The New Orleans Saints’ win streak was bound to end at some point. The good play and good fortune wasn’t going to last forever. And too many errors led to a 26-20 loss in LA.
That the Saints lost on Sunday to the Los Angeles Rams wasn’t necessarily a huge surprise. The Rams are good and the Saints were on the road. It was how they lost that will have Saints fans a bit on edge as the team faces a critical portion of the season. Too many errors sunk the Saints.
The Saints went down with a whimper to the Rams. Their normally good offense didn’t show up. And the defense, which until last week had been tremendously stingy, gave up too many important plays. In a certain sense, the Rams “out-Saintsed” the Saints. They played a game Saints fans are very familiar with. They made big, timely plays, a hallmark of old Saints offenses, and played as stingy on defense as the Saints have this season.
There will be a few looks at what went wrong in this game. Some things will be obvious – the absence of the two starting corners is a good place to start on defense. Offensively, the time of possession advantage of the Rams (35:26 to 24:34), the number of plays run (73 for them, 54 for us), and the first downs advantage (24-14) all point to their offense being much more efficient. And the injury depleted defense being on the field way too much was a major factor.
Couple that with not getting as much pressure on the QB without Alex Okafor and you have a recipe for a loss. The Saints defense did well on third down. But unfortunately the Rams were making first downs before they got to any third down play.
Saints tried some new wrinkles
One thing noticed, for a portion of the game at least, was the Saints running an odd formation. They moved Sheldon Rankins to the defensive end and had Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata play on the interior. On pass rush downs they utilized Hau’oli Kikaha and Trey Hendrickson. It will be interesting to see if this is a formation the Saints continue to try.
There is one thing that makes a huge difference that many may overlook as a tremendous difference in this game – the hidden yards in special teams play. The Saints had exactly zero return yards. They didn’t return a single kickoff as Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein consistently booted them deep or out of the end zone.
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Punter Johnny Hekker punted 3 times, but each time the Saints had a fair catch inside the 20. Here’s where yards can be important. Four of the Saints’ five kickoffs were returned. And the total yardage was 110 yards or 27.5 yards per kickoff. Many coaches will tell you every 100 yards is worth six points. And it seemed so on this day.
In the Saints punting game, Thomas Morstead was busy, punting two more times than he had in the last three games combined. Three punts were returned for a total of 59 yards, including a 40-yard return. That’s 169 return yards to none.
That’s a very sobering statistic, and a good indicator of where the Saints lost important yards. Hopefully this is simply just a part of the learning process with a new special teams coordinator, but they got gashed. Also, part of that could be attributed to guys who normally play more special teams snaps (De’Vante Harris, PJ Williams) not playing as much on special teams due to their need on defense.
To put a ribbon on this game, the Saints were simply outplayed. The Rams were the better team on Sunday and they took it to the Black and Gold. The Saints didn’t perform well but some of that was because the Rams took the Saints game away from them. So credit must go to them as well. Who Dats know if the Saints were facing a team with its two starting corners missing and another defensive back who has been hurt, as well as suspect in coverage, they’d take it right to them. The Rams did that to them instead.
Certainly, at this point in the season, it’s time for some introspection. The Saints are still 8-3 and still have the division lead by virtue of having already beaten Carolina earlier in the season. But where are they really? They’ve played a challenging schedule with more challenges to come.
By the end of the season they will have played both teams from last year’s Super Bowl. They have played two of the three other NFC division leaders. The NFC South is the best division in the NFL currently, with three of the four teams having winning records. And if the playoffs started today, all three of those teams would be in.
The Saints have four divisional games coming in their last five games. No favors were done by the scheduling committee. That’s the bad news. The good news is the Saints are still 100% in control of their playoff destiny. Hopefully they will get a bit healthier and be up for the challenges of the last five weeks.