Bill Feig | AP
There’s very little need to tread lightly after Sunday’s stunning opening performance by the Saints defense. After months of hype and hopefulness, the Saints fielded a defense more akin to 2014, 2015, or 2016 rather than last year’s. The defense allowed 41 points and 529 total yards to a Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Tampa Bay offense.Sounds horribly familiar? It should, but only to the part of your brain in which you’ve been hiding all of the awful memories of Corey White, Jairus Byrd, and Rob Ryan. This came at the hands of outstanding players like Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams. The unit was expected to take another step forward this year beyond last season’s improvement but instead forced only 1 3-and-out, 1 punt, no sacks, and not a single turnover.
As if things couldn’t get even more unfortunately familiar, of those 529 yards allowed, 417 came through the air. That’s the most passing yardage the Saints have given up since the Week 2 game last year against the Patriots. Before that? Three times in 2014. The Saints also allowed two receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans to compile over 145 receiving yards each. Not a good look for both starting corners Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley Some of the passing yardage had to do with what looked like questionable assignments by Dennis Allen. Vonn Bell gave up Tampa’s first touchdown on a 58-yarder to DeSean Jackson in which he passed on the receiver putting Marcus Williams in a most precarious position trying to hustle over to close the gap. Crawley also got matched up multiple times on DeSean Jackson and exploited in bump and run coverage with no safety help. Sound familiar again? It continues.
The Saints offense had tons of bright spots including Drew Brees going 37/45 for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s an 82% completion percentage. He is now 8-8 in the 16 regular season games in which he’s passed for over 400 yards. Brees led the Saints to 40 points scored with the help of two touchdown runs from Alvin Kamara. Kamara also had a great day scoring 3 total touchdowns and 141 scrimmage yards on 17 touches. Michael Thomas set a franchise record with 16 receptions. He also added 180 yards and a touchdown. All that to say, that despite all of that production and all of those points. The Saints still found themselves playing from behind. My original prediction of this game was that it certainly wouldn’t be as easy as everyone made it seem and that the Saints would start off hot, holding off a late push from the Bucs. It was quite the opposite as the Bucs, or at least both teams, started off blazing and the Saints sparked a comeback without enough time and the support of a defense.
The Saints were actually down 24 at one point and narrowed it down to the one score differential you’ll now see as the final score with over two and a half minutes left on the clock. Then, on a third and 11, the Saints defensive line lost contain on Ryan Fitzpatrick, again, and he scooted 12 yards for a first down to seal the game. It was an absolute disaster for the Saints defense today and if you think I’m just being harsh for the memes, check out what Cam Jordan had to say:
The players are taking responsibility for this and that’s a good thing to see. No whining about refs, no complaining that things didn’t go their way or that luck wasn’t on their side, no pretending that everything is gonna be just fine. None of that business. This looks like a moment of truth for the Saints and it’s a shame that it had to come at home this early in the season, but hopefully it’s enough of a wake up call to straighten out the concerns that were still lingering from the preseason like a soft run defense and miscommunication in the secondary. The fact of the matter is that it’s not time to sell the farm on the Saints season yet. After all, this is only the first game of the season. But there’s nothing wrong with looking at today’s miserable start and using it to improve going ahead. And for the fans, I wouldn’t say there’s a need for long-term concerns just yet, but there’s certainly plenty to be disappointed by considering all of the build up throughout the offseason only to lead to this moment.
Next week the Saints will face a Browns team that tied the Steelers in opening action, picked up 5 turnovers, and is also a squad with an underrated offensive attack. So it is imperative that the Saints address the issues they experienced on defense today in order to take advantage of the easier schedule at this point in the season, as it only gets tougher as the year goes on.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC