In a night headlined by Drew Brees’ latest career achievement, the New Orleans Saints unleashed their offensive depth in order to blowout the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football.
The New Orleans Saints were facing a hungry Washington Redskins team that would’ve maintained separation in the NFC East with a win. Instead of giving the Redskins a chance to succeed, the Saints ambushed their visitors en route to a blowout home victory.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees was the big story of the night as he eclipsed Peyton Manning’s career passing yard record of 71,940 yards. The 39-year-old quarterback completed a 62-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Tre’Quan Smith in the second quarter to break the record.
The accomplishment was an amazing sight. For the Saints, what cannot be overlooked is how involved the team’s depth was in the big victory.
The team invested heavily into defensive upgrades with their draft-night trade up for Marcus Davenport and acquisition of slot cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Davenport trade has been a positive thus far despite the heavy cost, while Robinson is unfortunately on injured reserve.
But not to be overlooked, the Saints did what they’ve infrequently done during the Brees-era: reinvest into the offense.
We know about Alvin Kamara’s immense impact on the offense, and how Michael Thomas has cemented himself as a top-five receiver. Beyond them, the offense lacked depth. And while Brees is still fantastic, he has aged and the offense hasn’t been the vertical treat that it once was.
That means that more explosive talent was needed. It came via the draft, free agency, and internal development, and it culminated in their 43-point performance.
An under-the-radar signing during restricted free-agency was their two-year deal with receiver Cameron Meredith, formerly of the Chicago Bears. The Bears surprisingly declined to match the $9.5 million deal despite lacking depth themselves and having plenty of cap.
He’d been battling a knee injury this season and had just 43 yards entering the game, but broke out with five catches for 71 yards. Meredith is a big-bodied receiver with plus route-running ability that allows him to gain separation. At his best he’s a capable second receiver in any offense.
His 46-yard gain was a by-product of zone coverage against the popular four verts offensive playcall. Two drives later, Brees targeted him three consecutive times for 18 yards.
Expect his role to continue growing throughout the season. Meredith is a jump-ball threat on the outside, but also a capable slot receiver. He can be Brees’ next Marques Colston-esque presence.
The Saints must lean on the veteran more as his health improves, otherwise Michael Thomas will end up with 200 receptions, and that’s not sustainable regardless of how great he is.
The other important receiver added was UCF’s Tre’Quan Smith. The 91st overall pick had a breakout night to remember, and not only because he caught the 62-yard touchdown pass that catapulted Brees past Manning.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith was didn’t receive much draft hype despite an incredible physical profile and 2017 season at UCF. He dominated in Scott Frost’s offense because of his ability to win multiple ways. He has the size and deep speed needed to go over-the-top, but also can take an underneath route for large chunk plays because he’s a fluid open-field runner.
He’d been invisible until Monday night, with four targets totaling one catch for 18 yards. His name won’t be forgotten any time soon after catching all three targets for 111 yards and two touchdowns, though.
Lined up against rookie corner Greg Stroman, Smith showed his ability to stack a cornerback and create a big passing window for his quarterback. His 35-yard touchdown was more reflective of his natural gifts and mismatch potential.
Neither player will see a high amount of volume every week. When Ted Ginn Jr. gets back from injury, he’s going to play at least some of the snaps these two split. He deserves that. But there’s still a role for each of them, and this is unbridled depth that the team has lacked for years.
Of course, the shocking implementation of Taysom Hill must also be mentioned.
Hill is a legitimately great athlete, comparing to a plethora of current and former NFL running backs. His time at BYU was extremely successful due to his athleticism and playmaking, and the Saints utilize him on special teams and as a wildcat sub-package despite having Brees.
As crazy as it seems to take Brees out from under center, incorporating Hill has added a useful dynamic in short-yardage situations. Hill’s running ability and experience in zone-reads has led to 67 yards on seven carries and three first downs, good for a 9.6-yard average.
The 28-year-old deserves credit for making himself available for special teams, and the Saints certainly have done well to utilize a unique talent despite having an all-time quarterback. And Brees also needs recognition for putting his ego aside for the team to attempt a new strategy for success.
Now 4-1 with a one-game lead on the Carolina Panthers, the Saints are right where they need to be to get back into the playoffs. Two of their bigger competitors for the Super Bowl, the Vikings and Eagles, have struggled thus far to look as good as them.
With 11 games left, the Saints are in great position. They’re deep on offense, and the defense has solidified the last two weeks. They’re a Super Bowl contender as-is, and this depth that was built up this past off-season has this offense fresh and as dynamic as ever.