The Saints absorbed quite the punch to the gut in Week 10 when they were defeated by the rival Atlanta Falcons by three scores at home. The Saints opened that game 11.5-point favorites with the spread climbing upwards of 13 by kickoff. Despite being heavily favored and at home, the Falcons were able to leave Poydras with their second win of the season and Saints fans wondering what the hell had happened.
The fact of that matter is that many things went wrong for the Saints. Penalties (not officiating) drew the attention of Coach Payton as did his self-proclaimed being “outcoached.”
Drawing conclusions on a loss like this is only helpful if done from the perspective of adjusting and improving, though. And that’s what we’re going to do today. As the Saints get set to match up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, it’s up to the coaching staff and player personnel to take the loss from Atlanta, learn from it, and apply it to improvements that must be made in order to secure their 8th win of the season on Sunday.
We’ll start with one of the more obvious ones. The Saints defense surrendered five first downs on penalties, three of which contributed to extending drives that ended in a score including one field goal and Austin Hooper’s touchdown. There was also a fourth-down roughing the punter penalty that extended another field goal drive. All of of these instances happened on plays that would have lead to the Saints getting the ball back.
The extension of drives via penalty did more than just affect the defense on those given drives. They also assisted the Falcons in their effective gameplan of wearing the Saints down. The Saints defense was on the field for 70 plays against Atlanta. They’d not seen the field more than 55 times in four of their last five games.
Discipline will be a big part of the gameplan this week, being sure not to give extra opportunities to a Tampa Bay offense that ranks 3rd in the NFL in scoring (28.9 points per game) and 5th in passing yardage (284.2). Given the potential that Marshon Lattimore will be out with the hamstring injury he suffered last week, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin could be a pair of nightmares for New Orleans in their home stadium. No sense in giving them more chance than they’re already afforded.
The Saints struggled mightily in early downs which put them in poor position on third down conversions. Their average to-go yardage on third was 8.08 yards. Meanwhile, in those same situations they could only gain 1.16 yards per attempt. They also surrendered a pair of sacks.
The unwelcome combination of giving up extended drives while failing to extend their own, help contribute wildly to New Orleans’ inefficiency. On the 12 third downs the Saints attempted, they only converted on 3. This is going to be a big emphasis for the Saints in practice throughout the week.
They can help themselves by not only diversifying their offensive approach on 3rd down, but also putting themselves in better situation on early downs while limiting mistakes that push them back. Two steps forward, ideally not a single step back.
Manage the Run
New Orleans ran a total of only 11 time against the Falcons with what was a clearly pass-heavy approach. Interestingly enough, the run was working. Alvin Kamara, who had just returned from his injuries, averaged 6.0 yards rushing on his four carries. If the intent was to lighten his load since he’d just returned, Latavius Murray’s five carries don’t make a lick of sense considering what we saw from him on 30+ touches both against the Bears and Cardinals before the bye week.
Ironically, the Saints could learn from the Falcons’ approach in last week’s matchup. Outside of the opening drive, in which Atlanta picked up 57 of their 143 rushing yards, Brian Hill and the gang picked up only 3.18 yards per carry.
Although Atlanta was struggling on the ground after their quick start, they kept with the run. If New Orleans can fulfill their own commitment to the run, as they have in wins previously this season, it should set them up to be able to execute in a much cleaner fashion that what was on display at home in their 26-9 loss.
Avoid the Slow Start
The Saints still have not scored a touchdown on their opening possession so far this season and only scored their first points to open their offensive game last week with a Wil Lutz field goal. This week’s game with the Bucs has the potential to be a shootout. The Saints are likely down a star corner, and the Bucs just released their young vet Vernon Hargreaves while also carrying Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart both out of practice early this week. So starting out early will be a key factor. This is more than just improving upon last week, this is a necessary improvement from what we’ve seen all season Drew Brees or otherwise.
This is an easy one. Even Cam Jordan mentioned this on his radio interview with WWL earlier this week. In their first bout back in Week 5, the Saints accumulated six total sacks including two from Jordan himself. Last week, Demario Davis walked away with the lone team sack.
If the Saints secondary is going to be weakened without Marshon Lattimore, the pass rush’s ability to get home will be paramount in this contest.
Though the loss to the Falcons was shocking and disappointing, it should serve as a hot bed for improvement through the rest of the season. I believe that it is a reasonable assumption to make that the Saints have not played their best football yet. Last week was the first time New Orleans had every weapon available to them this season. While that inspired a lot of confidence, it also comes with growing pains.
If the Saints get a win against the Bucs this week, it will be the first time they’ve swept Tampa Bay in the last four season. Drew Brees has preached before many games this season for the team to “impose their will” New Orleans, in bouncing back from last week’s disappointment, will look to do exactly that in a stadium they’ve won seven of the last ten contests.