After going down by 17 points against the St. Louis Rams to start the contest, the New Orleans Saints saw their valiant comeback effort fall short as the Rams pulled off the 27-16 upset. It's one thing to lose in a competitive contest; it's another to get your collective butts kicked with physical play.
This game was first and foremost lost in the trenches where the Rams piled up four sacks (along with seven quarterback hits) of Saints QB Drew Brees. In addition, the Saints gave up 144 yards rushing on defense, while committing a slew of penalties—many of the self-inflicted variety.
This poor showing follows the Saints' best effort of the season, which was a 31-13 destruction of the Carolina Panthers. The same Panthers squad the Saints will now face for the No. 1 slot in the NFC South (No. 2 seed in the NFC)...but this time on the road.
The Saints are not remotely the same team on the road as they are at home and must now face those demons in what will be dubbed "the biggest game of the season, again."
But for now, the Saints must pick up the pieces and figure out how to combat slow starts on offense, as well as lackluster defensive performances against physical teams.
Here are my takeaways from the game.
Last week, at home, against the Panthers the Saints looked like the best team in the NFL. They dominated in all phases of the game, and played with a swagger reminiscent of a young Muhammad Ali in his prime (technically, he was Cassius Clay then).
This game, on the road, the Saints looked like they were auditioning for roles in the Bad News Bears movie and came away looking like Mitch "Blood" Green—the fighter a young Mike Tyson beat up outside a bar, allegedly (wink wink).
It seems as though every time the Saints put up masterful performance, they follow it up with a lackluster one. Everyone understands the ebb and flow of an NFL season, but this is just ridiculous.
As great as the Saints are, they haven't won anything yet. And finishing with anything less than a Lombardi Trophy should be considered a major disappointment. The Saints continue to touch the proverbial stove by negating balance in favor of a high-powered passing outfit.
And while going with said attack, the Saints' approach is routinely slow and methodical, allowing the defense every opportunity to get set. This column has questioned if the Saints should employ a no-huddle offensive scheme, and this particular performance sealed that notion.
The Saints are in need of some fresh ideas on offense, especially on the road.
Some have wondered if the Saints' perceived road woes are more of an outdoor venue thing opposed to an actual road problem. From my vantage point, watching the Saints dominate the Atlanta Falcons on the road—virtually on an annual basis—you can see how that theory is derived.
For teams that operate in more of a finesse nature, the friendly confines of a domed stadium can be an elixir of sorts. With the elements not a factor in these kinds of games, the Saints can air it out with the weather not acting as a 12th defender.
Well, against the Rams none of that mattered.
The new question should be: Can the Saints compete with physical teams on the road regardless of the setting?
Many will chalk this game up to that of the letdown variety. But those who do need to look at it in its totality. The Saints were thoroughly whipped and really didn't have an answer for the majority of the game. Most of their success came when the Rams called off the dogs and went to a more prevent approach.
If the Saints and Rams lined up and ran it back for four more quarters, the results would not vary more than likely. It's the style of team that gives the Saints fits, and you can bet the Panthers are licking their chops waiting for the return match next week, which I'm sure is better than licking their wounds as they did after the last meeting.
Saints left tackle Charles Brown is horrible, and that's putting it mildly. He's billed as an athlete with good feet, but he reminds me more of Bambi trying to walk as a fawn—especially against elite competition.
Robert Quinn, the ferocious defensive end of St. Louis, finally put Brown out of his misery and hopefully put the final nail in his NFL coffin. He beat Brown with a variety of moves that had Brown looking like a character out of the Walking Dead when it was all said and done.
Brown was benched in favor of lightly used Bryce Harris, and the results were damning. With right tackle Zach Strief moving over to the left tackle, Quinn was forced to keep his hands to himself and off of Saints QB Drew Brees.
We've pined for the Saints to shake things up on the offensive line, but as you know, winning can be the ultimate deodorant. Now with the Saints in danger of dropping all the way down to the fifth seed, the squeaky wheel may finally receive the grease.
