It’s still wait and see for LSU, Saints

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LSU and Saints football

If you’re a LSU fan you couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season. The Tigers are 4-0 and they’ve already beaten two Top 10 teams in preseason No. 8 Miami and then-No. 7 Auburn two weeks ago.

They’ve far exceeded the modest expectations that most outsiders had, soaring from No. 25 in the preseason poll to No. 5 this week as they prepare to host Ole Miss.

If you’re a New Orleans Saints fan, you’re probably disappointed in the 2-1 start but relieved that it’s not worse. The defending NFC South champions couldn’t overcome a horrendous defensive start and lost their opener to Tampa Bay, 48-41, but they’ve shown marginal improvement in winning their last two.

Though LSU has exceeded expectations and the Saints are trying to catch up to them, these teams have one important thing in common as they prepare to wrap up September: We still don’t know how good they are.

Sure, there’s no quarreling with LSU’s record, but the team’s first four performances raise a couple of familiar questions:

Is the offense any more diversified than it was under Les Miles or Greg Studrawa or Cam Cameron or Matt Canada? The Tigers can run the ball, as usual, but just how good is their passing game?

This leads to another question: Is Joe Burrow appreciably better than Danny Etling was the last two years? He appears to have better arm strength than Etling, but so far his primary assets have been his decision making and ball security. Those were Etling’s primary assets, and they’re important ones, but when they trump arm strength and athleticism they lead to a limited passing game. Perhaps Burrow and this passing game will evolve into something more dynamic. We’ll see.

The Saints passing game, of course, is as dynamic as ever. But the running game is one of the least productive in the NFL. Is that simply because of the success of the passing game – as well as the need for it be predominant because the team trailed for so much of the first three games – and the absence of leading rusher Mark Ingram II, whose four-game suspension ends after the game against the Giants in New York on Sunday? Or is there more to the running game’s limitations? We’ll see.

Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas have been outstanding, but the defense remains a major concern, particularly at cornerback where Ken Crawley and P.J. Williams have been terrible and where Patrick Robinson has been lost to a broken ankle.

Keep this in mind: New Orleans’ two wins have been greatly influenced by two things over which the Saints had virtually no control. The Saints beat Cleveland by three points after the Browns kicker missed two field goals and two extra points.

They beat Atlanta after winning the overtime coin toss and driving to a touchdown on the first possession in a 43-37 shootout in which whichever team won the coin toss was probably going to score right away, quite possibly with a game-ending touchdown.

LSU is No. 5 and the Saints are tied for first place.

So far, so good.

But we’ll see.

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Les East

Les East

CCS/Times-Picayune

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…

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