Three Takeaways From A Gruesome New Orleans Saints Shutout Defeat

The Saints had not been shoutout in a game since week 17 of the 2001 season against none other than the San Franciso 49ers. 332 games have passed since then, which was the longest streak in the NFL. Yesterday, that streak ended as the Saints lost 13-0. Again they were buried by self-inflicted wounds. Without them, in true Saints fashion, the result of this game is totally different.

Three things stood out to me from truly one of the most frustrating Saints games I’ve had the displeasure of watching.

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Andy Dalton Was Not The Problem

As the game progressed, Saints Twitter was lighting up with comments about how enough is enough with Andy Dalton and how Jameis Winston should start going forward. Honestly, I don’t see how Andy Dalton was the problem in this game and how Winston would have done anything different to change the result.

Dalton moved the ball well and did more than enough for the Saints to win this game. The key to victory throughout Dalton’s run as the starter has been the running game, and when that hasn’t worked, he’s crumbled. I don’t think he crumbled yesterday. The offense around him did.

Of course, it’s reasonable when an offense scores zero points that some of the blame has to fall on the QB, and in other games where an offense is shutout, the blame would fall solely on the QB. Dalton did all he could, and there’s a clear path to where his play leads the Saints to multiple touchdowns and possibly a season-changing win.

The Saints moved the ball really well against one of the best defenses in the league. They were inside the 49ers ten-yard line twice and drove to the edge of the RedZone on another occasion. The result of those drives? A missed 48-yard field goal after veteran tackle Ryan Ramczyk’s false start pushed them back. An Alvin Kamara fumble at the one-yard line (the Saints had driven 87 yards in 12 plays)  and a turnover on downs after four pass attempts inside the five.

On the final drive, Dalton threw two balls that hit Juwan Johnson and Taysom Hill in the hands/face, but they couldn’t make the play. Both plays would have resulted in a touchdown. If the two earlier drives had gone differently, it would have been a 10-10 game on the Saints final offensive position, and instead of a turnover on downs, they could have kicked a chip-shot field goal to tie the game at 13. Giving the 49ers the ball back with six minutes left and a chance to win.

Was Dalton perfect? No, he wasn’t. He didn’t see Kamara on at least two plays where he looked to be wide open, where he would have walked in for a TD, but pressure forced Dalton to look to the other side of the field. He also threw Kamara into trouble on a few other plays that could have gotten the star RB hurt. However, is Winston perfect? At this stage, we know he is not, and one of Winston’s fatal flaws in the Saints offense is missed checkdown options to Kamara, so would he have seen him? It’s reasonable to think he wouldn’t have.

I understand the fans who think at this stage, with the Saints sitting 4-8, does it hurt to see what Winston is once and for all in this offense, given he’s the only QB under contract after this year? For what it’s worth, I agree with this argument. What I don’t agree with is those saying that because of this game, Dalton’s performance was so poor that he should be benched for Winston. I just don’t see that from what we saw yesterday.

This Might Have Been The Defense’s Best Game Of The Season

What’s even more frustrating about the Saints inability to score points yesterday was that the defense showed up in a big way. They tackled well and pressured Garoppolo constantly. They held the 49ers to three points on two drives where they were inside the Saints 10-yard line. One of those being a goal line stand turning over the 49ers at the one-yard line. For the most part, they shut down, on paper, an offense that does everything the Saints haven’t been able to defend all year.

The linebacker play was excellent. Kaden Ellis was great again and led the team with 14 tackles. He also forced a holding call rushing the passer. Ellis is starting to really look like the real deal. He wasn’t alone. Zack Baun had probably his best game as a Saint (outside of preseason games). He was involved in multiple positive plays in the run game and showed good ability as a Blitzer with a QB hit, which should have been a sack if not for Jimmy G’s quick trigger.

The secondary was excellent (except for one player more on him in a minute), especially Paulson Adebo, who had two PBUs on the day,(three if you count a play that was called back by penalty) and was sticky in coverage all day. Alontae Taylor should have had his first NFL interception, which again would have changed the game in the Saints favor if not for said player, and the safeties looked solid and did what they needed to do to limit a challenging 49ers offense.

Enough positivity. I’ve mentioned a player twice above who frankly cost the Saints dearly in this game and who should not have been in the game. Veteran CB Chris Harris. Harris has filled in admirably whilst the Saints dealt with a huge number of injuries at CB in recent weeks, considering he is one of the oldest starting DBs in the league. 

Yesterday there was no reason for him to be on the field. On the 49ers TD drive, he committed a ridiculous personal foul penalty for a late hit out of bounds, which was completely unnecessary, and gifted the 49ers first and goal at five. Frankly, he should not have been in the game after that, but of course, Dennis Allen left him in because he left him in. He then committed the illegal contact penalty that cost the Saints the turnover they desperately needed when Alontae Taylor picked off Jimmy G and returned it to the 49ers eight-yard line. 

With the Saints expected to get Marshon Lattimore back this week and Roby returning in this game, Harris should not be on the field anymore, and if he does, it is coaching malpractice.

What Is A Catch In The NFL?

The Saints took over on the 49ers 38, down three, with a real chance to change the game’s momentum. Taysom Hill threw a dart to Chris Olave for 30 yards, setting them up with first and goal at the 49ers eight-yard line. Or so we thought. Olave caught the ball, took two steps, hit the ground, and the ball came out.

The 49ers challenged much to Twitter’s confusion. Nobody that I saw could understand why Olave clearly secured the ball, completed a football move ( two steps after securing possession), and then his knee hit the ground, he still had possession, and then the ball came out. The ground can’t cause a fumble; therefore, this was a pointless challenge, and the Saints should have had first and goal. Wrong for some reason, none that are clear to me or anyone else ( apart from FOX NFL rules analyst Dean Blandino). The refs overturned the call to an incomplete pass.

The drive ended in a punt. This was another point of frustration in this game. The Saints likely score at least three points here, changing the whole complexion of those late-game drives. Maybe they even score a TD, which would have really given the Saints the momentum. Maybe the Saints completely balls it up and don’t score at all, but we should be able to speak in definitives because we should have been able to see how it played out because there’s no way it should have been ruled how it was.

This isn’t news to anyone, but the NFL has a huge officiating issue that needs to be addressed because I’m getting sick of it, and fans will start to switch off the way this is going.

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