Oct 5, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (32) looks on from the bench during the third quarter of a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
No one could have expected the New Orleans Saints’ implosion against Cincinnati, or really the season in general. Still, this is where the team is and they have an opportunity to make the playoffs with the final six games.
According to the football gods, you are what your record says you are. Three words can explain why the Saints are sitting at 4-6 (tied with the Atlanta Falcons), second place in the NFC South: Third Down Efficiency.
Offensively, (despite Brees’ turnovers) the Saints have been great. In fact, they are tied with the Dallas Cowboys with the most conversions (66) on third down in the league.
That will be tougher to continue executing on with the loss of rookie Brandin Cooks, but certainly still possible with quarterback Drew Brees (he ran an elite offense with a former track star, an undrafted wide receiver, and a sixth round receiver whose college doesn’t even have a football program anymore).
On the other hand, the New Orleans defense has been one of the worst at getting off the field in the NFL. They are allowing offenses to convert third downs about 45% of the time.
That’s 59 conversions on 129 attempts this year, for the third-worst third-down efficiency in the NFL (by the way the last two teams are in the NFC South).
The Saints defense has given up more third down conversions on third and long situations than any team in the league. There’s a plethora of reasons, too. Safeties have been missing on deep assignments, poor tackling, you name it.
Out of the last five Superbowl games, four of the champions were at least in the top fifteen in third down efficiency. The defense needs to step up to at least give the team a shot to make the playoffs.
If the Rob Ryan and the Saints defense work on nothing else in practice, it needs to be third down situations. It’s the most important down in every single game.
Players should practically be screaming, “third down!” when they line up. Regardless of the losses and injuries on defense, the remaining defenders need to change their approach and improve their third down efficiency.