There’s nothing like being inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome during a game. Here are the things that were noticed specifically from being present on Sunday against the Raiders.
The game was better than expected – our Saints played better than expected for three quarters at least – but the end result was what had been expected. The New Orleans Saints lost a heart breaker 35-34 on a gutsy call by Oakland Raider coach Jack del Rio. The Raiders decided to go for a two-point conversion rather than tie the game with less than a minute to play. Many things could be gleaned from the game – many more will still be wait and see; but the overriding narrative is simple: if the Saints want to be a playoff contender, they MUST win games like these.
Leading 24-13 to start the 4th quarter, Saints fans had to like the Saints’ chances. In fact, fate seemed to play a cruel and ironic trick on the Who Dat Nation Sunday. Saints fans recall things like “The Meachem Miracle” in Washington during the Super Bowl season of 2009 as signs of goood things to come.
When the normally sure-handed Willie Snead fumbled on a long pass play at the 25-yard line and Michael Thomas comes up with a pure hustle play to recover the ball at the 2-yard line, the Saints faithful must have felt the gris-gris had worked. The feeling in the dome was that the Saints would be able to score and escape with a win. Score we did – escape with a win we did not.
It was disheartening to see the Saints defense, which bent but didn’t break in the first 45 minutes of play, giving up 22 fourth quarter points was an understatement. Oakland scored on each of its fourth quarter possessions including a 75 yard run from scrimmage, which is always a negative note in the big play category.
Big pass plays are tough to swallow – big rushing plays are devastating.Pete Carmichael was the offensive play caller for the game yesterday. Allegedly, Sean Payton wanted to have more opportunity to truly evaluate the players and the game as opposed to being bogged down with the offensive play calling.
I know they scripted the first 15 plays together (Brees, Carmichael and Payton), but the Carmichael offense was more vintage West Coast offense with short passes, quick deliveries, and short drops for Brees.
It kept Oakland on their heels early on. The early fumble was all on Brees for holding on to the ball too long, and it looked like pre-season. Furthermore, their next possession was vintage Saints and vintage Drew Brees. The throwback was refreshing.
Don’t read too much into better offensive line play for the day. Brees was still hurried a bunch, hit a few times and sacked once. Overall the line looked better. Without the benefit of seeing the game film yet, the Saints graded out fair including Andrus Peat. Each guy played well, although there were plenty of struggles. Above all, the quick passing game made it such, that Brees was afforded more opportunities downfield through the middle of the game.
The Black and Gold still needed a few more rushing opportunities and yards. The Saints are a pass first team no doubt. However, until defenses can respect rushing the ball, the Saints will have a difficult time selling the play fake. This will in turn open up certain passes, as well as holding off blitzes.
Willie Snead, with the exception of the fumble had a great day. In fact, all three of the Saints big three receivers had nice days. But the Saints really miss Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson. That tight end presence really adds a dimension the offense yearns for. Coby Fleener is good, but he’s not yet in the ballpark of the last two star tight ends we had.
Some may have seen this writer’s previous article on Brees, as an affront to Brees’ ability. It was nothing of the sort. Simply put, at the amount Brees was looking to cost us, it was financially unsound. Brees is still an elite quarterback, and he showed that Sunday. Drew Brees still gets the job done. But it also underlines two other points – 1. Even with Brees as an elite quarterback, all he does is give us a chance to win. If he still costs us $30 million, and we divyed that money up into three to six other players making $5-10 million, the Saints could still have a chance to win with more sound production at other places in our roster. The Saints are so sorely lacking at some spots… which brings up point two. Whether it’s Brees’ former contract, front office mess ups (such as having $33 million in dead cap this year), or a healthy combination of both, the Saints are still defensively undermanned, particularly at secondary depth. How in the world did the Black and Gold go into a game with only one experienced defensive back?
Defense wasn’t great, but it did what was expected for three quarters. They bent, but they didn’t break. They gave up a few big plays early but stiffened and forced field goals and gave up only one touchdown through 45 minutes. But what they did in those last 15 minutes was deplorable. Losing Delvin Breaux was only one piece of that problem, all be it a big one. Breaux was really forcing play to one side of the field. Once Breaux got hurt, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was able to truly use the whole field, that was the beginning of the end.
The Saints came out in a different defense than accustomed to in pre-season. This change was possibly due to the addition of Paul Kruger, but we ran out of a base 3-4 defense for most of the game. It looked to have helped us a lot early, as it took Oakland time to adjust to a new defense. The Saints played Nick Fairley as a nose tackle and had Cam Jordan and Kruger coming off the edges. It caused Oakland to have to redefine who they were going to pick up in protections. It didn’t help us with pressure much but it confused them in the passing game.
The new look cost us in the run game though. On the long touchdown run, we were actually in a 4-3, but we just got completely skunked everywhere on blocks – it looked like a blocking clinic by the Raiders for sure.
Oakland lost 2 offensive linemen to injury during the game, yet we still couldn’t find a way to get more pressure which was disturbing. Again, haven’t fully watched the replay and not having the game film yet, so I wasn’t sure how much blitzing we did. That could have been in the game plan though as Oakland’s offensive line was supposed to be one of the better ones in the league.
To get the bad out of the way quickly, the Saints cannot survive this season with this defensive secondary. Last year was terrible with Brandon Browner gifting teams yardage through penalties. This year, the Saints are gifting them yardage because the defense is just not good enough to keep up. The Saints need another veteran cornerback in house – immediately.
On the good side of the defense, Kenny Vaccaro was a playmaker on Sunday. He seemed to be everywhere the ball was and did a solid job for the Black and Gold. Also particularly good was Craig Robertson, another pickup from the Cleveland Browns. Robertson was super in coverage and in run support.
Special teams were simply not special Sunday. Thomas Morstead not included of course, his punting was great as usual and rookie Daniel Lasco made a very nice play after looking like he got beat on one particular punt coverage. Still, we got nothing out of our punt returns and actually got pinned deep at the 2-yard line on one punt (that worked out OK for us though…). On kickoff returns, Marcus Murphy still just seems to be meandering into traffic with no direction. Murphy never seems to get the impression that he is comfortable out there. Murphy may possess breakaway speed. but we’ll never see it with him simply running up the backs of blockers who are barely holding blocks. Additionally, Sebastian Janikowski from Oakland is a wily veteran who dials up kicks like few others in the game, his ability was an extra weapon for Oakland. Our kickoff coverage wasn’t very disciplined early on, whether it was butterflies or just not being warmed up enough yet, rookie kicker Will Lutz was short on kickoffs which allowed Oakland’s returner to get a full head of steam on the returns. This brings us to that rookie kicker. Lutz was 2 of 4 on field goals which isn’t good, but his misses were 50 and 61 yards, so they aren’t garden variety misses. The potential game winner only missed left by a couple of yards. Lutz will live to kick another week, but knowing Payton’s penchant for booting kickers, Lutz needs to make sure he’s up to the task in New York next week.
In short, the Saints lost one they should have and could have won. And not only did they lose, but they lost a solid lead in doing so at home. It was the type of inexcusable loss that playoff type teams don’t have on their resume. Suffice to say, I’m sure if Who Dat Nation looked back at the end of the season at all teams who have scored 34 points at home, nearly 100% of them will be victorious. That’s how much this one stinks.