Saints must be better offensively in first half to halt losing skid

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Saints came up just short for a second week in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Despite coming into the game wounded, with no Alvin Kamara, the Saints battled and almost pulled off a late-game win. However, like the previous week against the Falcons, a slow start doomed the Saints into needing to play catch up.

It’s a tough ask of any team to go into Nashville and battle one of the best AFC teams in the Titans, especially without your best player in Kamara, but the Saints fought hard. Unfortunately, while fighting hard is nice to see, the Saints simply cannot afford to continue their habit of coming out slow and relying on the defense to keep them in the game until the offense gets their feet under them.

The Saint defense played extremely well for a second week, limiting the Titans to 213 yards passing and well under 100 yards rushing. An effort like that should be enough to win most weeks.

Unfortunately, an offensively challenged team like New Orleans can’t afford to squander opportunities to score points, and that’s exactly what the Saints did Sunday. Placekicker Brian Johnson missed two extra points, which essentially forced the Saints to attempt a two-point conversion to tie the game rather than win it. It eludes me in this day and age how NFL kickers miss extra points, but it still happens.

Quarterback Trevor Siemian, making his second start since Jameis Winston was lost for the season, played well enough to win for another week, but still came up empty. Siemian spread the ball to seven different receivers, including a very good four-catch, 61-yard effort from veteran Mark Ingram, but the lack of a go-to, alpha receiver is clearly crippling this offense.

Much was made of a potential heavy workload from Taysom Hill to help cover for the absence of Alvin Kamara, but that simply didn’t materialize as Hill only managed three carries for 23 yards and one catch for 15 yards. Hill was also 2-2 passing for 11 yards, but as Saint fans, we are left to ask ourselves, why are the Saints paying so much money to a guy that can’t unseat a journeyman like Siemian for the starting quarterback job?

Hill is a unique talent, but if he can’t be consistent enough as a quarterback to be the full-time starter, what’s the point? Is Hill a latter-day Tim Tebow? On its face, the answer would seem to be yes. Sean Payton needs to figure it out sooner, rather than later what to do with his high-dollar gadget player.

The Saints currently sit at 5-4 and by no means are dead in the NFC South.

With the shocking Tampa Bay loss to the Washington Football Team, the Saints don’t lose any ground in the division.

Next Sunday the Saints play a very beatable Eagle team. Philadelphia doesn’t possess an explosive enough offense, and if New Orleans can come out and be efficient, control the ball and maximize their possessions with points, they can avoid having to play second-half catch up.

Much will depend on the availability of Alvin Kamara, and how Sean Payton utilizes Taysom Hill, but a more balanced attack would keep Siemian from needing to try to win the game himself late.

New Orleans still has everything in front of them if they can right the ship against the Eagles. However, if they drop a third straight, with games against the Bills and Cowboys looming, this season could spiral out of control quickly.

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To avoid this, Sean Payton is going to have to figure out how to keep the Saints from starting slowly and playing catchup. As one of the best coaches in the NFL, can he do that? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether Saints fans are still engaged post-Thanksgiving, or if we are making April draft plans. Stay tuned!