A quick scan of the box score from Friday’s three-point loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars shows a New Orleans Saints team that was beaten with just 13 seconds left on the clock. A more thorough look of the game film shows something a bit different.
The game shouldn’t have been that close. The Saints should have been nowhere near close enough to win that game.
Even though New Orleans put up a mere 24 points—low by a Drew Brees-led offense—the Saints seemed fine on that side of the football, for the most part. The problem Friday was on defense, and boy was it bad.
Poor fundamentals were a key issue, according to interim head coach Joe Vitt who spoke after the game with the Times-Picayune. "We were disappointed in the way we tackled at the start of this game.”
Disappointed was likely an understatement.
Cornerback Patrick Robinson lowered his head to make an open-field tackle on rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon after Blackmon caught a 4-yard pass near the sideline. Robinson missed and went flying by. Blackmon added four yards after the catch because of the missed tackle.
Robinson wasn’t the only player with a missed tackle. His miss on Blackmon came at the 13:39 mark of the first quarter and it wasn’t even the first missed tackle of the night for the Saints.
Nor would it be the last.
Jacksonville’s first touchdown of the game—a 14-yard score from Blaine Gabbert to Blackmon—was a result of a missed tackle by cornerback Marquis Johnson who had decent coverage but couldn’t wrap the rookie up at the 8-yard line. After Johnson rolled off the receiver, Blackmon scored easily.
The same problem with tackling occurred over and over Friday as the Saints allowed Jacksonville to put up 27 points on Steve Spagnuolo’s new defense. And this was a Jacksonville offense without Maurice Jones-Drew.
Gabbert was 13-for-16 for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Even scarier than Gabbert tearing up the Saints defense was that the Jaguars rushed for 170 yards on the night. Let that sink in—without Jones-Drew Jacksonville ran roughshod over the Saints.
Rashad Jennings had 62 yards on 11 carries. Keith Tolston had 49 yards on four carries. Montell Owens gained 31 yards on six carries and undrafted rookie Richard Murphy had 15 yards on three carries.
All four of Jacksonville’s top running backs Friday averaged five yards per carry or better.
That wasn’t the Spagnuolo defense Saints fans expected.
Vitt said that he still had lots of coaching to do after talking about his disappointment in the tackling effort by the Saints. What else can he say? Tackling is about fundamentals, it’s about coaching. Vitt does have work to do.
That said, linebacker Scott Shanle told the Times-Picayune that what everyone saw Friday wasn’t the real Saints defense. "We have the guys to be one of the best tackling teams out there. Just wait. You'll see."
Fans will have a lot of opportunities to see if Shanle can put up the results he promised because he’ll likely be on the field a lot more than expected moving forward.
Chris Chamberlain injured his knee in the game and the Saints announced Sunday that the team was moving him to injured reserve, ending Chamberlain’s season.
According to the Times-Picayune, linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne both missed practice Monday and could be out until Week 1 of the regular season. Lofton sustained a high-ankle sprain in the Jacksonville game and Hawthorne had surgery to repair the meniscus in his knee.
With three main cogs in the middle of Spagnuolo’s defense gone and tackling woes abound, the Saints are going to have to really scramble to fix things before the regular season begins.