The Saints are on the doorstep of losing their season, there are plenty of games to go but sitting at 2-4 now leaves no margin for error, they need to win every game they should and a couple they shouldn’t if they are going to make the playoffs. Which a team with this much talent should be doing.
What is there to takeaway from this game from a positive and negative view?
Saints Running Game is This Team’s Offensive Identity
Gone are the days of the high-flying Saint’s passing offense led by Drew Brees (oh how we miss you). This Saints team is built to dominate on the ground and did just that yesterday against the Bengals.
The Saints ran for 228 yards on 34 attempts which averaged out at 6.7 yards per carry. That’s a recipe for winning the game nine times out of ten. This game was unfortunately that one. To add to the frustration of this dominance on the ground not resulting in a win. It’s the first time since 2005 that the Saints lost a game where they ran for over 200 yards.
All three Saints runners were excellent, Kamara again saw the majority of the rushes with 19, and Ingram (9) ended up with more carries than Hill (5). The Bengals did a good job overall against Hill and ended with 39 yards rushing, 31 of those came on one run.
But this running identity must include Taysom Hill more, his usage almost disappeared in the second half on Sunday, especially in the RedZone which is where he has been at his best this season.
Hill also managed to pick up two first downs throwing, this is why it was mystifying why he wasn’t used more in the RedZone and on the penultimate offensive drive. On that penultimate drive, the Saints needed a couple of first downs to run out the clock up 2 to win the game.
There has been a lot of criticism of the playing calling on this drive, the Saints went three and out after a pair of three-yard runs and an incomplete pass. I understand the calls that the Saints were too conservative but, the running game had gotten them to this point and if they hadn’t tried to seal the game using the running game then that would have been malpractice as well.
My bigger issue was the lack of Taysom, on the two runs, they put eight defenders in the box on first down and nine on second down. Having Hill at QB would have allowed the Saints to still run if they wanted but crucially Hill could have exploited the packed box with a pass like he had done earlier in the game.
Saints Falter In The RedZone
This game was ultimately lost in the RedZone.
The Saints offense kicked too many field goals. The Saints defense couldn’t hold the Bengals to any.
It’s that simple. The Saints offense made six trips to the RedZone and scored points on all six trips however, only one of those scoring drives was a touchdown, and five were field goals.
Compare that to the Bengals offense who made three trips to the Saints RedZone and scored a TD on all three.
Entering the game, the Saints were one of the best RedZone offenses at converting trips to touchdowns and the defense was one of the best at stopping touchdowns in the RedZone.
That all crumbled on Sunday and it completely changed the complexation of the game. If the Saints scored one more TD from their six RedZone trips, on the last drive they would have only required a field goal to win the game rather than a TD. The same goes for the defense, one field goal instead of TD.
The Baffling part of the Saints offensive struggles? Why didn’t they use their main offensive RedZone Weapon more? Taysom Hill has been lethal in this area of the field this year and other than a role out pass that didn’t work he didn’t have any touches in the RedZone.
Dalton Has One More Chance
Seems almost 100% that Dalton will start again this week @ the Cardinals. It’s a short week and Winston still seems like he needs more time to get healthy.
Dalton could have easily shut the door on Winston returning as the starter. He’s been efficient and with some more competent defensive play, he could very easily be 3-0 as the starter if that were the case I don’t think the Saints turn back to Winston.
Now I’m not saying Dalton has been perfect he’s missed some throws, some that Winston might have made and has not done enough in crunch time to see out some games.
Also adding QB Jameis Winston back into this team, with this running game is an enticing prospect. Winston is one of the best QBs on play-action, with this running game a credible threat, that only gives more credibility to a play-action fake.
If Dalton losses or doesn’t look hugely impressive on Thursday then I think the Saints return to Winston after their ‘mini bye’ for the game against the Raiders. Is that the right decision? only time will tell.
The Secondary Is A Problem
The Saints pass rush did a pretty good job yesterday yes they need to convert pressure into sacks but if Burrow didn’t get the ball out in rapid time the pass rush was there and would have had plenty of sacks. After the first drive it was clear that the Bengals committed to not letting their o-line lose them the game, by dialling up plays where the ball was out of Burrow’s hands fast.
That plan, in previous years, would have suited the Saints defense, this year it sliced them apart. Burrow diced the Saints defense up with quick game because the secondary couldn’t cover for more than a few seconds before someone was open.
In theory, that should mean shorter gains, but this Saints secondary misses a tonne of tackles turning what should be short gains into first downs and even touchdowns. See Chase’s 60-yard TD for an example of that- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSHcK9DKGNo .
Yes, they’re down their best cover corner (Marshon Lattimore) but this secondary and its depth were supposed to be the strength of this team. That’s why they basically gave Chauncey Gardner-Johnson away.
Second-year CB Paulson Adebo was supposed to be taking the next step to becoming great number two corner, two games into his return from injury, he’s not that, he’s not even close, PFF has him chartered as giving up 8 catches from 10 targets for 74 yards and a TD.
Bradley Roby is doing okay but has a huge problem with missed tackles PFF have him missing three tackles in this game alone, one of those being the biggest miss of the game, again see Chase TD.
Then you have Tyrann Mathieu and this may be harsh, but currently looks like a liability. He’s missed his fair share of tackles but also always seems to be in the wrong position when a play could be made. Right now he does not look like the player everyone expected. Maybe he needs more time to acclimate to this defense he missed a fair amount of time in training camp. He may also need time to build chemistry with his safety partner Marcus Maye who’s missed the last three games. Either way, his play needs to improve.
There’s Still Some Room For Hope
Yes, even at 2-4 with all the injuries and that questionable and inconsistent play there is still a slimmer of hope. After the game this Thursday they should get many of their injured players back ( Winston, Thomas, Landry and Lattimore that’s why a win against AZ is essential.
The Saints have 3 winnable games coming up, this Thursday against Arizona (who have their own injury problems) after that its the 1-4 Raiders at home and then after a trip to Baltimore the Saints face either a Kenny Pickett or Mitch Trubisky lead Steelers team.
IF they can win three of those games that would put them 5-5 and that could be good enough to put them first or close to it in a currently poor NFC South.
The margin for error has now gone for the Saints, the loss to a dreadful Carolina team and two games they should have won against the Vikings and the Bengals have eroded that away. There can be no more excuses, a loss to the Cardinals this week ends the slither of hope I have left for this team.
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