Well, I truly thought after the Carolina game that the Saints’ offense would get on track, especially against one of the statistically worst defensive teams in the NFL.
But the Cardinals forced the Saints into one of their worst performances of the past five years when you consider how bad Arizona was coming into the game.
Drew Brees appeared off for much of the final three quarters. The run game, which had moments of being good, was stifled by the Cardinals and by Head Coach Sean Payton, who called lots of passes against the 30th-ranked run defense in the league.
The first quarter was brilliant. Easily the best football of the season by the Saints. The final three quarters? Not so much. The defense held up, but the offense couldn’t get out of its own way and special team gave up yardage like a post-Christmas sale at the local dollar store.
A few observations
1.) On the Saints first series, we saw omens of the day to come even though it ended in points. On three straight plays, the Saints did something wrong after setting up shop at the Cardinals’ 21. First, right guard Jahri Evans ignored rookie linebacker Daryl Washington firing through a hole. Washington tackled Chris Ivory for a three-yard loss.
A play later, Brees (who I rarely criticize because he’s usually on) was zeroed in on receiver Marques Colston from the outset of the play. While the pass into double coverage did gain 11 yards on second-and-13, receiver Lance Moore was open across the field and would have gained a first down.
On third-and-two, Brees again zeroes in on his receiver, this time tight end Jeremy Shockey. But this time it’s OK because it’s designed to be a quick slant. Shockey, though, runs a yard or two too deep and rounds off his route, giving Arizona safety Kerry Rhodes plenty of time to step up and knock down the pass.
2.) Still, despite those aforementioned bugaboos, the first quarter might be the best quarter of football the Saints have played all year. The offense controlled the ball for more than half the quarter, earned seven first downs and took a 10-0 lead.
The defense kept Arizona off the field, forcing one punt and coming up with a turnover, cornerback Jabari Greer’s first interception of the season.
But the offense looked in good sorts. The Saints ran the ball five times and passed it nine, but he runs set up the play-action and on the touchdown to Shockey, the Arizona linebackers committed to the run leaving the tight end wide open. More impressive – Chris Ivory’s play-action fake and block at the end of the line to give Brees time to throw to Shockey.
3.) Patrick Robinson is going to get himself injured sooner than later. Sure, he finished with a team-high eight tackles and a pass defensed. But continues to tackle with his head down. He was injured in the second quarter when Tim Hightower’s knee hit him on his head on a second-and-five play where he made a good read. However, four players earlier, Robinson could have stopped the drive cold when he could have tackled Beanie Wells on fourth-and-one at the line of scrimmage.
4.) Ladell Betts had a great game against Carolina. A week later, he’s probably kicking himself. The interception near the goal line was his fault. Sure, he was late turning to see the ball. But it went off his finger tips and into Paris Lenon’s hands. Then on the fumble that Rhodes returned for a touchdown, Betts’ wasn’t ball secure and allowed Arizona’s Darnell Dockett to strip the football.
5.) Nothing is bouncing the Saints’ way this season. Three plays stand out in particular.
The first is the back-to-back plays after Brees was intercepted near the end zone. A year ago, Max Hall’s pass into the end zone on second down is intercepted by Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Instead, the ball caroms harmlessly out of play. A play later, Hall fumbles after Anthony Hargrove and Malcolm Jenkins plastered him. But the ball bounces into guard Levi Brown’s hands for a touchdown.
The second is Hall’s fumble that Remi Ayodele caused. A season ago, Jonathan Vilma or Sedrick Ellis – both of whom were near the ball – grab it and it’s New Orleans football. Instead, the Cardinals drive for a game-tying field goal.
And finally, on the Cardinals’ final offensive play of the game, Roman Harper forced a fumble from Ben Patrick. He eventually throws the ball back inbounds, but the Saints don’t get to it. In another “a year ago” statement, that is recovered by the Saints and possibly returned for a touchdown.
6.) Brees is not on his game right now. I’m getting the impression from watching him that he’s beginning to press. With the running game lagging and the offense running in sand, you can see him getting frustrated. On third-and-10 from the 14 at the end of the first half, he darted the ball into the ground when a screen pass was covered.
But it’s his passes that stand out. Several were underthrown, including the touchdown pass to Robert Meachem and the interception that was intended for Shockey. His final interception was intended as a back-shoulder pass, which he has all but perfected, but it went front shoulder and was an easy diving pick by Dominique Rogers-Cromartie.
He has thrown five interceptions in the past three games and, not surprisingly, the Saints are only 1-2 in those contests.