NFL

Saints' position among offensive elite under threat without Michael Thomas

By Sports Desk July 23, 2021

The New Orleans Saints have long since enjoyed the benefit of continuity on offense in Sean Payton era, but in 2021 they will have to contend with some significant changes.

For the first time since the 2005 campaign, the Saints will begin a season with a quarterback not named Drew Brees as their starter.

Brees' retirement was regarded by some as overdue but, if his decision to ride off into the sunset was not viewed as a damaging one for New Orleans, the loss of the receiver with whom he had built a devastating rapport certainly is a significant blow.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported on Friday that Michael Thomas is expected to miss the start of the season having undergone ankle ligament surgery in June.

Thomas was limited to just seven games last year because of persistent ankle injuries and the procedure to fix those problems will, at least in the opening weeks, rob the Saints' 2021 starting quarterback of a two-time first-team All-Pro who has blossomed from 2016 second-round pick into one of the most dependable wideouts in the NFL.

Renowned for his route-running and his proficiency in making contested catches, Thomas produced at a historic level in 2019.

He broke the single-season receptions record with 149, racking up a career-high 1,725 receiving yards at an average of 107.8 per game.

Per Stats Perform data, Thomas registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted regardless of whether the ball is catchable, on 76.1 per cent of his 184 targets.

That was the fourth-highest rate among wide receivers in the NFL. Only one player who finished above him, Corey Davis (69), had even 50 targets.

Thomas was tied for the second-most burn yards per route, trailing only Stefon Diggs (3.9) with an average of 3.6.

He got open on 83.2 per cent of his targets, though he did so with an average depth of target of 8.1 yards, illustrating the Saints' dependence on shorter passes in the latter stages of Brees' career.

Thomas will now miss out on the chance to quickly develop an even better understanding with the two quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, vying to be Brees' successor.

The frustration of that for the Saints will be two-fold. Winston's aggressiveness -- he was second in the NFL in air yards per attempt (10.7) in his last season as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019 -- could unlock Thomas' potential as a downfield receiver to a greater extent than Brees did.

Meanwhile, Thomas' dependability would be a significant aid to an interception-prone quarterback or to a passer in Hill whose only four pro starts came last season.

Instead of enjoying those possible benefits, with Thomas on the sideline, Payton and the Saints have the imposing challenge of maintaining their offensive consistency without a Hall of Fame quarterback and without their All-Pro wide receiver.

The Saints are used to life among the NFL's offensive elite, but with the two most important parts of the equation on that side of the ball out of the picture, at least for the start of 2021, they face being removed from the top table.

Related items

  • Cy Young winner Ray ready to bring World Series to Mariners Cy Young winner Ray ready to bring World Series to Mariners

    Seattle Mariners recruit Robbie Ray said he is ready to bring a World Series to the franchise following his unveiling on Wednesday.

    After capping a career year with the American League (AL) Cy Young Award, Ray opted to leave the Toronto Blue Jays for the Mariners in free agency.

    Ray signed a five-year, $115million contract in Seattle, where the 2017 All-Star will headline their rotation after his breakout year in Toronto.

    "This team, the city is hungry for a World Series," Ray said during his introductory news conference midweek – the Mariners have never won the World Series or an AL pennant.

    "To be a part of it and bring it back right here, I just wanted to be here."

    Ray enjoyed a stellar campaign for the Blue Jays, who narrowly missed out on the MLB playoffs despite a 91-win season.

    The 30-year-old boasted a 2.84 ERA – the best among qualifiers in the AL, having come off a 6.62 ERA last year.

    Ray – acquired by the Blue Jays in 2020 – led the AL in ERA-plus (154) and WHIP (1.045), while striking out an MLB-best 248 batters in 32 starts.

    "It just seemed like a really good fit and we were ready to move forward," Ray said of joining the Mariners. "I mean, it happened really quickly, but we're glad that it did."

    "I've always had the mindset of going out and attacking. But it didn't necessarily match up with the delivery," Ray said. "This year, I feel like I really nailed that down and I feel really good about the consistency of the delivery. That consistency, matched with that mindset, I feel like is what allowed me to succeed this year."

