The Fleur-De-Lis Report: Saints Commit to Andy Dalton Over Jameis Winston as Division Crown Remains Within Reach
The New Orleans Saints (2-5) are back home to take on the Las Vegas Raiders (2-4) in a game that could have substantial implications going forward. The Saints remain in the thick of the NFC South race with the other three teams also struggling this season. And with the division crown still within reach, Dennis Allen and the coaching staff believe quarterback (QB) Andy Dalton gives them the best chance to win now.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THE WEEK
Wednesday, Head Coach Dennis Allen made the bombshell announcement that the team plans to move forward with QB Andy Dalton as the full time starter. Jameis Winston still isn’t 100% but he did participate fully during this week’s practice indicating that he is healthy enough to resume the starting role. However, Allen told the media that Winston’s health did not factor in his decision to go with Dalton, which means this was a benching. Allen cited the offense’s improvements under Dalton as the reason for the move. For context, both QBs have won just one game as starters but the average points per game total nearly doubled under Dalton. The unit averaged about 17 points per game while Winston was under center but increased to about 30 points per game once Dalton took over. It’s also worth noting the offensive philosophy drastically changed during Dalton’s time, with 54% of the offensive snaps being runs in comparison to 33% under Winston. I’ll offer more context on this in my final thoughts but on the surface it appears the coaching staff has lost confidence in Jameis Winston.
This week’s injury report was slightly encouraging. Several guys worked their way back to practice with only four DNP players. Wide Receivers (WR) Jarvis Landry (ankle) and Michael Thomas (foot) did not practice along with Cornerback (CB) Marshon Lattimore (bruised kidney) and Tight End (TE) Adam Trautman (ankle). Trautman returned to practice Friday but the other three remained DNP and will not suit up for today’s game. Friday, Allen didn’t provide specifics on Michael Thomas’ foot injury but did say he plans for the All-Pro WR to return to action at some point this season. Saints fans have grown increasingly frustrated with Thomas ever since his record breaking 2019 season due to his inability to stay healthy. Thomas has missed a total of 30 games since 2020 including 4 this season. Today will be his 5th game out.
Offensive Lineman (OL) Andrus Peat (chest) returned to practice in a limited role. This is great news for the left side of the offensive line that’s struggled a bit in the recent weeks. WR Keith Kirkwood and CB Paulson Adebo were also limited throughout the week while OL Calvin Throckmorton and Edge Rusher Payton Turner returned as full participants. TE Juwan Johnson was added to the injury report Thursday with a hamstring injury. And Defensive Tackle David Onyemata didn’t practice Friday after fully practicing the first two days and is questionable to play.
PREVIEWING THE RAIDERS
Believe it or not, all hope isn’t lost for the Saints to make a return to the postseason. The NFC South is abysmal with all four teams combining for a 10-19 record this season. Tampa Bay’s 27-22 loss to the Ravens this past Thursday keeps the door slightly open for the Saints as now they’re only half a game out of first place. A win against the Raiders and a Falcons loss will place them in a four-way tie for the division lead. All this to say, today’s game bodes critical for the Saints if they want to remain in the hunt.
The Raiders aren’t exactly world beaters this season. They come into this game 2-4 on the year and have had some tough luck closing games. All four of their losses have been one possession games, usually coming within a play or two from pulling it out. On the other hand, both their wins have come in dominating fashion, winning by double digits both times. This perfectly illustrates who I think the Raiders are…a good team with bad luck.
All-Pro WR Davante Adams has been arguably the best receiver in football over the last few seasons with the Packers, but this year has been a bit of a struggle. Him and Derek Carr are having a hard time finding consistent chemistry despite being former college teammates. His official gameday status is 'questionable' due to an illness, but sources say he felt better towards the end of the week and is expected to play. Nevertheless, the Saints must make Adams a priority as he is still a threat to take over a game. We’ve already seen how not having Marshon Lattimore is impacting this secondary, especially against elite receivers. Against the Bengals, Ja’Marr Chase racked in 132 yards and two scores on 7 catches. Against the Cardinals, DeAndre Hopkins had 10 catches for 103 yards in his first game back from suspension. So needless to say, whoever will be matched up on Adams will have their hands full. Not to mention, Vegas is loaded with playmaking pass catchers outside of Adams like Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow.
Because the secondary is banged up, the Saints will need their pass rushing unit to step their game up. The Raiders have been solid in pass protection this season, allowing just 13 sacks on the year. If given time, Derek Carr can and will pick this Saints defense apart.
Another area of concern will be rush defense. Josh Jacobs is the definition of a bellcow-workhorse runningback that can really punish a defense if he’s allowed to get going. The Saints have seemingly struggled to contain the run this season which is a far cry from what this group used to be in recent memory. Stopping the run will be critical as I believe they’ll need to control the time-of-possession if they are to give their offense a chance in this one.
Offensively, there's not much that needs to be said. I’ll admit things have greatly improved under Andy Dalton but it's the same problems that continue to trouble this unit. Turnovers and Penalties are killing this team. Production, in terms of yards and scoring, has been good enough to win games recently. It’s simply the miscues that’s holding them back at this point.
Kickoff is at noon.
In theory, the Saints have a shot at winning the division and earning a home playoff game given how poor the division is. However, it’s hard for me to imagine them doing so. I mentioned last week how they’d have to really run the gauntlet over these next 10 games to even have a fighting chance. Just in the division alone, New Orleans is 1-2 with their sole win being a one point, comeback win against Atlanta back in week one. In the NFL, anything is possible, but I still wouldn’t get your hopes up for this season. The odds remain too far stacked against them.
Throughout the season, we’ve continuously criticized the offense’s ineptitudes but what’s not getting talked about nearly enough is how bad the defense has been. They’re giving up 28.6 points per game this season which ranks 31st in the NFL. Part of the reason the team still has the league’s worst turnover differential (-10) is because they also rank 27th in takeaways. And outside of Cam Jordan, the defensive line has been a complete let down. We’re still waiting on Payton Turner to live up to his first round draft status and Marcus Davenport is simply not playing to his potential. This group has been disappointing to say the least. It’s truly a shame when you consider the high expectations placed onto this unit going into the year.
Also, as I said before, the decision to bench Winston sends a clear message as to how Dennis Allen and the coaching staff views him. They don’t believe he gives them the best chance to win especially with the possibility of a division title still on the line. But I would implore people to consider all of what Winston had to endure this season. He played with four back fractures and a bad ankle that he injured during training camp. Now compound all of that with the fact he had to fight his way back from a torn ACL he suffered last year. Yes the offense is much better statistically under Dalton but it’s hardly a fair comparison. Dalton has had the benefit of health on his side. While the move to go with him makes sense for now, I still believe a healthy Jameis Winston gives the Saints a better chance to win long term. His potential ceiling is simply higher than Andy Dalton’s, who at this point in his career is just a journeyman backup.
Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter @Chris_Lunkin98 for weekly content and up to the minute updates on your New Orleans Saints.
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