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3 things we learned about the Saints

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PHILADELPHIA — Last season, Fletcher Cox didn’t get a lot of sacks, but he did earn a lot of respect. This season, Cox is getting the sacks and even more respect as one of the best defensive ends in the NFL.

Cox had three sacks — two of which resulted in fumbles that led to two scores — as the Philadelphia Eagles ran away from the New Orleans Saints 39-17 on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Last season, Cox finished the season with four sacks, and he has that many already after just five games.

Cox’s first sack, in the second quarter, forced a fumble from Saints quarterback Drew Brees and gave the Eagles (2-3) possession on the Saints’ 46, and that led to a field goal and a 10-7 Eagles lead at halftime.

Cox did it again in the third quarter after the Eagles took a 17-10 lead. This time he knocked the ball out of Brees’ hands and recovered it himself, and that set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Bradford to tight end Brent Celek to give the Eagles a 23-10 lead with 6:31 left in the third quarter.

Bradford completed 32 of 45 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns, while running back DeMarco Murray has his best game as an Eagle. The former Dallas Cowboy rushed for 83 yards on 20 carries after rushing for just 47 yards in his previous three games.

“By no means are where we want to be as a team,” Bradford said, “but this was a step in the right direction.”

For New Orleans (1-4), it was another step in the wrong direction, and even though Brees completed 26 of 43 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns, he was also sacked five times and intercepted once.

“We played pretty well in the first half and made the plays we needed to make,” Saints defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “But we made too many mistakes in the second half and they did what a good team is supposed to do when you make mistakes — they took advantage of them.”

What we learned about the Saints:

–1. The Saints played without two injured starters on the offensive line — Jahri Evans and Terron Armstead — and their lack of depth hurt them on Sunday. Even though the Saints addressed their offensive-line needs in the offseason, trading for center Max Unger and drafting tackle Andrus Peat in the first round, they don’t have enough big bodies up front. That’s a major reason they are now a second-tier team.

–2. The Saints can still move the football and score points, and at times they play good defense. Their problem is that they haven’t been able to do both for 60 minutes, and Sunday’s game against the Eagles was no different. Said coach Sean Payton: “In the first half, we couldn’t stay on the field (offensively). And in the second half, we couldn’t get off the field (defensively).”

–3. New Orleans was an elite team in the NFL for many years, and the Saints even won a Super Bowl. But those days are gone, if Sunday’s game is any indication. Their once-potent offense sputters on a regular basis now, even with the great Drew Brees at quarterback, and their defense is awful. The Saints are 1-4 on merit and now they have to make a quick turnaround and play the undefeated Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. It appears the Saints are marching to last place in NFC South, a division they used to dominate.

Etc.:

–TE Jimmy Graham, who was traded to Seattle in the offseason for center Max Unger, is noticeable by his absence in New Orleans. One reason QB Drew Brees was under so much pressure on Sunday was that he had no go-to guy, which was Graham’s role in the past. Last season, Graham caught 85 passes for 889 yards and 10 TDs. His replacement, Benjamin Watson, caught three passes for 36 yards and a TD on Sunday, and he’s on pace to finish the season with 48 catches for 444 yards and three TDs.

–QB Drew Brees had a rough game. He was sacked five times and intercepted once, and the Saints’ high-powered offense scored just 17 points, including a meaningless TD on the final play of the game that made it seem closer than it was. But Brees did his job, especially on third down, where the Saints converted eight of 16 chances. And they weren’t all easy ones, as Brees converted long chances with completions of 21, 21, 22 and 46 yards.

–CB Brandon Browner had what started as a good game turn ugly. He intercepted a Sam Bradford pass in the end zone to thwart an Eagles’ scoring opportunity in the first quarter, but then got flagged for a couple of costly penalties, including a holding call that nullified a sack and led to another Eagles TD. That was Browner’s ninth penalty of the season, the most in the NFL. After the game, Browner refused to talk to the media and even got into an unpleasant exchange with a New Orleans-area reporter.


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