Gone are the days of a game like this being a primetime slug-fest between two teams with great talent and even greater expectations.
The Saints were out-matched almost from the get-go in primetime last night against the Ravens, and sadly, I think this is only the start.
This Offense Does Not Work Without The Running Game
It’s been clear for some time that this Saints offense goes as the running game does. Last night was a crippling reminder of that. Without it, you are expecting a 35-year-old Andy Dalton to function with Chris Olave and Alvin Kamara to throw, too, and that’s about it.
It was clear from the first drive the Ravens wanted to make the Saints one dimensional, they sold out to stop the run game, and they achieved that on the first drive. The Saints had a second and three, followed by a third and one. Usually, that’s exactly where the Saints want to be, they couldn’t convert, and it wasn’t close.
What happens when the offense has to pass, and the defense knows it? The defense blitzes, and the Ravens did that last night with great effectiveness. Getting to Dalton early and often with creative blitzes, especially on third down.
The Saints finished 3-11 on third down after entering the game as one of the league’s better third-down offenses. That was massively down to effective blitzes and not being able to run the ball as effectively as they have in previous weeks.
The blueprint is out on the Saints offense. HC Dennis Allen and OC Pete Carmichael Jr need to know that and adjust otherwise, teams will be loading up all season, and there will be plenty more offensive displays like last night.
The Saints Miss Michael Thomas
Many of you are reading this and thinking, well,… obviously.
To some, it wasn’t obvious. There was some thought that this offense would be fine with Chris Olave as the number one WR, and that’s about it, and the receiver position.
To some extent, I could forgive people for thinking that, since Dalton has taken over as the starter, the passing game has been far more effective than we have seen the last two seasons. Alvin Kamara has come to life in the passing game as we would’ve always expected, and the running attack has led the way for the offense.
However, last night it was clear as day why a player like Michael Thomas is so important. When the run game is shut down, and the Saints have to pass, they need someone else who can get open quickly on third downs and in the RedZone to give Dalton a quick outlet to go to when the defense does blitz.
Outside of Olave, that just wasn’t there last night. Marquez Callaway did have one filthy route in the RedZone at the end of the first half that should have been a TD. Unfortunately, Dalton just flat-out missed him, but that is not a consistent enough occurrence. Callaway then pretty much disappeared for the rest of the game.
Getting Jarvis Landry back should help a lot. His game meshes much more with the Dalton-led offense than the Jameis Winston offense. Him returning and being effective is no longer a luxury it is essential.
The Defense Still Struggles Against Mobile QBs
If you look at the box score, you may think they didn’t do that badly.
At face value, they didn’t, and with some better tackling, the stats would have looked a lot better. This was an improvement to previous games against QBs with similar rushing ability to Jackson. The issue is this team has to allocate so much attention, concentration, and resources to stopping this part of the team’s offenses that everything else falls by the wayside.
Both safeties blow a coverage because they paid so much respect to Lamar and the rushing attack. One led to the Ravens’ first TD, and the second left a wide-open TE to convert a third and long.
The numbers don’t show it, but Jackson could do whatever he wanted in the passing game. In fact, if he didn’t miss three of four wide-open WRs, the score and the passing game stats would have looked a lot different.
At this point, I don’t what this team can do to fix this issue. It’s been a problem every year, even throughout their dominant run as one of the league’s best defenses. This team is not one of those dominant units.
I’m starting to wonder if the Saints prototype of massive DEs who win with power rather than speed could be a reason. Where the DEs take a little longer to win, it’s easier for QBs to escape, and even if they do win quickly, it seems easier for the more nimble athletic QBs to escape and make the play when they really shouldn’t be able to.
The Injuries Are Still Piling Up
The hits keep coming to this team. They’ve already played much of the reason without Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Marshon Lattimore.
Just as you think the Saints are starting to get back to good health, Erik McCoy, Pete Werner, and Marcus Davenport left last night’s game with injuries.
Losing any of these players for extended periods would be brutal for this team. All three are crucial to the team’s success.
McCoy is the anchor of the o-line, which, as we’ve already discussed, is crucial to this team’s effectiveness. It also means a lot of juggling on the line. Cesar Ruiz would move to Center, where he did play in college, but Ruiz’s improvement at RG this season has been so good the team could really do without moving him. Then to replace Ruiz, the Saints have Calvin Throckmorton, who played well with limited expectations last season but has struggled so far in limited snaps this year.
Pete Werner has been playing at an all-pro level so far this season, and the team’s depth behind him is shaky at best. They’d be forced to play Kaden Ellis more, who’s done well so far this season in a very specific role. How he’d do with a more expansive role remains to be seen.
Although Marcus Davenport’s sack numbers have not been there so far this season, he’s still leading the team in pressures. Losing him would be a real hit to an already limited pass rush. Similar to the point made about Werner, the team’s depth is fairly shaky begins Davenport as well. Payton Turner has shown some improvements in the last two games. Again how he would do with more responsibilities as the team’s main, base DE remains to be seen.
Either way, these are questions this team could really do without. The margin for error is already so small with this team. Add to that three key starters not being available, it only gets smaller.
There are no more if, and’s, or buts. This team is what their record says it is a 3-6 football team with more questions than answers. Somehow, they are only one game back from the lead in the putrid NFC South.
There’s still a path for the team to make the playoffs, but it is wafer thin, they need to win all the games they should ( and there are not many at this stage) and win a couple on paper they shouldn’t, and even that might not be enough.
It has to start next week against the similarly dysfunctional Pittsburgh Steelers and go from there. Either way, Saints fans, protect yourselves. Temper expectations, enjoy the highs whenever they come, and take the lows for what they should be at this point. Expected.
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