Observations from the Cheap Seats

Sometimes you see it coming, there are signs.  Subtle though they may be, just as the “tell” in poker, you know they are the signal for something. You just don’t know what.  In Sunday’s game between our New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions, the tell wasn’t subtle. It was a giant Canal Street sized neon sign that said ‘this ain’t gonna be good’…

You can say it’s the lunacy/bravado of running a pass play on 3rd and 1.  You might say it’s a bad snap, or that Drew Brees just didn’t really look the ball into his hands.  Or you might think all those things happen. But what rarely happens is that Thomas Morstead rarely punts obtusely off the side of his foot. He did twice on the day. It happened after the 3 and out for the Saints on their first possession.  And after seeing all that, one might have had the thought that this could be a long day for the Saints.

Earlier this year, the Saints played a poor game against Atlanta.  They lost and deserved to lose.  Beyond that game, the Saints have been in pretty much every game they’ve played this season.  In fact, this reporter commented on how much fun they’d been to watch this season in an article earlier in the week.  They weren’t fun to watch this week. And they weren’t in this game at all as Detroit rolled the Saints 38-13, beating the Saints for the 3rd straight time and three years running.

I can’t come up with many positives to look at (and who wants to really re-live too much of that game…) so let’s commence with the observations from the cheap seats:

  • The first major observation was that Sean Payton, who took back play calling duties last week (ostensibly to stick it to Gregg Williams) remained the play caller this week.  It showed.  The offense looked like it did in preseason when Payton called the plays.  The game just looked terribly slow and predictable.  Payton’s play calling forces the offensive line to hold blocks entirely too long, leading to hurries, hits, and sacks.  The pass routes are too deep and take too long to develop, which also gives teams time to read Brees and undercut routes, which is why he ended up throwing 3 interceptions.  If Payton continues to call plays, we may have seen the last of our wins this year.  Seriously, it’s that bad.
  • Also, I give credit to the Lions and Jim Caldwell for crafting a great game plan for us.  They played our tendencies well.  A great deal of credit should go also to the young offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who has simplified their playbook.  Matt Stafford has a rocket launcher for an arm, and when he has few reads and is just firing, he’s tough to defend.
  • The Lions held the Saints under 100 yards passing in the first half.  That’s an ugly stat.
  • When the Saints ran a zone defense, Stafford was at his best.  One particular play summed up our defensive woes – in the 3rd quarter, receiver T.J. Jones got behind the cornerback and in front of the safety on a 3rd and long play, to gain the Lions a first down.  There were 3 Saint defenders in the picture when the pass was caught, but none in position to actually defend.
  • Most defenses give up one spot  in zone coverage.  The Saints give up the flat – the area to either side of the line outside the farthest interior lineman to the sideline, and no more than 5 yards downfield.  That’s not a bad place to give up as long as you’re going to come up and make quick stops.  The Saints fail to do that with regularity.
  • Early game injury to Josh Hill left the Saints with really only one healthy tight end in Colby Fleener.
  • Very nice tribute at halftime to the top 50 Saints players in the 50 years of the franchise.  Several players looked as though they could still put the uniform on and get after it.  I don’t know if it was an oversight, or if he didn’t play long enough, or if this was a fan vote or how things set up, but I found it interesting that Aaron Brooks wasn’t one of the top 50.  It’s been some time now, but many of the Saints passing records Brees has broken belonged to Brooks.
  • Noticed Payton and Zach Strief having some words with each other on the sideline as the Saints continued their blah play through the 3rd quarter.
  • Why was Sheldon Rankins playing with the rotational defensive unit?  He is a nice complement to Nick Fairley, but the were rarely on the field together.
  • The officials killed us a couple of times.  Don’t get me wrong, we still weren’t going to win if we got these, but they were big mistakes nonetheless… First, there were several plays were interference or holding should have been called.  But, more than that, there was the play where 2 officials, both standing near VERY near the play, called the play incorrectly, only to have it overturned by review.  Prior to that catch, the receiver was the victim of a quite obvious hold that the referees didn’t call.  And on the play before that one, one of the Lion defenders led with his helmet going for a tackle on an already engaged receiver.  That’s illegal too…
  • Observed: a gentleman going up the stairs in the cheap seats bit it on the stairs – hard.  Didn’t hurt himself other than his pride, but he did lose quite a bit of beer  – FAIL.  Also observed: a gentleman with his hands full, holding 2 beers in one hand decides he need a swig of his beer.  That would be great except both beers were open – a point he remembered after he tried to drink the beer. He ended up wearing part of the second beer.  FAIL.

That the Saints lost is poor – there was a lot riding on this game.  Playoffs are basically a non-issue currently. According to PlayoffStatus.com, there is a 96% chance the Saints do not make the playoffs.  That they lost in the fashion they did is criminal – to lay such a large egg after last week’s onslaught is simply confounding.  But the biggest pile of excrement we stepped into related to our division. 3 of the 4 teams lost this weekend, including the division-leading Falcons.  A Who Dat win would have put the Saints one game off the division lead.

The only path to the playoffs for us is to win the division.  As it turns out now, Tampa and Atlanta are tied atop the league and they are both 2 games ahead with 4 games to play.  Atlanta holds the tiebreaker between the 2 of those teams.  The Black and Gold just have to win and hope at this point… and after watching yesterday, the winning looks to be quite a tall chore and the hope seems to be a little lost.

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