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New Orleans Saints open 2017 season with clunker

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It’s only one game. That perspective would serve many New Orleans Saints fans well as they speak in hushed tones around the water cooler. The talk is, of course, about the Monday night 2017 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

It’s only one game. There are 15 more and the season is plenty long enough for the Saints to find themselves and win. Minnesota is a very good team, particularly on defense, and they are likely to be a playoff team this season. It’s only one game.

This game, however, was different. Yes, the Saints defense again wasn’t very good. The solid play of preseason didn’t carry over into a game that counted – a fear we all shared. But this time, the offense truly sputtered as well. Many have been quick to point out the defense’s flaws but have shied away from making negative comments about the offense. Great defense for Minnesota or not, the Saints’ red zone offense faltered Monday night.

Let’s talk Saints offense

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We knew coming in the offensive line may be suspect, and it was. The injury to right tackle Zach Strief early in the game only created more issues for an already thin group. Rookie Ryan Ramczyk made some rookie mistakes, which was to be expected. But there was an expectation of better play along the rest of the line. And the line simply wasn’t very good. That caused the offense to sputter – the running game never got going which means there was not the same level of ball control. Sure, the Saints marched down the field behind the short passing game. That’s the trademark of this offense.  Problem is, settling for 3 points has nothing to do with poor defensive play. And that’s what we did on 4 trips to the red zone.

And the defense

It was difficult to watch the defense that played fairly well in the preseason look so completely lost in their regular season debut. The front four didn’t play particularly poorly. But the linebackers were mediocre at best and the defensive backs were simply non-existent. Minnesota took advantage of so many Saints defensive holes and lapses, one would think they knew the playbook better than we did. The excuse of having so much inexperience on the field is logical, but no one wants to hear that now.

As positives go there was the surprisingly improved play of Coby Fleener, the fairly solid play of A.J. Klein, and some nice special teams work by Thomas Morstead, Wil Lutz, and Chris Banjo. But there would really not be much more positive to take from this game. This offense can’t score just one touchdown and expect to win football games.

And the rest

One can also look at a couple of other disturbing things and question further. One may understand the use of timeouts to stop a team and get the ball back inside the 2-minute warning.  It makes good sense when you weren’t going to get the ball to start the second half. But you have to have a defense capable of stopping the opponent. We do not and did not. The Vikings simply thanked us for our generosity with the time outs and used them to drive 95 yards for a TD right before the half ended.

Then they came out of halftime and got a field goal on their first possession of the half, so the time outs really resulted in a 10-point run. Yes, the defense played poorly, but that coaching decision also hurt.

As well there was no sense of urgency when the Saints were down 19-6, and then again at 26-9. The Saints’ only hurry up offense is in the red zone – they simply refuse to move fast otherwise. That’s a coaching issue. When they got the ball back down 26-9, they embarked on a 12 play 73-yard drive that took 5:03 off the clock. The Saints ran themselves out of time (and worse, they just kicked another FG…). Again, that’s a coaching problem. It happened several times last year too.

So the bad news is this was a clunker of a game – one of the more disheartening losses of recent years. Worse news is New England comes to town with us on a short week and them coming off a 10-day layoff. They will be more than motivated because they were embarrassed at home on Thursday. Let’s ice the dirt cake and note that if Strief can’t play, we will be in a world of hurt on the edges of the line, further diminishing our offensive chances.

The good news – this was only one game.

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