Here we are again, feels like déjà vu because it is and it’s happened again. Elephant meet room and let’s start with the obvious. The refs in the Rams/Saints match-up missed another big call that affected the Saints when blowing a play dead which Cam Jordan returned for a Touchdown. Initially called an incomplete pass the referees failed to let the game continue and whistled to stop as Jordan was running 87 yards for the score, barely a Rams player in 20 yards of him (couple of big O-line guys but were already beaten for speed), blockers in all directions, letting it play out wouldn’t have affected the outcome, it was always a touchdown. On review it was overturned to a fumble confirming the wrong decision by the officials. The Saints getting the ball back deep in their own territory was little consolation.
As Saints fans we don’t want to talk about refs, we don’t want to talk about blown calls, we want to talk about the great hit on the arm/ball by Trey Hendrickson, the pressure and subsequent hit by David Onyemata and the pick-up, run and return by Cam. No doubt the media will talk about the refs though, I don’t want to dwell on it, there were a huge number of other talking points in this one, including one of the biggest injuries in, let’s not be subtle, Saints history. Let’s dive in.
Drew Brees is injured. 4 words which fill all Saints fans hearts with pain, stomachs with sickness and eyes with tears. Brees got hit on the hand/thumb by Aaron Donald early in the first quarter and never returned to the game. Credited with an interception after Jared Cook got hit hard by Eric Weddle (harsh on Brees for me but thems the rules) the O-line collapsed around him multiple times which set up the hit and the bench. Standing on the side-line hand wrapped up, Brees looking furious, absolutely seething, he knew, we all knew, this doesn’t look good.
Teddy Bridgewater took his place under center. A former starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, Teddy isn’t a rookie. In 2015 he played a full season gaining over 3,000 yards and has previously made a pro-bowl. Given plenty of snaps during the preseason he should have been ready to step up to his role but this is the regular season NFL. Honestly, he didn’t look anything like that guy from the Vikings. He wasn’t awful, dropped catches didn’t help his cause but it was the time taken to make decisions which cost him. Spending too long looking for open receivers, pocket collapsing around him, not rushing for a simple 1st down on one occasion he was rusty at best. 17/30 for 165 yards doesn’t scream starting QB especially for a playoff tipped Saints team. However, it wasn’t all on him.
The Saints won’t play the Rams Defence every week, they dominated the Saints offensive line from start to finish, Aaron Donald tormenter in chief, blitz after blitz, TB under duress almost every play, coverage was good, no holes there. Asking a guy who hasn’t played a regular season game with this offense, against this defense, on the road, it’s asking a lot. I still think there were some flashes of brilliance, absolute dimes to Michael Thomas and Jared Cook on different drives are glimmers of what we may have. Time for Teddy to get to work, learn this offense, practice and get everyone’s support behind him, Brees experience from the side-line can help too. Believe in Bridgewater. Or you know, try Taysom Hill if it all goes tit’s up again. The strength of schedule of the next few games really doesn’t help though.
The run game for the Saints was almost non-existent too. Just 57 yards on the ground off 20 attempts with a solid Rams run defense stopping it before it got rolling, these are not good signs, it took a while to establish the run last week at the Texans too. With Brees out it’s even more imperative to pound the ground and get something going. Latavius Murray only had 7 yards off 5 attempts. Alvin Kamara couldn’t even do what he does with 45 yards off 13 carries. Improvement needed.
Amongst all this Michael Thomas still managed 89 yards through the air, a Bridgewater-Thomas combination could be productive. Physical catching and running plays were Thomas’ biggest pluses but he did drop a couple too.
When looking for a standout 2nd WR as the Saints are, someone needs to step up. Tre’Quan Smith looked like the guy we drafted last year on a couple of nice catches and runs. He gave Saints fans some hope with a 28 yard catch and run beating multiple defenders in the process. Guess what, he got injured too, on that exact play, bad luck doesn’t cut it. Ted Ginn Jr. didn’t appear on the stats sheet.
As mentioned earlier, the O-line got blown up on multiple occasions. An injury to Andrus Peat to compound issues, the team couldn’t hold the pass rush down and couldn’t help establish the run. Like I said, they won’t play this defense every week but again improvements needed.
For one half, they excelled, a giant 57 yard play to Brandin Cooks aside, keeping the Saints within touching distance of the Rams. The RedZone defense held the rams to 0-3 on their first 3 drives, coming away with 2 FGs and that non-call. 3 sacks on the day, one each for Cam Jordan, Trey Hendrickson and Marcus Davenport.
The Rams couldn’t get much going in the first half with Gurley being held to scraps, the second half something changed, Goff found a groove and Copper Kupp made some plays. 120 yards in the air for Kupp with a 66 yard long one which led to a TD from a yard away.
A few more questionable calls from the refs, Eli Apple being called for illegal contact where he got run in to and missed illegal block in the back on PJ Williams for that Kupp catch and run. On offense an obvious pull back on Zach Line missed, plus the most obvious, maybe more so than the fumble, Deonte Harris having his helmet literally pulled off by a Rams defender, I mean, come on, his helmet was taken off but hey not focusing on the refs.
The secondary got burned a lot, one of Marshon Lattimore’s worst games for the Saints. Cooks beat him for pace on the 57 yarder, wasn’t a good look. He was beaten again by Cooks for the Rams 2nd TD but honestly was just a good ball thrown by Goff. Kupp beat Lattimore downnnn on that big 66 yarder too, on to forget for the Saints #23.
Lots of missed tackles too for Apple and Williams squared failing to hang on to Kupp and Woods at multiple times. Marcus of the two Williams was also very lightweight in multiple tackles. Actually thought Vonn Bell had a decent game again with a last ditch tackle to stop a TD at the end of the 1st however he did miss Kupp on a few occasions as did everybody.
The line backers looked okay, Demario Davis with a nice early pressure and hit and getting 5 total tackles, AJ Klein matched this number but also got injured to add another worry to the list, fortunately he did return to the game.
Wil Lutz is money, making all 3 of his long field goals (34, 52 and 42) his leg will have some work in the next few weeks. Thomas Morstead also had a busy day with 5 punts, 3 going in the 20 which helped push the Rams back, again more work coming to him. One nice return from Deonte Harris of 19 yards set the Saints into a good field position which they wasted, this guy will get a score soon and it will be needed.
Overall the better team did win for their 2nd half performance but the momentum, along with a 10-3 lead could and should have been with the Saints following that blown call. I’m not saying the Saints would have won but it would have been closer. Never underestimate the power of momentum in this game.
Time to reassess, plan and more importantly rest up before another tough road game against an unbeaten team. More will be known about Brees and the other injuries during the week, although he is expected to miss game time.
It is what it is, can’t dwell on the past and have to move forward. 2 extremely tough weeks to come but after that it does let up a bit (on paper anyway). With only 1 divisional match-up (Bucs at home week 5) to come between now and the Falcons on November 10th (Week 10) it isn’t over. The rest of the NFC South doesn’t look strong. The bye week looks at a crucial time. The Saints can and will be in contention come that week 10 game and who knows, #9 could be back under center again. Keep the faith, don’t get on the players backs and believe in the black and gold.
Until a hopefully more positive next time.