The New Orleans Saints had a big opportunity on Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals to beat a struggling NFC opponent and keep the team squarely in the thick of the NFC Wild Card and NFC South playoff races. Instead, Andy Dalton threw two pick-sixes to close out the second quarter, the Saints now find themselves at 2-5 and likely on the outside of the postseason race looking in. After that disastrous primetime Saints-Cardinals game, let’s look at some of the biggest Saints Week 7 takeaways.

3. The Saints need Michael Thomas back

The Michael Thomas injury drama just won’t go away, which is incredibly frustrating to Saints fans. There are real problems at quarterback (more on that below), but the pieces are there for the team to have a dangerous, explosive offense.

Alvin Kamara ran for over 4-yards per carry on Thursday night in a Saints-Cardinals game where the game script didn’t support running after the second quarter. And Chris Olave (seven catches, 106 yards) is a legitimate star wide receiver in this league.

Adding another star wideout to the Saints’ mix would put an immense amount of pressure on opposing defenses and could have made the difference in the Saints Week 7 game vs. the Cardinals.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but if Andy Dalton was targeting Thomas, maybe he doesn’t throw one of his interceptions. And if Thomas was in, maybe the Saints get the one more touchdown they needed to close the gap.

Thomas has now missed 30 games in three seasons after his Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2019. Maybe he’ll miraculously get back to full health soon, but if he doesn’t, the Saints are an average offense at best.

2. More Rashid Shaheed, please

The true bright spot for New Orleans on Thursday and the most positive Saints Week 7 takeaway is that Rashid Shaheed is a player!

The undrafted rookie from Weber State now has one rush for a 44-yard touchdown and one catch for a 53-yard touchdown. He may not be the second coming of Randy Moss, but he is obviously an explosive player capable of making impact plays at the NFL level.

The problem is, he’s played just 13% and 14% of offensive snaps in his first two games and only has those two touches.

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To give Dennis Allen and Pete Carmichael the benefit of the doubt, surely they didn’t imagine Shaheed would take it to the house from the opponents’ side of the field on his first two NFL offensive touches. However, now they know this, and they better adjust accordingly.

With Michael Thomas out for an unknown amount of time, the next Saints game plan better have at least a half-dozen planned touches for Shaheed in it. His skills are critical for any team but for the Saints, with the shaky quarterback play, a player who can score at a moment’s notice is even more valuable.

Don’t be surprised if you start to see #FreeRashidShaeed (or #FeedRashidShaheed) trending on Twitter in the coming days.

1. Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston are the same guy

A common narrative heading into the Saints Week 7 matchup with the Cardinals was that all the Saints needed was a game manager like Andy Dalton (instead of a gun-slinger like Jameis Winston), and the team would be much better off.

And maybe part of that is true. Maybe a high-end game manager would make the Saints a much better team. However, the truth in 2022 is Dalton is no longer that guy.

Since Winston went out with a 1-2 record, Dalton has led the Saints to a 1-3 record. The QBs’ numbers are incredibly similar, with Winston having more yards per game and Dalton having three more touchdowns and one less interception in four games as opposed to three for Winston.

The biggest problem here is that Dalton is not better or worse than his counterpart. At this point in their careers, they are basically the same guy. Dalton’s back-to-back pick-sixes were the difference in the game on Thursday night vs. the Cardinals and all Saints fans know how that goes with Winston as well.

The fact that the Saints’ two QBs are a combined 2-5 is a massive problem for the future.

There is a lot of parity with the NFC right now, and no one is running away with the conference or the division, so the Saints could still make a late playoff push if Dalton or Winston can get it together. But tanking this season is not a good option.

The undefeated Philadelphia Eagles own the Saints’ 2023 first-round pick after a pre-draft trade last season. That means that if the Saints do miss the playoffs, they will have to sit out the quarterback-rich first round of next year’s draft, making the Winston/Dalton saga, not just bad but a full-blown disaster.