METAIRIE, La. — Thomas Morstead would like his first kickoff from Sunday’s loss to the Giants back.
Special teams coordinator Greg McMahon likely wants them all back.
Four days after the Saints gave up a franchise-record 287 return yards on six kickoffs, the film has been watched, over …and over… and over.
The positive news?
The coaching staff feels like it has identified exactly what went wrong.
Of course, that’s little solace after the fact.
“Certainly I am going to take responsibility for it because we put it on the field,” McMahon said. “We tell our guys all the time, we are in this sucker together, there is no doubt about it. It wasn’t coached well enough and it certainly wasn’t executed and so it was just a disappointing performance.”
Heading into the game at MetLife Stadium, the Saints (5-8) were No. 4 in the NFL in kickoffs, allowing teams to start on average at their own 20-yard line. Half of Morstead’s kickoffs were touchbacks, and all but seven of his kicks had gone into the end zone.
A precipitous drop followed the New York game. New Orleans fell to 24th in the NFL, the Giants’ 287 yards – including a 97-yard touchdown return by David Wilson – pushing the average starting field position for Saints’ opponents to the 23.1-yard line.
Though weather was poor, Morstead didn’t blame the cold, wet day for only one of his six kicks getting into the end zone.
“I take it personal in the fact that if I hit a touchback, there is no return,” Morstead said Thursday. “That’s why you’ve got the other 10 guys to go tackle the guy when I don’t hit a touchback. Collectively we didn’t get it done.”
Prior to the Giants game, 29 kicks had been returned for an average of 22 yards. New York’s six returns, including one botched return on a short kick, averaged 47.8 yards. After kickoffs, the Giants’ average starting field position was New Orleans’ 48-yard line.
McMahon explained that the Saints lost “lane integrity,” meaning that instead of having players in the right position down the field, they were outside of where they were supposed to be. This created holes in the coverage that, in the end, forced Morstead to try and tackle the return man.
It was the first time this season that has been the case.
“Look, I told our guys, I said we have to do better and I have to do a better job,” McMahon said. “You guys (they) have to be ready mentally, physically and emotionally and we have to make sure that when we’re practicing every day that we’re really true to our fundamentals of smart football. I felt like we played pretty dang good up to 12 games but in this league you’re as good as your last out.”
The problem is, the last out was as bad as the Saints have played this season and, because of it, they’ve likely seen their postseason hopes go up in smoke. Though mathematically still alive, it would take a Christmas miracle to get New Orleans into the playoffs.
So, when asked if he had lost sleep over the performance of the special teams, Morstead quickly responded, “Yes, I did.”
“I think if you take that one single component out of the game, we win the game,” he said.
The key now will be to respond this coming Sunday against Tampa Bay (6-7) at home in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The good news is that indoors in the controlled environment it’s easier for Morstead to knock the ball out of the end zone.
And if he doesn’t, the other 10 players need to be ready.
“A big part of special teams is just having swagger and collectively going out there and being a bunch of badasses as a unit,” he said. “We can’t lose that.”