METAIRIE, La. — Heath Evans sat in his locker Monday, looking up to recorders, microphones and TV cameras and searched for answers to questions he also was asking himself.
But while he wished he had the “magic answer,” he knew one thing for sure – the Saints’ 30-24 loss to Baltimore can’t be blamed on Head Coach Sean Payton.
“The one thing I know that’s not fair to blame is you can’t blame Sean because he’s positioned the team was the ‘Aints into a Super Bowl in four years,” said Evans, a 10th year pro out of Auburn. “He’s 99 percent right. Yesterday’s game plan was good enough to win. It just comes down to execution.
“This is a player-driven league. We drive things to succeed or we drive them the opposite way. It was one of (those) deals yesterday.”
The Saints, then, didn’t take advantage of the few times run plays were called. New Orleans (10-4) finished with a season-low 27 yards rushing on season-low14 carries.
Yet, according to Payton, that was the game plan heading in.
Baltimore (10-4) was sixth in the NFL against the run heading into the game, but 12th against the pass. Houston crept back into its game against the Ravens on the Monday before Sunday’s game by passing the ball and keeping Baltimore on its heels.
“We wanted this game to be an up-tempo game,” Payton said. “We wanted to make this game one that was a back and forth game played as opposed to that ball control. We wanted this game to have a lot of snaps. We got some of that, but not enough of it offensively.”
The Saints entered the game 22nd in the NFL in rushing and fell to 26th. That’s after being near the top of the league a season ago when the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Payton admitted that early in the season, New Orleans wasn’t running well. But over the six game win streak, the Saints were averaging 111 yards on the ground per game and had beefed their season average to 101 yards per. They’re down to 95.8 for the season after Sunday.
“Sean’s game plan, at least what he spoke to us, was hey, let’s get them out there, try to get them on their heels, let’s see what they’re doing in certain situations and let’s counter punch those things,” Evans said. “They just had some mean right jabs and some mean upper cuts yesterday.”
He said the Saints will attempt to get the run game back on track this week against Atlanta.
That in and of itself will be difficult. The Falcons (12-2) are a ball control team like the Ravens. Atlanta’s 32 minutes, 39 seconds time of possession is third in the league and the Falcons boast the seventh-best running attack in the NFL.
Against Baltimore, New Orleans couldn’t stop the run, giving up 208 yards on 39 carries, including 153 yards on the ground to Ray Rice.
“It was just one of those games, I think, where you can go back and look at the film and see exactly what went wrong and what could have limited the amount of yards given up on plays,” linebacker Scott Shanle said. “Right off the top of my head I’d say that was one of the poorer games we had tackling all season.”
Added nose guard Remi Ayodele, “I think it’s quick fixes. I think there were a lot of missed tackles. We’ve got to tackle better and fit better.”
The Saints will be off Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to the practice field Thursday.