Making sense of the loss

The Saints dropped another one, this time to the Carolina Panthers. At 4-6, panic is quickly setting in. We’re here to make sense of it all.

This was another tough one to watch. Even down 20 – 3 entering the half, it felt like the Saints were the better team. Hell, leaving the game at 20 – 23, it felt like the Saints were the better team. But time and time again, potential and promise don’t amount to wins. It’s really breaking my spirit.

This was a game that, not to sound like a bad sport, came down to fluke plays. Well, basically fluke plays. The first turnover was well deserved, a good rush that got to Brees as he was throwing the ball. But the second was something I’d never seen before, and honestly don’t expect to see again. Brees stepped up in the pocket, cleanly, got in a good motion for the throw, and the ball just came out wobbly. It hung in the air and was easily picked off. It must have slipped, or something, who knows. I don’t think we see Brees throw another duck like that for a while.

The blocked kick, I suppose, is a different matter. It’s happened so often that it’s hard to call it a fluke. Yet when the Saints outgained Carolina 371 to 223, when they win their matchups both offensively and defensively, special teams does feel somewhat flukey.

These are things that can be cleaned up. The question is, is it too late?

Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like it is.

A few thoughts on the performances of each phase:

Special Teams.

Do I even need to say anything?

Sean Payton says that the Saints will take a long look at what’s going wrong with special teams during the extended week. Greg McMahon, you’re officially on the hot seat.

One thing to consider is that Sean Payton’s golden boy, Will Lutz, has had three kicks blocked this year, not including two that were blocked but made it through anyway. Five in total. A lot of that, the Broncos game, for example, come down to special teams coaching. But at some point, you have to take a closer look at how Lutz is kicking the ball. He’s clearly not getting the early height that you want to avoid those hands. That’s on Lutz, not McMahon.

But that’s about all that can be said in McMahon’s defense. The problem is that it’s EVERY PHASE of special teams that has broken down. Punt return and coverage, kick return and coverage, FG protection, FG blocking.

The Saints have never had an explosive special teams, but they’ve been solid enough over the years to keep McMahon’s seat safe. Now it’s time to roll the dice. Who knows, maybe the Saints will finally have an effective special teams under our new ST coach.

Offense

Yes, two turnovers, both in our ends of the field, were killer. But this Panthers defense has really come alive recently. They were really covering ground, and their gameplan effectively neutralized the Saints verticle game.

And despite all that, I’d say the Saints offense got the better of the Panthers defense. They may not have put up the numbers we’ve come to expect from Brees and Payton, but they moved the ball effectively.

A few dropped balls from the WRs made a big difference in the game, but besides that we saw what’s so dangerous about this offense. Multiple weapons, balanced approach, dominant QB. It just wasn’t enough to overcome the miscues.

(Side note about the offense. I like the playcalling for the game, but what. in. the world. was that last play? Were they really expecting Michael Thomas, with about two blockers, to beat the entire Panthers in prevent defense? I just don’t see how that’s plausible.)

Defense

Defense, the Saints saving grace.

Weird, right?

Without a doubt, the Saints defense was the most impressive unit of the game. Dannell Ellerbe is a monster, Cam Jordan is playing his best football recently, and as a whole, the defense just seemed in sync.

The Saints don’t have any game breaking defensive players like Luke Kuechly or Von Miller, and in some cases that lack will hurt them. But Payton, Allen and co. have managed to put together a very solid unit with talent at every position.

And there’s youth on defense too. It’s my main reason for optimism at this point. We may actually be developing a solid defense here, folks.

They defended the run excellently, and barring a few miscues—really just the one to Ted Ginn—were very solid against the pass. They got to Cam Newton a number of times, and the pass rush in general just looks finally alive.

So there’s reason for optimism. The catch? That reason is 2017.

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