NEW ORLEANS — Here are my four takeaways from the Saints loss to the Packers, which wasn’t nearly as bad as it seems.
- Alvin Kamara is absurd. His 52-yard catch and run for a touchdown was as close to beautiful as a football play can be. His numbers actually back up his talent. He had 197 yards from scrimmage against Green Bay, the best game of his career. He had 174 against Las Vegas. It’s the second-best two game stretch of his career. Right now he leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage and he might be the best offensive player in the NFL not named Pat Mahomes. A big preseason question was “Could Kamara get back to being himself?” The obvious answer is ‘yes.’
- The Saints have been maddeningly unaggressive on offense. Drew Brees’ numbers were better this week and his TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders on that slant was a dart, but to me, the most critical series of the game came halfway through the fourth quarter. Taysom Hill had fumbled but the Saints defense held the Packers to a field goal. The Saints got the ball back, down three at their own 25. On first down, Drew Brees threw it three yards downfield to Kamara. On second down he threw it one yard down field to Deonte Harris. He actually had good protection but checked down to Harris and it gained only two yards. Then, on third and five, a quick screen to Kamara was caught four yards behind the line of scrimmage and gained zero. Drew Brees says he doesn’t care how far his passes travel through the air and I believe him and when Michael Thomas comes back it will definitely help, but this team’s success is founded on aggressiveness. Remember that Sean Payton is the guy who tried an onsides kick to start the second half of a Super Bowl. But, right now his offense is so afraid to make a mistake, it’s sputtering. That series was a chance for the Saints to win the game and they went three and out. The Packers then drove down the field and got the game ending touchdown.
- The defense is just struggling. The most fundamental stat in football is points and the Saints are giving up way too many of them. It’s 94 points allowed over three games. That’s 31.3 points per game. Now, contrast that to the last three seasons. They’re giving up 10 points more per game! The last team to give up as many points over the course of a season is the 2008 Detroit Lions. This doesn’t help, but the Falcons are actually giving up even more points. For the Saints, it’s been problems everywhere. The pass rush has been weak, the communication breakdowns in the secondary have been plentiful. Heck, the Saints made Alan Lazard a star Sunday night. We thought the secondary would be a strength, it has not been so far.
- The Saints have to clean up all of the penalties. Looking back at the game stats, the Saints were even with the Packers in most of the categories, but not in penalty yards where they had 83 against them and only 10 against Green Bay. In fact, through three games the Saints have racked up 205 more penalty yards than their opponents. It’s undisciplined football. It’s pre-snap and it’s way too much grabbing from defensive backs and it’s bad at a historical pace. I went back 15 years and found that the three most penalized teams and found the three most penalized teams in the NFL during that tie. It’s the 2011 Raiders (84.9 yards per game average), the 2017 Seahawks (83.9) and the 2010 Raiders (79.8). The Saints are averaging 110.3 penalty yards per game. That is far and away more than those 3 teams, none of which made the playoffs.