all season; but today's events appear to have put the likelihood of him remaining as the starting "Will" LB, in question moving forward.
2. ZACH STRIEF, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Like Anzalone, Strief's injury wasn't his fault and was totally unavoidable, after he was hit from behind by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who was attempting to sack Saints QB Drew Brees on the play.
But because Strief had JUST RETURNED from an injury that caused him to miss the first 3 games of the season, it makes him a "loser" in the sense that now he'll likely miss even more time. The severity of the injury remains uncertain, and fortunately the Saints have a week off now to figure out the plan going forward if he will miss a large amount of time.
Strief was replaced by rookie Ryan Ramczyk, who simply 'flipped' sides from his left tackle spot, where he himself had been subbing in place of the injured Terron Armstead. Strief is no "spring chicken", and the 34-year old could be looking at his last few remaining weeks as a member of the team, after 11 NFL seasons.
1. P.J. WILLIAMS, CORNERBACK
Williams is our biggest loser from today's great shut-out win over Miami for one simple reason: he's in Saints head coach Sean Payton's "doghouse".
Williams was set to start the game but was replaced in the starting line-up by 2nd year CB Ken Crawley (more on him in a minute); and then early during the broadcast FOX Sports reporter Pam Oliver reported that the 3rd year CB had been benched due to "disciplinary issues". Afterwards in his post-game press conference, when asked what had happened in reference to Williams, Payton said: "that would be between us and P.J.".
Translation: He screwed up and did something (no one knows what but they were in London, so it could have been curfew or conduct-related) he wasn't supposed to do -- and now you won't see him starting for a while.
Payton on FOX report of disciplinary benching of P.J. Williams: "that would be between us and P.J."
— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) October 1, 2017
THE BIGGEST WINNERS
5. MARSHON LATTIMORE, CORNERBACK
You didn't see it on the stat sheet, but Saints 2017 #1 Draft pick and rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore made his presence felt all game long for the resurgent New Orleans defense,
Lattimore held Miami receiver DeVante Parker at bay for the entire contest, and he notched 5 tackles, a forced fumble (on a "strip" of former Saints WR Kenny Stills) and jammed receivers constantly at the line that threw off several routes that caused timing issues for Dolphins QB Jay Cutler.
In all, it was a brilliant performance by the rookie; who just gets better with each passing week. If Lattimore is able to grab a few interceptions in the upcoming weeks, do NOT be shocked to hear his name in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation later on near the end of the season.
4. RYAN RAMCZYK, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
As we noted, Ramczyk took over for Zach Strief at right tackle after Strief re-injured that bad knee of his early in the 4th quarter; and he "flipped" over to Strief's spot from the left tackle spot, where he had gotten the start in place of veteran left tackle Terron Armstead.
Ramczyk is one of the biggest "winners" not just from this game but for the entire year so far; in that it's a VERY IMPRESSIVE feat to be able to not only play two different positions seemlessly in a same season as a rookie -- but even in a single game.
Rookie offensive tackles in the NFL usually struggle quite a bit, but Ramczyk has looked nothing short of great in his first 4 games; and his performance today is making the Saints trade of former WR Brandin Cooks look better than ever. Ramczyk is going to be a future All-Pro for many years to come, if he can manage to avoid any major injuries along the way.
3. KEN CRAWLEY, CORNERBACK
For a 2nd straight week, the impressive 2nd-year cornerback from Colorado made a big impact for the Saints defense; and it was his "highlight reel" interception of Miami QB Jay Cutler in the end zone that halted a serious Dolphins scoring threat on the opening drive, "dead in its tracks".
The Dolphins had driven all the way down from their own 15-yard line to the Saints’ 4 yard line; and the Saints defense had been "back on its heels" at that point, and it initially seemed as if the Saints defense was looking at another bad day like the ones in the first 2 losses to the Vikings and the Patriots.
That's when on a 1st-down-and-goal play that Crawley jumped right in front of a fade route by Dolphins TE Julius Thomas and made a leaping grab, despite being much physically smaller than Thomas. It completely stopped ANY momentum that Miami had up to that point --- and ended up setting the tone for the entire remainder of the game for the Saints defense.
2. MICHAEL THOMAS, WIDE RECEIVER
Just like Crawley, Saints 2nd year WR Michael Thomas makes our list for a 2nd week in a row (no surprise) after another phenomenal effort in today's win over the Dolphins.
Thomas made 8 grabs for 89 yards and made a spectacular TD reception early in the 2nd quarter over Dolphins CB Cordrea Tankersley. He also had a big 30-yard reception midway in the 4th quarter that helped the Saints "ice" the game on their final TD drive of the contest.
It sounds repetitive to say this every single week, but Thomas is an absolute stud; and he will be a integral part of the Saints offense for years to come, along with the next player on our list at #1 as today's biggest "winner".
1. ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK
If there was any one player that clearly stood out for the Saints today (and there were many to be honest, some who didn't even make our list, such as Drew Brees and Cam Jordan), then it had to be Kamara -- who had 71 yards on 10 catches and 25 yards rushing; and a late 4th quarter TD to seal the victory.
Kamara's performance was very reminiscent of the way that Saints head coach Sean Payton has used the "scat back" role on the Saints offense in past years, with players such as Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles. At times he carried the ball as a "lead" RB; caught passes coming out of the backfield, and even lined up at wide receiver on a few occasions.
This year's Saints rookie class is already making a huge impact for the Saints just 4 games into the season; but perhaps no one player (rookie or otherwise) was any more impressive today in helping the Saints get to (2-2) and winning CONVINCINGLY for the 2nd week in a row, than Kamara was............