If I had offered up the hypothetical "The Saints will lose to the Rams because _________________" 24 hours ago then most would preemptively point to the absence of the player whose Defensive Rookie Of The Year honors are merely a formality and his counterpart who came off the bench to spark what is now a recently deceased 8-game winning streak. After watching Sammy Watkins cap off the fist drive of the game with a touchdown in front of who other than the soon-to-sidelined DeVante Harris, the questionable health of Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley appeared to be the right answer. Unfortunately, the way the rest of the game played out would have ended up getting you (or I) nothing more than partial credit regardless of what Jared Goff's final stat line might indicate.
In fact, you need not look further than the Saints first possession to get a harrowing glimpse at the ways in which the active players and coaches actually cost themselves yesterday's game. I'm all for the concept of catching a team off guard. However, passing on four straight downs when your quarterback is reliant upon a clean pocket, your offensive line is coming off a weak performance in drop-back situations, the opposition rosters the best interior pass rusher in football, and your proven rushing attack appears to be the perfect match for their suspect run defense is nothing more than a fool's errand. I hesitate to critique Sean Payton because his willingness to adapt to his personnel is what has allowed New Orleans to go half a season without a loss, but if his initial game script wasn't a classic case of overthinking things then it was a case of not thinking things through at all. It made very little sense to immediately go into shootout mode, and Alvin Kamara's seemingly effortless 74 yard touchdown dash on the next drive was proof positive of that.
Now, one questionable set of downs doesn't tell the whole story, but how it served as a sign of things to come certainly would have gotten it featured in the cliff notes. Hell, the only thing that was missing from that uninspiring display of turnover prone football was a senseless penalty that backed them up even further than the two consecutive sacks did, because a complete lack of discipline rivaled odd play-calling and porous pass protection at the top of the list of problematic play.
After the Saints turned it on late to run roughshod over the Redskins en route to a miraculous comeback, many - including myself - assumed that the offense would be the least of the concerns yesterday. Instead, it was a pedestrian effort from Drew Brees and company that left a vulnerable defense at even worse odds than their injuries. As can be seen in the huge chunks of yardage they gave up, they didn't exactly beat those odds but they did a hell of a job keeping it close as the offense continually crapped itself. The complimentary football that brought this team back from the dead was non-existent, and it's no coincidence they looked defeated far before the final whistle as a result.
Of course, it's tough to find yourself disappointed in a team that hadn't lost since mid-September. After all, getting to 8-2 after an 0-2 start required a defiance of history so a first round bye and home field advantage was essentially a pipe dream. A loss was probably coming eventually and with cluster of divisional games on the horizon, this probably wasn't the worst time to suffer it. That said, it was the way in which they lost that uncovered pessimism to a fanbase that had somehow found itself unfamiliar. Simply put, there are a lot of things to clean up if New Orleans wants regain sole control of the division next Sunday, and the injury report (that might now feature Terron Amstead in a more prominent role) is only one of them.
Also of note:
- I know the presence of Mark Ingram makes Alvin Kamara more effective and vice versa, but it seems inexcusable that the latter only got the ball 11 times when he was the only thing consistently working. Don't let the overtime heroics of the former fool you, because this marks the second week in a row in which the hot hand was left helplessly sizzling for long stretches. Discount his 74 yard run and Kamara still averaged over 11 yards per touch. The unit being out of synch didn't help and I doubt he would have been able to overcome the ineptitude of the rest of the offense, but you can't watch this play and tell me if wouldn't have been worth a shot to force his involvement...
- Cam Jordan deserves his own mention. Two sacks, two tackles for a loss, and two batted balls. In the same vein as Marshon Lattimore, his excellence has become a foregone conclusion. The respectable defensive effort was led by him, and he might have something other than absurd stats to show for it if the offense eased the burden on a battered secondary even a little bit.