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Barry Hirstius

Saints 1st Quarter (4 Games) of the Season: The Good, Bad, & Downright UGLY

The New Orleans Saints have now completed the 1st quarter (4 games) of their 2017 regular season schedule; and amazingly, it's actually their best record (2-2) at this point of the season in the past 4 years.

The Saints have had 3 straight losing years coming into this current season, in part because of very bad starts in the 1st quarter of those past years (2014, 2015, and 2016) that put them behind the proverbial "8-Ball" right out of the gate --- and led to them having to climb out of a hole in the win-loss column, for the remainder of each one of those seasons.

And despite an 0-2 start to this current season that put them in serious jeopardy early on of having yet another losing season for a 4th straight year, New Orleans has now bounced back strongly with 2 impressive victories.

Matthew Childs / Reuters

Now as they take a week off for their Bye Week, they look to be ready (at least so far, anyway) to contend for a Playoff spot this season after having missed the Playoffs for the past 3 years, as well.

But first thing's first: which is that the Saints still have 3 more quarters of a season (12 games) left to play.

So it's with that in mind that this morning, we're taking a very quick look at a few of the "good, bad, and DOWNRIGHT UGLY" things that have taken place for the Saints football team, in the 1st quarter of the current season.

And we'll start with the "DOWNRIGHT UGLY" first --- followed by the "bad" and then the "good"......

 

THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY

 

THE SAINTS PASS DEFENSE GETS "TORCHED" IN THE FIRST 2 WEEKS BY MINNESOTA AND NEW ENGLAND

Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Getting off to a good start had been a goal for the Saints coming into the season, so it goes without saying that it was pretty disheartening when the much-maligned Saints defense -- which everyone thought had been improved after an impressive Pre-Season -- got completely "torched" in successive weeks in losses to the Vikings and Patriots to start off their schedule.

After yielding big numbers to Vikings QB Sam Bradford in Week #1 (346 passing yards, 3 TD's and a QBR of 143.0 with a 85% completion rate), the Saints got flat-out embarrassed by future Hall of Fame Patriots QB Tom Brady; who recorded several career highs including 177 passing yards and 3 TD passes in the 1st quarter alone in a 36-20 loss in Week #2. In all, the Saints defense surrendered a whopping 1,025 yards of total offense in the two losses.

Brady's near-flawless performance (30 out of 39 pass attempts for 447 yards and 3 TD's and a QBR of 139.6) sent the Saints to an (0-2) record to start off the regular season, for the 4th straight year; and put them again in another "hole" to start off the year that initially seemed like one they'd never be able to recover from.

 

THE ADRIAN PETERSON - SEAN PAYTON SIDELINE INCIDENT AT MINNESOTA IN WEEK #1

Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

The season-opening nationally-televised game between the Saints and the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on ESPN Monday Night’Football; had enormous significance for Saints veteran RB Adrian Peterson. Not only did the former 2012 League MVP make his debut for New Orleans, but he was also doing it in Minnesota, where he spent the first 10 seasons of his career which included 4 trips to the Pro Bowl.

Which goes without saying that Peterson probably would have liked to have to have been given more playing time than what Saints head coach Sean Payton gave him on Opening Night, that included just 4 first-half carries on a grand total of 5 snaps. That likely was the source of the apparent frustration Peterson displayed to Payton, which then was caught by ESPN’s sideline cameras late in the 1st half (and later became a meme on Social Media) of what eventually became a 29-19 Vikings win.

Afterwards, both men denied that there was any "bad blood" and that it was simply something that occurs during "the heat of the moment" --- but nevertheless, it was not a good look and only added to the embarrassment that the entire organization felt after such a disappointing performance to begin the 2017 regular season.

And with Peterson's current role and his future with the team called into question recently, this (the relationship between Peterson and Payton) might be something to keep an eye on for the remainder of the year.

 

THE BAD

JUST LIKE LAST YEAR, THE INJURIES KEEP PILING UP

Photo courtesy of Michael DeMocker, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

As was the case last year, the injuries to key performers kept piling up; forcing the Saints to improvise their starting line-ups at a handful of key positions.

It began all the way back during the team's Mini-Camp in June; when starting offensive left tackle Terron Armstead underwent surgery after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder. He's slated to return after the Bye Week. Starting #1 cornerback Delvin Breaux had mid-August surgery to repair a fractured fibula that never fulled healed from last year and was put on injured reserve; and is expected to be out until Week #9; when the Saints face Tampa Bay at home. 

Besides Armstead and Breaux, several more key performers have been lost either for the season or for an undisclosed amount of time, including right tackle Zach Strief, fullback John Kuhn, rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone, and wide receiver Willie Snead -- who missed the first 3 games because of a suspension and tweaked a hamstring injury prior to the Dolphins game that he had been nursing since Training Camp. He's also expected back after the Bye Week.

