Brian Allee-Walsh

Woeful start prevents New Orleans Saints from earning ‘A’ on midterm report card

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans on Sunday.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in New Orleans on Sunday. AP

My mid-term grade is B+ and trending upward.

I wanted to get that out of the way as soon as possible and move on to more important things when it comes to the hot-to-trot NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints, winners of six straight and counting going into Sunday’s game at Buffalo (5-3).

Item 1: Outside of quarterback Drew Brees, the one player the Saints can ill-afford to lose going forward is rookie running back Alvin “AK 41” Kamara, who has accounted for 652 yards from scrimmage and team-high five touchdowns. Kamara already has justified the decision by Saints officials to give second- and seventh-round picks in 2018 to San Francisco and move up to get him in the third round at No. 67.

He’s a “Joker” gone wild, referring to the dual role of running back/pass catcher previously played by Reggie Bush and most recently by Darren Sproles in coach Sean Payton’s multifaceted offense.

No, Kamara is not the second coming of Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk of New Orleans, though Payton sees a strong resemblance between the two.

And to think, it was Kamara who made future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson expendable in New Orleans, not Mark Ingram.

Item 2: More kudos for Saints GM Mickey Loomis and the Saints football operations. By luring middle linebacker A.J. Klein and wide receiver/return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. away from Carolina in free agency, the Saints not only bolstered their defense and offense but they also weakened a team inside their division.

Current Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly might be one concussion away from calling it a career and quarterback Cam Newton lacks a receiver who can stretch a defense.

Klein is the human equivalent of Gorilla Glue, a super bonding agent for the NFL’s most improved defense. And, Ginn has become the team’s most dependable deep threat and essentially replaced Willie Snead as the team’s No. 2 receiver, catching 28 passes for 480 yards (17.1 ypc) and three TDs.

Item 3: The sudden transformation by the Saints defensive unit under coordinator Dennis Allen from historically bad to inexplicably good is absolutely mind boggling.

As of today, the Saints’ defense ranks 15th league-wide in total yards (326. ypg) and T9 in scoring defense (19.4 ppg). By comparison, the Saints’ defense in 2009 ranked 25th in total yards (357.8 ypg) and 20th in scoring defense (21.3 ppg) en route to winning Super Bowl XLIV.

Now, I’m not suggesting the 6-2 Saints are Super Bowl bound, not after an incomplete sampling of eight games. But I’m not dismissing that possibly, either, not without further discussion.

But that’s a story for another day.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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