The best time for the Saints to make personnel changes would've been in the midst of their early-season win streak. Even when the Saints were on fire, so to speak, the line seemed as though it may be the Achilles' heel.
Being proactive is what authentic Super Bowl teams do; being reactive is how teams like the Atlanta Falcons approach football.
Which type of team is New Orleans?
The pass-rush duo of Cam Jordan and Junior Galette arrived on a national stage with a two- and three-sack performance against Carolina, respectively. They played so well that it conjured up old memories of the "Dome Patrol" defense of Saints' fame.
In this particular game, both Galette (one pass deflection) and Jordan (three tackles) looked more like those annoying mall cops who are only issued flashlights for their services. Neither registered a sack, nor generally made any noise (unless you consider grunting while be stonewalled by offensive linemen noise?!).
Usually when your aces are ineffective, it leaves opportunity for another wild card to step up. Well, Saints fans can exhale as nobody filled that role. The Saints defense made Rams QB Kellen Clemens look like the player the New York jets thought he would be when they selected him in second round of the 2006 draft.
Clemens' 14-of-20, 158-yard performance was capped off by two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He operated mostly from a clean pocket but evaded the light rush when it was a necessity.
Galette and Jordan have a long way to go to reach Dome Patrol status. Both have the ability to be great; they just need a little more consistency. Even if they don't generate sacks, they should both terrorize the run game and be overall nuisances for opposing offenses.
For the Saints to really boast about being a premier defense they must fix their run deficiency. When teams actually commit to running the ball against the Saints they generally have success. The Saints allow 4.7 yards per rush, which is 29th in the league heading into the Sunday Night Football game.
If you can't stop the run, and you can't run the ball, you should hereby be christened as soft! And when the playoffs roll around, soft teams usually end up at the local bar reminiscing about all those passing yards generated on the season (ask Atlanta).
Usually, the Saints struggle with poor run fits and the spotty gap integrity, but this game revealed our old friend "Mr. can't tackle." The Rams ran through the Saints defense like a poop through a goose (excuse the visual). Rams back Zac Stacy rushed for 133 yards on 28 carries, leaving a wake of defenders in his path.
Although we must focus on the here and now, the Saints will have to make some tough personnel decisions in the future to progress their defense to respectability on all fronts. But they need to make stopping the run their first priority as they approach the playoffs—as each team they will see will have the ability to execute a Rams-like approach.
Brees is the truth. He's one of the greatest QBs in the history of the sport, and he may be the best leader to boot. But it's hard not to notice how average he plays against good defenses on the road (this season). But to his defense, he has to overcome his coaching in those scenarios.
Instead of letting Brees use his mental aptitude by employing a no-huddle approach, they let Brees wind the clock down to the last possible second in an effort to rotate personnel groupings. Did anyone notice how smooth the offense operated when the Saints went no-huddle out of desperation?
Brees could run that type of scheme with his eyes closed. Instead, they let the defense dictate the tempo and it sometimes looks as though Brees does have his eyes closed, especially when he’s throwing erratic interceptions.
The play-calling is unimaginative even when being presented with prime opportunity from an overaggressive defense. The offense finally called a draw play in the fourth quarter to take advantage of the defense getting upfield. With the offense only generating 61 yards on 18 designed runs, the Saints had a recipe for disaster sitting right in their cookbooks—better known as coach Sean Payton's playbook.
It's only apropos that this column questioned if the Saints needed a new play-caller to infuse fresh ideas into an offense that sometimes looks stale. For those of you have vehemently disagreed, don't let a first-round exit in the playoffs be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.
Analyze football in its totality; think with your mind and not your heart.
The Saints are not a juggernaut, as they have plenty of areas that need serious work. But they do have the personnel to get the job done; they just need to execute in Saints-like fashion...no matter the venue.
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