Miscues Cost Saints Once Again
By Tony Twillie
The 2016 version of the New Orleans Saints may be the most chameleon-like team we’ve seen in the city. Just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on who this team is, they change. Unfortunately, the most recent change is a change for the worse.
Much ado was made of the Saints run when they’d won 4 of 5 games, but now the momentum has swung again and the half empty view is they’ve lost 3 of their last 5 games. And the reasoning behind losing those games has a recurring look – turnovers.
A team that is normally sure handed with the football has been anything but recently. In those 3 losses, the Saints have turned the ball over 7 times. It’s not just that the turnovers cost you points going the other direction – it’s the lost opportunities to score. One would imagine if you gave the Saints 7 opportunities to score, you get at least 2 touchdowns and 2 field goals. And that would be more than enough to win each of those lost games…
As well as fumbles, mishandling balls and special teams miscues are plaguing the Saints. Some balls are being dropped by the receivers. Sure, some are popped out as incomplete passes due to good defense. Others are dropped when in traffic or a receiver is hit hard. Those things happen, to be sure – but they’ve become the norm rather than the exception for us.
On top of that, our special teams have been completely un-special. Wil Lutz may have a cannon leg, but if his kicks don’t get any height, they will continually get blocked or tipped. He’s had 2 tipped kicks or PAT’s fortunately go through, but has had 3 kicks or PAT’s blocked. And each of them has resulting in something tremendously poor for us. Sunday against Denver was the PAT block that resulted in the 2 point conversion that was the margin of victory. Thursday against Carolina, it was a blocked field goal attempt that was run back for an apparent TD.
Were it not for a silly block in the back penalty, they would have scored on in consecutive weeks on blocks. It’s a combination of poor blocking up front and not enough height on the kick. Our return teams are simply miserable. Marcus Murphy was forced back into the return game this week due to injuries to Tommylee Lewis and Travaris Cadet – and he reminded us why he’s not on those teams anymore. The lack of awareness of where he was on the field, trying to play a ball at the two yard line and cornered at the sideline then losing the ball out of bounds leaving the team deep in its own territory was horrendous. The Saints also seem to have little luck in the punt return game. It’s a poor scheme, and/or the wrong people on special teams all around.
Offensively, we have taken a step back. Despite averaging nearly 30 points a game for the season, in recent games outside of San Francisco, we haven’t had great offensive output since our last meeting with Carolina. In the 4 games around the San Francisco game (3 losses, 1 win) we’ve only scored 22 points. Granted, 2 of those games were against great defenses (Seattle, Denver), but this offense is normally geared to score points on anyone. The offensive line has been equal to the task. Brees has been good, but the fumble, interceptions and blocked/batted passes have been costly when games are tight. Couple that with the drops and other players’ fumbles and you have a sluggish offense. It’s harder to put up 30 points when you deny yourself 2-3 possessions, or begin a possession in terrible field position due to poor special teams play.
Credit where credit’s due
One place we must absolutely give credit is the defense. When a Saints defense gives up 23.6 points per game, as ours has the last 4 games, you expect victories. Sheldon Rankins so far has seemed to be everything we’d expected him to be. He’s been tough on the run, helped with the push up front to get more pressure. He just seems to be an overall tough guy to do anything with for an offense. Paired with Nick Fairley, they have created a solid front which has in turn improved the play of everyone around them.
The Black and Gold defense (which looked fantastic in the white color rush uniforms!) flexed its muscle early. After a sack and fumble of Brees gave Carolina the ball in great field position, the Saints withstood 11 plays, including a series beginning first and goal at the 1, and only allowed Carolina a field goal. In fact, both Carolina TD’s began with turnovers, and with the ball deep in Saints territory. The Saints defense often had its back against the wall. Only giving up 2 TD’s and those two TD’s only covered 74 yards is a pretty good deal.
For being so much better than they had been earlier in the year, this Saints team still isn’t ready for the big time yet. They have 10 days to get ready…