    Seattle's president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto added: "I think that's one of the main attractions for us is we want to be the team where, when other teams are coming to Seattle to play us, they look at the three pitchers or the four pitchers that are lined up for that series and they say, 'Oh man'".

  • Mourinho suggests Roma's Zaniolo leaves Serie A Mourinho suggests Roma's Zaniolo leaves Serie A

    Roma head coach Jose Mourinho suggested for Nicolo Zaniolo to start thinking about a move away from Serie A as he vented his frustration with refereeing in Italy's top flight.

    Mourinho watched on as fifth-placed Roma suffered a 1-0 defeat at Bologna in Serie A action on Wednesday.

    Roma boss Mourinho was agitated post-match after star forward Tammy Abraham and full-back Rick Karsdorp were both ruled out of Saturday's clash against reigning champions Inter due to an accumulation of yellow cards.

    Zaniolo – who is yet to score in Serie A this term, though he has managed two goals in the Europa Conference League – was also booked for diving

    "I'll have to invent the line-up on Saturday," Mourinho told DAZN following the fixture as he turned his attention to 22-year-old Italian forward Zaniolo, who sat out the entire 2020-21 campaign due to another anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

    "Luckily, I replaced [Gianluca] Mancini. Otherwise, he may have been booked too.

    "I will finish with one observation. I want to say something that probably goes against my interests: if I were Nicolo Zaniolo, I would start thinking that perhaps playing in Serie A means things will be stacked against me."

    This was former Inter coach Mourinho's first defeat against Emilian teams in Serie A – the Portuguese before Wednesday's match had a record of four wins in as many games against Bologna.

    Roma have gained 25 points in their first 15 league matches. In the last 10 Serie A seasons, including the current campaign, only in 2018-19 have they claimed fewer points after 15 matches (21).

    "Credit to Sinisa [Mihajlovic] and Bologna, they played a great game. But credit to my players too. They gave it their all against everything and everyone," said Mourinho.

    "Injuries before the game, injuries during the game, 'hidden' injuries to players who played the full 90 minutes. Then there were a few incidents but my players kept fighting.

    "I am proud of these guys, I don't have negative feelings towards them."

  • Giannis' monster double-double and late layup lifts streaking Bucks, Doncic follows in Magic's footsteps Giannis' monster double-double and late layup lifts streaking Bucks, Doncic follows in Magic's footsteps

    Defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 127-125 thanks to superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in the NBA on Wednesday.

    Antetokounmpo's monster double-double and late driving layup with 2.0 seconds remaining lifted the in-form Bucks (14-8) to their eighth consecutive victory midweek.

    Milwaukee's Antetokounmpo had 40 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a near triple-double performance at home to the Hornets.

    The Bucks withstood LaMelo Ball, who posted 36 points, nine assists and five rebounds on the road for the Hornets (13-11).

     

    Doncic flexes his muscles

    Luka Doncic fuelled the Dallas Mavericks' 139-107 victory at the New Orleans Pelicans. He put up 28 points and 14 assists in just 27 minutes. According to Stats Perform, Doncic is the first player to reach those numbers while playing 27 minutes or less since Hall of Famer Magic Johnson in 1987.

    Jae'Sean Tate's career-high 32 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks helped the Houston Rockets rally past the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-110. The Rockets are the first team in NBA history with four straight wins immediately after a 15-game losing streak, per Stats Perform. As for Tate, he joined Hakeem Olajuwon as the only Rockets players to record 30-plus points, 10-plus rebounds, five-plus assists and five-plus blocks in a game.

     

    Embiid struggles as Philly's offensive woes continue

    In the absence of wantaway All-Star Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers continue to endure a topsy-turvy campaign following their 88-87 defeat to the Boston Celtics. MVP runner-up Joel Embiid had a double-double of 13 points and 18 rebounds, but he was just three-of-17 shooting. Tobias Harris was four-of-11 shooting – missing all four of his three-point attempts – for only eight points.

    Duncan Robinson had a game to forget as the shorthanded Miami Heat went down 111-85 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Robinson went scoreless in 20 minutes on 0-of-seven shooting from the floor, having failed to make any of his six efforts from beyond the arc.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.