SEATTLE – Sorry if you were hoping to form a definitive opinion on quarterback Jameis Winston and the 2021 version of the New Orleans Saints by now.
But somehow, his 3-2 start before the Week 6 break felt more like a typical preseason.
The Saints have been missing eight major starters for most of the season, many of whom could be back in the lineup Monday night for the Seattle Seahawks (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
And the offense has been pretty normal, for various reasons, with New Orleans last in the NFL in passing attempts (24.0 per game).
Part of that is because coach Sean Payton has relied on well-known products like running back Alvin Kamara and a stellar defense to break through a difficult stretch, rather than Winston and a depleted pass attack that has been without injured receivers. Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith. .
And part of that is just an unusual sample size of games that were lopsided in both directions. The Saints didn’t need to throw the ball much to win convincing victories over the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, and they barely managed to get a pass in a landslide loss to the Carolina Panthers.
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“The main thing is to focus on finding a way to win,” said Winston, who has made the most of his role as a supporting cast member with 12 touchdown passes and three interceptions for an overall passer rating of 108.1, fifth in the NFL. . entering week 7.
“The stats and the big plays will come as we get healthier and have more of an identity with this offense. I know I can throw for 500 yards and eight touchdowns, but I want to put that W in the win column. We have been fortunate to have more wins than losses so far and we have to keep it that way.
“The coach tells me that the numbers will come and all those good things will come with it.”
Even former Saints quarterback Drew Brees isn’t quite sure what he’s seeing from a Saints offense that has done some things extremely well (No. 1 in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage , the top 10 in third-down conversions and rushing yards per game entering this week) while falling short in other areas (31st in passing yards per game, 30th in first downs per game, 29th in completion percentage).
Winston has shown his big arm with four throws over 49 yards this season, tied for the most QBs in the league entering this week. However, the Saints’ offense overall ranked last with a total of 10 plays that gained more than 20 yards.
“I don’t see just the pace, the tempo, the passing game that complements the running game,” said Brees, now an NBC analyst, after calling the Saints’ 33-22 win in Washington in Week 5 “a little sloppy. . “
“You get some of these welcome plays. Then you get some of these well-designed third-down plays at the right time. But on top of that, just the first and second tries, moving the ball, possessing the ball, I haven’t seen that rhythm here in the last few weeks. “
We may not know much more about the New Orleans offense on Monday, as the forecast calls for rainy, windy and cold weather in Seattle. But we’ll see this team closer to full strength, with Smith, left tackle Terron Armstead, center Erik McCoy, defensive end Marcus Davenport and linebacker Kwon Alexander all potentially back in the lineup.
Defensive tackle David Onyemata will return from suspension in Week 8. Kicker Wil Lutz should be back shortly after returning to practice last week. And finally, the passing game should win back its most crucial piece: Thomas, who underwent ankle surgery in June. He did not return to practice last week, his first eligible to get off the list of physically unable to perform.
“Man we got a ton [of untapped potential]”Kamara said. “We have played some good games on offense, but we still haven’t played our best game. I know we always say that but I know what [our best] It seems. And I know Sean knows what he wants it to look like. And a lot of these guys know what it looks like. “
Kamara’s use has been one of the biggest curiosities among the Saints and fans of fantasy, as he is on track for 125 more carries and 30 fewer receptions than ever in his career. However, those numbers started to normalize a bit in week 5 (16 quick attempts, eight catch targets). And they should continue to do so once the receivers recover and take some of the attention off the defense and injured backup Tony Jones Jr. returns to share some of the workload.
However, when it comes to scrutiny from fans and analysts, Kamara has nothing on Winston. You don’t have to scroll long on social media to find hot shots declaring that the Saints are holding Winston or that Winston is holding Saints.
The truth is that it is too early to make declarative statements. Winston has done a very good job thus far avoiding the turnovers that plagued him during his first five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But it’s true that you need to find that rhythm that Brees described.
Winston said the number one thing he wanted to improve after exploring himself during the bye week was throwing “soft” and accurate balls in the bottom game to give receivers a chance for more yards after the catch. Payton said that will be key in Seattle, especially since the Seahawks are good at limiting explosive plays.
Payton doesn’t like the fact that his team ranks last in the NFL on plays of more than 20 yards. But he said the most important thing is to find the right formula to win.
“The good news is, I don’t have to take my report card home to my mom right now,” Payton said. “We have a lot of football left.”