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New Orleans Saints Must Alter Game Plan to Fix Road Woes

Aug 9, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks with quarterback Drew Brees (9) before a preseason  game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport
Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterDecember 18, 2013

In a perfect example of numbers not lying, the New Orleans Saints are 7-0 at home in the Superdome and 3-4 on the road.

Let that sink in for a minute. I’ll wait.

I’ll wait because it does take some time to accept the fact that this Saints team is otherworldly at home and rather pedestrian on the road. Even after a Week 13 loss in Seattle by 27 points, quarterback Drew Brees wasn’t buying the conversation, as reported by Mike Triplett of ESPN.com.

Even after one of their ugliest losses of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, Brees steadfastly denied that the Saints struggle outside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He again pointed out that they have the best road record in the NFL since 2009 and said, "If you just look at that, nobody's really done their research obviously."

Just two weeks later, add in another embarrassing road loss to the St. Louis Rams and Brees has changed his tune. He told Terrance Harris of the Times-Picayune that the Saints were focused on traveling to Carolina right now to take on a tough Panthers team with a lot at stake. And yes, the game is on the road.

Obviously we understand our deficiencies on the road here over the last couple trips, and it's just great motivation for us to really hammer down this week and find ways to improve.

Admitting the problem is the first step. Now the Saints can begin the recovery process. However, there is a problem, according to Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune. Right tackle Zach Strief told Duncan that New Orleans doesn’t know what the problem is.

I think it's obvious, there's something about us on the road that has to be addressed and fixed. There's something we have to identify, and we have to find it fast.

Once again, numbers don’t lie.

Identifying the problems weren’t an issue; there’s a laundry list of items that have plagued the Saints on the road this season. The million dollar question or dare I say the playoff-or-not question is: Can New Orleans fix these road woes in time for it to matter?

 

The Basics

Since head coach Sean Payton and Brees arrived in town, the Saints have been known as one of the most potent offenses in the league. There’s not a sane person on the planet who would argue that fact.

That offense this season (because Brees is correct about road success in the recent past) is still potent at home but wimpy on the road.

The Saints have scored 32.9 points per game in the Superdome and just 18.4 on the road. That’s just more than two extra touchdowns in front of a friendly crowd. New Orleans has also gained 85.4 more yards per game on average at home.

On defense the Saints allow an extra touchdown on the road, on average, that doesn’t happen at home. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s unit has held opponents to 15.4 points per game in New Orleans and 23.1 on the road.

Even the turnovers and point differential is out of whack on the road.

The Saints enjoy a plus-five turnover margin at home and are a woeful minus-five when traveling. Because of all those points at home and the lack thereof on the road, New Orleans is plus-122 at home and minus-33 on the road in scoring margin.

 

The Quarterback

Brees is amazing under center and churns out yardage like very few others ever have. Against the Panthers in Week 14 Brees threw for 313 yards and joined four NFL greats in a historic milestone.

Brees joined Dan Marino, John Elway, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only five passers in NFL history to throw for 50,000 yards in a career. Even better, Brees got there quicker than anyone else.

No one is disputing that Brees is a future Hall of Famer.

His home-road splits this season are not pretty though.

Drew Brees: Home vs. Road
VenueCompletion %Yards/AttemptTDINTPasser Rating
Home73.2%8.8233122.5
Away63.4%6.911786.4
Pro Football Reference

Brees has completed fewer passes by percentage on the road, and when he does connect, his receivers have gained almost two full yards less away from home. His 23 touchdown passes in the Superdome are more than double the 11 scoring connections he’s made on the road, and he’s thrown more than twice as many interceptions (seven) on the road as he has at home (three).

 

“The Big Salad”

Who doesn’t love the 88th episode of Seinfeld, “The Big Salad?” Bigger is oftentimes better: Think salads, houses, TVs and plays from scrimmage.

The 20-yards-or-better “big play” can sometimes be a game-changer, and it happens much more frequently for the Saints at home than on the road. Of the five rushing plays of 20 yards or more this season, four have come at home and only one on the road.

New Orleans is far more adept at passing the football for more than 20 yards, but just as with running plays, “big-play” passes happen with more regularity at home (32) than they do on the road (25).

Breaking off a huge run or passing play can open up a game and lead to wins. This is a missing element for the Saints away from New Orleans.

 

The Pressure and Aggression

When Ryan took over the defense in New Orleans, more than the scheme change came a newfound aggressive nature. This unit loves to run around with its hair on fire, and no one’s hair looks better on fire (metaphorically speaking, of course) than Rob Ryan's.

One of the major reasons this defense is one of the more improved defenses of all time is because it can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and can disrupt plays, both via pressure on the quarterback and through turnovers.

While sacks aren’t the only way to way to measure pressure, they are very easy to count. And the Saints count 26 sacks at home and only 17 on the road. There’s a more disturbing trend than that, however.

The two biggest pass-rush nightmares the Saints have—defensive end Cam Jordan and linebacker Junior Galette—only seem to show up at home when it comes to getting after the quarterback.

Seven of Jordan’s 11.5 sacks have come at home, and eight of Galette’s nine have too. The two best pass-rush specialists New Orleans has don’t seem to get that particular job done on the road. This has to change.

New Orleans Sacks: Home vs. Road
PlayerPositionHomeRoad
Cam JordanDE74.5
Junior GaletteLB81
Parys HaralsonLB21.5
Akiem HicksDL21.5
David HawthorneLB12
Glenn FosterDE30
Malcolm JenkinsS02.5
Tom JohnsonDE11
Curtis LoftonLB01
Kenny VaccaroS01
Martez WilsonLB10
Tyrunn WalkerDE10
Keyunta DawsonLB0.5
Ramon HumberLB00.5
ESPN

Another weird anomaly when it comes to pulling down opposing quarterbacks: The defensive backfield for the Saints has 3.5 sacks this season. All have come on the road.

Turnovers are happening in droves for this defense at home too. The Saints have 10 interceptions this season, and eight have come at home. Of their 13 forced fumbles, nine were in the Superdome.

This defense is far more effectively aggressive in friendly confines.

Now that the numbers have shown what’s gone wrong on the road for the Saints, it’s up to Payton and Ryan and the rest of the coaching staff to fix these issues. If the road woes don’t get corrected there can’t be a deep playoff run.

But there’s a more pressing matter at hand. Before the Saints can get to the playoffs they have to win another game. A win over Carolina on Sunday would ensure the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye.

A loss would force New Orleans to win in Week 17 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and even with that win, a loss to Carolina would carry forth a lot of doubt into the postseason about winning on the road.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.

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