Watching the replay of the Saints’ 27-24 loss to Atlanta in overtime confirmed one thing to me, not that I needed to watch it to confirm this – New Orleans played poorly in this game.
Everything that went right in 2009 – no dropped passes, the turnover battle, kicks – went wrong Sunday against the Falcons.
On the other hand, it says something about this team that, despite playing fairly poorly, it was still in the game. The mistakes that were made are absolutely correctable and that’s a good thing.
A few observations:
1. I don’t know whether this was in deference to Tony Gonzalez and the Falcons’ passing attack (which was missing Michael Jenkins), but free safety Malcolm Jenkins was way off the ball. Much farther than usual – a good 18-20 yards on most plays. He’s usually 15 or so back from the line.
2. Besides about a handful of plays, first contact was generally 3-5 yards down the field when the Saints were on defense. And this goes hand in hand with the fact that, against Atlanta especially, progress was always forward and not backward. The Saints lost leverage throughout the game. This was noticeable on Atlanta’s second touchdown.
3. Gonzalez, Atlanta’s all-world tight end and definite Hall of Famer, hurt the Saints in multiple ways against different players. New Orleans tried coverage with Pierson Prioleau and Scott Shanle (14-yard third-and-seven conversion), Tracy Porter (34-yard first-and-10 conversion), Porter with help over the top (13-yard touchdown on third-and-seven), etc. It didn’t help when Porter went out because that took an option away from the Saints in covering the tight end.
4. I spoke about leverage earlier; no play was this more evident than on Atlanta’s first third-down on its second scoring drive. Matt Ryan was stuffed in the middle on third-and-one and slid off to the right side of the line and into Saints defensive end Alex Brown’s grasp. Generally, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end will stop a 6-4, 220-pound quarterback. Not this time. Ryan drove Brown back for a two-yard gain and a first down.
5. On that same drive on the second fourth-down conversion, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma was indecisive. He paralleled the line trying to figure out whether to go in for the pressure on Ryan or whether he should have been in coverage. He should have been in coverage. During this time, Gonzalez snuck into the vacated spot where Vilma was and caught a 9-yard pass on fourth-and-two from the Saints’ 11.
6.) Watching the offensive line was very different from watching the same unit a season ago. The Falcons outmuscled the line all the way across the board and also appeared much quicker at the point of attack. Other than screens, much of the action in the trenches was on the Saints side of the line of scrimmage. That’s one of the reasons the run game was so putrid – no holes for players to run because it seemed the line was getting beat off the ball.
No real hammer award to hand out this week. This was a physical game, but no one really got decked or hit hard.
I’m not going with Garrett Hartley on this one. Yeah, he missed the kick and there are some obvious problems there. But this one goes to the run game. Where has it gone? A season ago it was the envy of many in the league. Now, without Reggie Bush and Lynell Hamilton, it’s non-existent. The Saints didn’t have a run longer than 12 yards and averaged 2.7 yards per attempt.
The Saints had more issues covering than just against Tony Gonzalez, though he was certainly the bane of the Saints’ existence.
On Roddy White’s 22-yard touchdown that gave Atlanta a 24-21 lead in the fourth quarter, Jabari Greer was beaten deep and Malcolm Jenkins took a bad angle to provide assistance. Neither was in good position to make a stop on the play.
Both Greer and Tracy Porter found themselves in trailing position several times in the game and a step or two behind Atlanta’s receiver. And that’s not even mentioning rookie Patrick Robinson, who at times waved his hands in the air trying to figure out what he was supposed to be doing.