In all, it's been yet another difficult year already for New Orleans with the "injury bug" --- and yet they've still managed to weather the storm and have managed to win a few games, despite their seemingly never-ending bad luck with being able to keep players healthy.

 

.....AND THE GOOD

THE SAINTS HAVEN'T HAD A SINGLE TURNOVER YET IN THE FIRST 4 GAMES

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

It's probably a little bit hard to believe, but this year's Saints team has been extremely fortunate; in that if they're not always beating their opponents, they're at least definitely not beating themselves.

As noted by ESPN beat writer Mike Triplett, the Saints have earned a rare place in NFL history; by becoming just the third team since 1933 to play the first four games of the season without a turnover, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The others are the 1995 St. Louis Rams and 2013 Tennessee Titans.

Triplett says that's in part to the team exhibiting more ball security than in previous years; as well as the fact that QB Drew Brees had never gone three games to start a season without an interception in his 17-year career. Now he’s gone 4 games already without throwing one.

It's often said that the winning formula in the NFL is simple: try to avoid or limit your mistakes and turnovers, and play good defense. After a shaky start, that's exactly what the Saints have done heading into the Bye Week; and if they continue that trend for the next 12 games, it could prove to be what eventually puts them in contention for the Playoffs down the line.

 

THE 2017 SAINTS ROOKIE CLASS (SO FAR) IS ONE OF THE GREATEST ROOKIE SAINTS DRAFT CLASSES IN THE TEAM'S ENTIRE 51-YEAR HISTORY

Photo courtesy of The Orlando Sun-Sentinel

After 4 games into the season, one thing is evident. In fact, you could say that it's "crystal clear". Which is that so far, the 2017 Saints rookie class might be one of the best Draft classes in the team's entire 51-year history.

The Saints prior to this season had 3 years that have stood out for its Draft classes: the 1981 season (the first year under then-head coach Bum Phillips), which is considered THE greatest Saints draft class ever; along with the 1986 Draft class (Jim Mora's first year) and the 2006 Draft class (Sean Payton's first year).

Top pick Marshon Lattimore is an immediate starter and is already being praised for his ability to "lock down" opposing WR's. Fellow 1st Round pick and offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk is versatile and has started at BOTH tackle spots on the Saints O-Line. 2nd round pick and free safety Marcus Williams is a phenomenal athlete, and is a starter in his first-ever NFL season as well.

And then of course there's 3rd Round pick and RB Alvin Kamara -- who may be the team's most sensational and exciting player; and has brought an element back to the team that it had been missing on offense for the past several seasons.

Before he was injured last week, fellow 3rd Round pick Alex Anzalone was the starter at "Will" / weak side linebacker; while the rest of the class -- defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad, both show great promise for the future as well.

Yes, it's still "early", but when you can put FIVE rookies on the field immediately as starters in today's NFL? That's an impressive number, and a testament to just how good this year's class is. And given how bad some of the recent classes have turned out (ZERO players remaining from the 2014 class), it couldn't have come at a better time for New Orleans.

 

DESPITE THEIR TERRIBLE START, THE SAINTS DEFENSE HAS BOUNCED BACK STRONG -- AND IS THE KEY TO THE TEAM'S OVERALL SUCCESS FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE 2017 SEASON

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

After that horrible start to the season that was one of the "downright ugly" moments of the first 4 games thus far, the Saints defense has "bounced back" strongly. 

Despite having a handful of rookies and 2nd year players scattered throughout its starting line-up, the defense has looked great in recent weeks; and this past Sunday they gave one of the best performances of the entire Sean Payton Era; limiting the Miami offense to 186 total yards and earning their first "shut out" of an opponent since the 2012 season.

The impressive showing was only just 1 week removed from dominating a (now 3-1) Carolina Panthers team in their own stadium, in the previous game before. This is the very same Saints defense that in the first 2 games of the season, gave up 1,025 yards of total offense and 65 total points; and was embarrassed nationally by several national media networks and writers that cover the NFL.

Unbelievably: the Saints defense is now ranked 11th overall in the NFL after 4 weeks in points allowed, having yielded a total of 78 points, or 19.5 per game. And while there's still plenty of football left to play, it's hard not to come away a bit impressed when you consider how BAD they looked just a few short weeks ago.

After the Bye this Sunday, the Saints will get to face 2 of the very best QB's in the entire NFL: Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford at the Superdome on October 15th, before a road trip the following week to the legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

We'll know then for sure after those 2 games, just how good the Saints defense REALLY is or isn't.

But for now, their recent performances have been one of the "good" things so far about the season --- a season which still has 12 more weeks to go, for a Saints defensive unit that will ultimately determine the team's overall success in 2017.......

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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