The New Orleans Saints were missing both their starting cornerbacks, had 117 yards of penalties, converted only 3 of 13 third downs and predictably lost to the Los Angeles Rams 26-20.
I could give some hot take click bait thesis that Sunday exposed some secret formula to defeat the 2017 Saints but truthfully my only concern is at 8-3 the Saints don’t have as much margin for error as we’d normally expect because the NFC, specifically the NFC South, is LOADED. The Saints currently are fourth in the NFC playoff race and the teams directly behind them (Carolina and Atlanta) are next up on the schedule.
Sometimes the obvious answers are the correct ones; the Saints offense let down a shorthanded defense doing the best it could under the circumstances in Los Angeles.
What Sunday showed is the Saints offense is going to struggle when they can’t take a sledge hammer to defenses running the ball and create favorable down and distance situations. The Saints went into the Rams game 10th in third down conversions on offense in the NFL, the worst ever under Sean Payton, and converting only 23 percent against Los Angeles won’t improve that ranking.
Sean Payton didn’t leave any doubt what he thought of the Saints third down struggles, “Our third downs on offense stunk.”
When the Saints face third downs where passing is obvious, they don’t have the receivers good enough to win one-on-one battles to keep the chains moving. If the Saints don’t convert third downs, they can’t wear down teams with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. If they can’t wear down teams running the ball, the offense looks like it did Sunday; kind of below average.
There is a reason Sean Payton bemoaned penalties early in his post-game press conference - he knows the 2017 Saints aren’t built to thrive in 2nd and 3rd and long. The days of 3rd and 11 not being a huge problem for the Saints are over.
The Saints offense versus the Rams was almost entirely comprised of Alvin Kamara doing football magic tricks. Kamara is officially a wizard. He scored both Saints touchdowns, on a 74-yard run and 15-yard catch, made like half the Rams defense miss tackles on a screen pass, and hurdled a dude on another play.
The Kansas City Chiefs are freefalling and their sensational rookie Kareem Hunt doesn’t seem to be a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year like he was just a few weeks ago. There is a non-zero chance the Saints will have both the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year. It seems unbelievable, but if in August we tried to figure out how the Saints would be 8-3, having two Rookie of the Year Candidates wouldn’t have been the craziest theory on how they’d get here.
While Kamara was making an even stronger case for offensive rookie of the year, the rest of the Saints offense looked like a truck that was determined to stay stuck in the ditch no matter how badly the Rams wanted to keep the Saints in the game. Drew Brees probably had his worst game of the season. He hadn’t even cracked 100 yards passing deep into the second half, had three balls that should have been intercepted, and missed Ted Ginn Jr. on a sure touchdown.
Lots of you are probably screaming at your computer, “How could the Saints only run the ball 17 times?!” It’s hard to run the ball when you can’t convert third downs and the offensive line having a second straight poor showing didn’t help. As somebody famous once said, “Once is chance, twice is a coincidence, but a third time is a problem.” If the Saints offensive line gets whipped again against Carolina next week, you can all look for ways to sooth the panic we will all justifiably have. I’ll eat and drink even more recklessly on game day. Food comforts my soul.
In 1991 the Saints had massive injuries at cornerback and it nearly cost them a division title and did cause them to lose a first round playoff game. That defense had the Dome Patrol and was #1 scoring unit in the NFL. The 2017 Saints aren’t nearly that talented and can’t survive without both starting corners. The good news is Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley should be back sooner than later. Corners not named Lattimore or Crawley are affecting my physical and mental well-being - I’d prefer not to see them on my TV a lot the rest of 2017.
The Saints have been out played two straight weeks, weren’t able to perform another fourth quarter miracle, face the toughest part of their schedule with injuries mounting, and the two teams chasing them brimming with confidence. The next five weeks the Saints have four division games, in the best division in the NFL, which just made the holiday season way more exciting. Buckle up people.
Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at Saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at iTunes.