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Mouton: Kicking woes, slow start offense among Saints problems

NFL parity is real and the Saints can be among the better teams, but they better correct some things real soon.

NEW ORLEANS — If there’s a silver lining in the Saints gut-wrenching loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, it’s this: The Saints entered Nissan Stadium as the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture and they woke up Monday morning still as the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture. 

NFL parity is real and after 10 weeks, everybody has at least two losses.

That includes the Tennessee Tians, who are now tied for the best record in the NFL.

In his Monday conference call, Sean Payton called the loss “gut-wrenching” and he meant that literally and there are a number of reasons why.

Kicking woes

We’ll start at number four with the Saints continuing problems with making kicks. 

First of all, you can’t blame the Tennessee breeze. Titans kicker Randy Bullock was a perfect five for five on extra points and field goals.

Saints kicker Brian Johnson was one of three. Just one of those missed extra points meant the Saints wouldn’t have needed to try for two points in the final two minutes.

No team in the NFL has missed more extra points than the Saints this season – they have now missed five. 

Eight total missed kicks, including field goals, is tied for second most in the NFL.

Last year the Saints only missed a combined six kicks all year. There were only five missed in 2019.

And, the eight misses comes as they’ve tried only 12 field goals the entire season. That’s the second fewest in the NFL this season. 

The Saints aren’t kicking it much and they’re missing a lot.

And, it’s not just the misses. The lack of attempts means it has altered Sean Payton’s decision making.

And, there’s no real way for Payton to fix it other than to just keep trying new kickers until he finds one who can make kicks.

Bogus penalty

The third factor in the loss was the roughing the passer call on Kaden Elliss. It was just terrible. I understand the NFL’s ‘Protect the Quarterback’ mindset, but even the Nashville newspaper, the Tennessean, said “there wasn’t a blow to the head, the penalty was incorrect.”

It changed a goal line stop into a Titans touchdown. And, if you’d say making kicks is hard for Payton to fix, fixing officiating is impossible.

And, it meant the Saints lost the turnover battle, which should have been even. But, I want to say, that as bad as that call was, it wasn’t bigger than Deonte Harris’ fumble to open the second half and the Saints did have opportunities to overcome it.

Offense starts too late

At number two, I think this is an issue that Payton can and must fix. 

In the last two games, Trevor Siemian and the offense has been poor for three quarters. Siemian’s quarterback rating is a mediocre 83.2. In the fourth quarter of those two games, it’s an outstanding 127.  

Still can be good

The Titans did stop attacking once they had the lead, but you have to figure out a way to get the offense going sooner. 

And, at number one, I keep coming back to this, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, without Alvin Kamara, you lost the turnover battle, missed two extra points, got a terrible call that gave the Titans a touchdown and, with all that, the Saints still had a chance to beat the best team in the AFC if Adam Trautman hadn’t jumped on the two-point try. That was the final straw. 

The Saints have wins over two division leaders and one of the hottest teams in football. The Saints have stood up to the NFL’s elite this season, including Sunday, and have not been overmatched.  

This one hurts, but despite two straight losses, I think the Saints have a chance to be a really good team, if they can stop the self-inflicted bleeding.

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