Not many people, unless you happen to pick the Saints to win every week, thought at the midway point of the 2018 season the team would be 7-1 overall.
Especially when you looked at the gauntlet the Saints have faced recently in the Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams.
Plus the Ravens and Vikings games were on the road.
The Saints offense has been potent as expected, but what has surprised virtually everyone is how well the Saints defense has played versus the run.
The Saints have not given up 100 yards to a rusher since Samaje Perine did it for the Washington Redskins on Nov. 19, 2017.
Former Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian said he was really impressed with the Saints following their 45-35 win over the Rams.
"They are very impressive offensively," said the NFL Hall of Fame general manager. "Drew Brees is outstanding and I don’t know what else I could say that hasn’t been said about him. His mental horsepower on where to go with the football and his quick release is something special to watch. He has two star players in wide receiver Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara as a runner and receiver also. (Mark) Ingram is also a very good player and then you throw in the utility guy in Taysom Hill and you have a lot on your plate as a defensive coach facing them. Also their offensive line is outstanding and one of the best in the league. The tackles in (Terron) Armstead and the Wisconsin kid (Ryan) Ramczyk stop you in your tracks as a pass rusher and they are excellent in the run game. Larry Warford is one of the best guards in the game and the center (Max) Unger is also very good. Healthy, the big guy Andrus Peat is a force inside at guard. So Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis have invested heavily in that area and it has paid off handsomely. From a broadcast standpoint they are fun to watch and Sean Payton is masterful to run this offense."
Polian, who was in New Orleans to do the game for ESPN Radio, said he was also impressed with the Saints special teams and front seven on defense.
"One thing the Saints have is a terrific kicker in Wil Lutz and an outstanding punter (Thomas Morstead) and that phase of the game is so important. Defensively they have some holes in the secondary, but who doesn’t today. There are no elite defenses in the league for various reasons, but they get pressure upfront with Cam Jordan, Sheldon Rankins and hopefully when he gets healthy with the rookie defensive end (Marcus Davenport). The linebacking unit is solid. They are around the ball and they are good tacklers. Demario Davis is a really good player in this league and the kid from Florida (Alex Anzalone) made a couple of big plays today versus the Rams. The key for them is red-zone defense. You don’t want your offense to have to score 35 points a game to win every game. That needs to improve and that’s for a whole lot of teams in this league. They are something to watch. This is a good football team."
Polian also said he likes the aggressive style of Sean Payton and how he goes out and gets players who can help him win today.
"Sean Payton isn’t afraid to do something out of the box offensively and it shows. And he gets the ball in the hands of the playmakers," Polian said. "That’s not rocket science. But he does it and doesn’t turn back. I like what he has done to go out and get players like an Eli Apple or a Teddy Bridgewater or to trade up for a pass rusher in Round One like Marcus Davenport. I used to love to have draft choices on draft day too, but the only championship you play for is the one you play for now. The biggest thing Sean is fighting today as a coach is complacency for his team. You have to keep the fires burning for players."
SABAN IS THE VERY BEST
Alabama coach Nick Saban is arguably the greatest college head football coach ever.
He took a middle of the road LSU program and brought it a national title and put the program at an elite level.
After a short stint in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, he took over the Alabama program and built the greatest dynasty in the modern age of college football.
This is nothing against Paul "Bear" Bryant, Woody Hayes, John McKay, Bud Wilkinson and Knute Rockne, but they didn’t have to play with strict scholarship limits, players leaving early to the NFL after their junior seasons and a commuter world of assistant coaches constantly leaving for more money and better jobs.
Entering the Mississippi State game this weekend Saban is 136-20 overall at Alabama and he has won five national championships with the Crimson Tide.
One statistic that sticks out more than any is that Saban has produced 26 first-round NFL picks and only had 20 losses at Alabama.
It is staggering the impact Saban has had on college football.
KEEPING AN EYE ON ‘DEEBO’
One college player the Saints have spent a lot of time scouting this season has been South Carolina wide receiver/return specialist Tyshun "Deebo" Samuel.
Samuel, at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, has emerged as a big-time receiving/return threat in the SEC.
Entering the Florida game, Samuel has caught 39 passes for 407 yards and five scores this season and averages 26.7 yards per kickoff return and returned one for a touchdown.
Samuel was putting up strong numbers for the Gamecocks in 2017 before he sustained a broken leg. In three games in 2017 Samuel caught 15 passes for 250 yards and three scores and returned two kickoffs for 194 yards and returned both for scores.
During his career at South Carolina Samuel has caught 125 passes for 1,601 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. He also brought four kickoffs returns back for scores. While he has not returned a lot of punts during his college career, coaches say he is very good at catching and running back punts also.
Samuel is a big target at receiver with return skills and that certainly has caught the attention of Saints scouts.
Samuel is projected as a second-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
NFL and college football analyst Mike Detillier is based in Raceland.