Saints on bye week have some issues

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Jalen Guyton, Patrick Robinson
Chargers WR Jalen Guyton catches a deep pass with Saints CB Patrick Robinson in pursuit during New Orleans’ 30-27 overtime victory over Los Angeles (Photo: Parker Waters).

After five games, the 3-2 Saints are tied for the first place in the NFC South. However, they have not played like a first place team should.

On defense, the secondary is very suspect. As a group, they just don’t cover well. In a pitch and catch league this is a problem.

This team was billed as a Super Bowl contender before the season started. I did not buy in to that because I had questions about the defensive backs and the lack of depth at wide receiver, even when Michael Thomas is playing.

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is not playing like a top draft pick. He has been beaten way to many times on crossing routes and deep balls The fourth-year pro seems to arrive late in coverage after the catch is made far too often for a player of his ability.

Lattimore did make a great play to stop the Chargers from getting a first down, tackling Mike Williams one yard short of the first down line to make to seal the New Orleans win Monday night. Perhaps this moment will spark a season revival for the ex-Ohio State star.

On the other side, Janoris Jenkins has looked okay at times when healthy but he gets flagged for pass interference too often because he tends to grab when he is beaten. With the Giants at his previous stop, Jenkins played a bit more off the ball. He is a versatile talent but defensive coordinator Dennis Allen must figure out how to get the best out of him.

Free safety Marcus Williams is very inconsistent. That’s nothing new. He misses tackles on a consistent basis and is late getting over to help a crucial times. Veteran Malcolm Jenkins has been hot and cold. He has made a few plays but also missed tackles and dropped sure interceptions. In his second stint in New Orleans, more consistency was expected. It is also required for the Saints to make a postseason run.

Another veteran on his second tour with the Saints, cornerback Patrick Robinson, has perhaps contributed more than expected so far this season. He made a very good interception in the end zone against the Lions but badly blew a coverage against the Chargers resulting in a 64-yard touchdown. He is filling in for Janoris Jenkins outside when his best spot is nickel corner so we’ll cut him some slack. However, experienced players should not be making such mistakes as we seem to see weekly from the Saints secondary.

P. J. Williams is versatile and C. J. Gardner Johnson has done some good things, particularly in the running game.

The team really needs to get Michael Thomas back. I think Drew Brees takes some time to get confidence going with receivers he has not played with much because he throws to a spot where he expects a receiver to be.

However, Emmanuel Sanders was a great free agent pick-up. Brees is just starting to feel comfortable going to him in the last two games. That’s a plus of having Thomas unavailable; it may have forced chemistry between Brees and Sanders out of necessity.

Tre’quan Smith is a No. 3 receiver on most teams. He also came up big in the win at Detroit. But there are signs New Orleans may have found a receiver of greater value in undrafted rookie Marquez Callaway. The 6-foot-1, 200 pounder out of Tennessee has made some catches and also impressed as a return specialist replacing Injured Deonte Harris. Having both Callaway and Harris means head coach Sean Payton and his staff can try to maximize the abilities of both explosive players without fear of being without a capable return man.

I had Callaway rated in my draft guide as a drafted player but lack of good timed speed hurt his cause. He only clocked 4.55 at the combine but clearly plays faster than that. My scouting report on him was that he had quick feet and ability to get open deep. Callaway has made one-handed catches at times and makes tacklers miss in the open field. He has a lot of upside but his route tree diversity in college was only average. He appears to be catching on fast as a rookie. Callaway looks like a player.

I think the strength of this team is up front in both the offensive and defensive lines. The former is very deep. Marcus Davenport needs to stay healthy because he gives the defense up front plenty of options. Overall, the group must be more consistent rushing the passer. That’s the best way to help a struggling secondary and win big games in the pass-happy NFL.

Saints legend Rickey Jackson said the team only has one linebacker worthy of starting in Demario Davis and that the others are special teams players. I don’t know if I agree totally with that. I still think Alex Anzalone will become more consistent if he can stay healthy, and I want to see more of draft choice Zack Baun. The reality is, you only play with one or two linebackers on the field a vast majority of the time these days. The era of four-man Dome Patrol linebackers seems like a very distant memory when you watch today’s game.

Of course, running back Alvin Kamara is playing lights-out so far. The Saints will win nothing without him on the field for the long haul.

Tight end Jared Cook is also solid, and Brees needs to go to him more. The big play talent has made a difference in wins over Tampa Bay and the L.A. Chargers already this season.

A big area the team has excelled on is special teams. I mentioned the return man duo. Wil Lutz is one of the leagues best kickers and punter Thomas Morstead is reliable at punting inside the other team’s 20-yard line and often times even deeper into opposing territory.

It’s been an interesting five games for the New Orleans Saints. If championships are to be won, their best must be yet to come.

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