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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Dylan Sanders

8 takeaways from Saints’ 38-27 win over the Colts

Our eight biggest takeaways from the New Orleans Saints’ 38-27 win over Indianapolis Colts center on their offensive scoring output, but there’s a lot to say about this team at the season’s midpoint. Here are our notes and observations after Week 8’s victory:

Rashid Shaheed has earned Derek Carr's trust

Shaheed was targeted three times on Sunday, twice by Carr — but the third target, thrown by Taysom Hill, goes to show why the quarterbacks have so much faith in the second-year pro. Shaheed fought to retain possession on a contested catch that overturned what was initially ruled an interception by the Colts defensive back. On the whole, his three catches gained 153 yards (including a crucial touchdown reception). Shaheed communicates well with his quarterbacks, moves downfield in a hurry, and comes through when they send the ball his way. This game was just the latest example.

But Chris Olave is still a work in progress

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

But we can’t say the same about Carr’s relationship with Olave. The former first-round pick was targeted nine times on Sunday, but he finished the afternoon with just five receptions for 46 yards — including a bizarre pass that bounced off of Olave’s helmet for what would have been a walk-in touchdown catch. To his credit, Carr went right back to Olave on the next play, but he overthrew the pass and it sailed over Olave’s head for an incompletion. Neither player is on the same page, and Olave’s stats speak for themselves: he’s been targeted 45 times over the last five games but he’s caught just 22 of those passes. He and Carr have got to get out of this funk.

Pass protection is continuing to improve

Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Carr has only been sacked twice in the last two games since Trevor Penning was taken out of the starting lineup; he was sacked 17 times in the six games that preceded that decision. Now, benching Penning alone didn’t solve that problem, but it’s telling that less pressure is getting to Carr now that the blockers have been shaken up. Andrus Peat has been surprisingly effective at left tackle given his struggles at that spot in the past. Not having to send as much help his way might be helping the rest of the line focus on their individual assignments.

Taysom Hill remains a real threat in the run game

Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Hill had his most rushing attempts in a game (nine carries for 63 yards) since Week 2 (when he ran nine times for 75 yards), and it’s obvious that aspect of his skill set should be called on more often. The Saints lack another big-play threat in the backfield — as shown by Hill’s 20-yard touchdown run being their longest rushing attempt of the season.

“Taysom is like the equivalent to the tush push. You know what’s coming and you can’t stop it,” Alvin Kamara grinned in his postgame press conference. “That’s what Taysom does. He gets in there, he don’t complain, if it’s a hard run he’s going. If it’s an easy one he’s going. It’s good to have that in our Rolodex and get that off when we need to.”

The Saints are better built to win on the road than at home

Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Saints are 3-2 as visitors this season with a home record of just 1-2, which is odd. But look at how this team is built to compete, with a stifling pass defense and a run-first offense that looks to lean on opponents. They want to go into hostile environments and quiet the crowd by winning the battle for time of possession. They can go hurry-up and drop back to pass early and often, but that isn’t something they’re very effective at just yet — Carr is still working on his chemistry with Olave and Michael Thomas, with whom he misplaced a couple of passes on would-be easy completions. He also hasn’t developed a connection with pass-catching tight end Juwan Johnson. Until Carr is playing at a high level and throwing with consistent accuracy, he won’t benefit from the fast track at the Caesars Superdome like his opponents.

Penalties are still a major concern for this team

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Saints went into this game as the league’s most-penalized team, and that’s not going to change after they were fouled eight times for 73 yards (giving up three first downs by penalty to the Colts). And the issues are impacting every phase of the game.

They were penalized four times on offense for false starts on tight end Juwan Johnson, left guard Max Garcia, left tackle Andrus Peat, and center Erik McCoy.

The defense was flagged four times, too, twice for defensive pass interreference against cornerback Marshon Lattimore (who also drew a holding foul) and a face mask infraction on defensive end Carl Granderson.

But the day’s first penalty came on special teams against rookie defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, who lined up over the center on a Colts field goal try. That’s the second time he’s drawn a flag for an illegal formation foul this season. The coaches must work with him on that recurring problem or put someone else out there.

The Saints run defense is vulnerable

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The offense was able to turn up the heat and end drives with touchdowns, forcing the Colts to throw more often than they wanted, but Indianapolis had room to run when that was the play call. They ran for 164 rushing yards as a team (on just 24 attempts) led by 95 yards from Jonathan Taylor and 66 yards from his tag-team partner Zack Moss; they both had gains of 40-plus yards at times during the game. While the Saints did a good job tackling in space out in the flats, they were gashed up the middle on each of those long gains. The improvement seen from the Saints run defense early this season may have been a mirage due to a soft schedule with few effective rushing teams.

This team has a backbone after all

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This Saints team has some fight in them. They were trailing 17-7 four minutes into the second quarter, and we’ve seen them fold under that pressure before. At least with Dennis Allen as head coach. The Saints were 1-8 in games dating back to last season when trailing by 10 or more points in the second quarter. On Sunday, the Saints responded with an eight-play scoring drive that traveled 75 yards and ended with a 20-yard touchdown run from Taysom Hill to cut the lead to a field goal.

The defense forced a quick three-and-out, forcing a Colts holding penalty, and Rashid Shaheed returned the ball to a favorable spot (New Orleans’ own 37-yard line) on the ensuing punt. That set them up for a bold call to rip a 58-yard touchdown pass Shaheed’s way, which gave the Saints a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the afternoon. You’d like to see them jump out ahead sooner, but we saw a resiliency from the Saints on Sunday that they haven’t shown often enough. Maybe that’s the start of a positive turn.

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