The New Orleans Saints started the season 5-0 and won nine of their first 11 games. Life was grand, and not only was the postseason in clear view, the Saints were being mentioned in the same class as the Seattle Seahawks at the upper echelon of the NFC.
Four weeks later, the team is 10-5 and needs a Week 17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—or some help from around the NFC—just to make the playoffs.
New Orleans has gone from big dog to lapdog after losing three of its last four games. The month of December has been brutal on the Saints.
You can look at how this team plays on the road versus at home and find many of the answers as to what’s gone wrong. It’s not the entire story, but it’s truly ugly.
New Orleans is 7-0 at home and has averaged 32.9 points per game in the Superdome. On the road, the Saints are 3-5 and have scored just 17.8 points per game.
All three of New Orleans’ losses in December have come on the road, a 27-point embarrassment in Seattle, an 11-point upset loss in St. Louis to the Rams and Sunday’s four-point loss to the Carolina Panthers—a team the Saints beat 31-13 just two weeks earlier at home.
What else has gone wrong besides the team’s road woes?
Quarterback Drew Brees has been throwing interceptions at an alarming rate recently. Brees has thrown 12 picks on the season, but 33 percent (four of the 12) of those have come in the last two football games. Both of those were road games, so the home-road conversation is still in play.
Brees’ offensive line didn’t do him any favors Sunday, as it allowed five sacks in the first half and gave up six on the day, the most he’s been pulled down all season. He’s actually been sacked 13 times over the last four games, and much of that has to do with the turmoil at left tackle.
Left tackle Charles Brown was benched in the St. Louis game after he gave up two sacks, two quarterback hits and a hurry. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown was responsible for seven of the 36 times Brees has been sacked this season.
Who should play left tackle for the Saints moving forward?
Brown’s replacement, rookie Terron Armstead, didn’t fare terribly well replacing the left tackle. Armstead was penalized twice and gave up two sacks, one quarterback hit and two hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
There’s trouble on the offensive line for the Saints that has nothing to do with being on the road or at home.
Not all of the problems of late have to do with the New Orleans offense. The Saints own the second-ranked run defense in the league and at 19.1 points per game are ranked fifth in points allowed. This defense is stout, but it hasn’t been forcing turnovers like it did at the beginning of the season.
The New Orleans defense was extremely opportunistic during the first half of the season. The Saints forced 15 turnovers in the first eight games. But in the seven games since, it has only enjoyed three turnovers. The Saints were 6-1 during the weeks when turnovers were plentiful, but during the drought, the team has gone 4-4.
Before Sunday’s game, The Advocate reported that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wanted to put an emphasis on creating more turnovers.
We’ve been talking about (getting turnovers), but we just haven’t been getting it done much. You get tired as the season goes along, and maybe that emphasis (on turnovers) wasn’t made enough or it hasn’t been made enough.
We’ve really been emphasizing it this week, and everybody’s been buying in. We’ve just got to capitalize on it. We’re doing everything we can as players and coaches to get that turned around, and it will this week.
The Saints did pick off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton once, but it wasn’t enough. New Orleans posted five games in the first half of the season where the defense created two or more turnovers. The Saints won all five of those games.
If the Saints make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed (where they’re projected right now) they’re going to have to find a way to win in the road. Creating multiple turnovers per game would be a great start. And it’s been a proven tool for success already this season.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.