The Saints knew their opponent Sunday was just erratic enough to be scary. On Sunday, the Saints caught the good Jets, who were essentially able to get the black and gold to play their style of game. And now they're are 6-2 - not 7-1 - because of it.
Here are my five takes from the tape:
I. Where the Game was Lost
By the 7:51 mark of the second quarter, the Saints took a 14-6 lead after Jimmy Graham's second touchdown catch.
But over the next 10:54, the Saints allowed the Jets to seize control and essentially win the game. During that time frame, they were outscored 17-0, out-gained 140-11 in yards, had a 20-2 disadvantage in plays run. They also committed the biggest turnover of the game when Drew Brees was picked off for the second time off a dropped pass by Nick Toon right before halftime.
The Jets took advantage of these opportunities and scored their only two touchdowns of the game during this time, got a 40-yard kickoff return from Josh Cribbs and converted two crucial third downs.
By the time the Saints got the ball at the 11:57 mark of the third quarter, they were down 23-14.
They were never able to recover.
II. Offensive Line Issues
Going in, I felt this was the key matchup of this game. It was the one area where I felt the Jets had an advantage over the Saints on their team. On Sunday, they proved me right.
Brees faced constant duress all game. He was sacked twice and was hurried repeatedly. Those hurried passes led to inaccurate throws, a lot of tipped balls and two huge interceptions.
Perhaps it was the crowd noise that affected communication, but this group looked out of sync all game long. Four of the five linemen (excluding Zach Strief) had penalties in the game.
In particular, Ben Grubbs struggled the most with Mohammed Wilkerson. I counted four separate instances where Grubbs was blown up at the point of attack by Wilkerson. Brian de la Puente also struggled when he had a nose tackle lined up over him.
I've said it multiple times; this is a middle-of-the-pack group that will have to be at their absolute best to have success against the better defensive lines. Sunday they were not, and we all saw the results.
III. Defensive Disappointment
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the Saints ugly defensive performance is just how little they actually had to prepare for. As the game unfolded, it became abundantly clear the Jets offense was only going to go as far as Chris Ivory and to a lesser extent Josh Cribbs would take them.
Ivory responded with 139 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. What he also had was a mixed bag of solid offensive line play that created gaping holes, bad gap control by Saints defenders and sloppy tackling.
According to Profootball Focus, the Saints missed 12 tackles. And they were big ones - none bigger than Curtis Lofton's on Ivory's biggest run of the day when he reversed field position and raced 52 yards down the sideline.
For starters, it was a well-designed play. The Jets ran away from the Saints strengths overloaded on the left side of the line. The pulling guard then got a decent hit on Lofton. It appeared to be just enough to affect Lofton, who reached his arm out to stop Ivory but had no chance. With that many guys stacked in the box, Ivory had nothing but open field ahead of him. He was also aided by a horrible angle taken by Rafael Bush, who got in the way of Junior Galette, who likely would've stopped Ivory for just a 15-16 yard gain. Had it not been for the hustle by Kenny Vaccaro, Ivory may have turned that into a 98-yard touchdown run.
For whatever reason, the Saints defense turned their normal aggressiveness into a bit of undisciplined sloppiness on Sunday. As a whole, this was easily the front seven's worst performance of the season.
IV. The Sequence
The most talked-about sequence following Sunday's loss was Sean Payton's decision to run an end around with Josh Hill on fourth and inches in the fourth quarter. After watching it again on tape, the whole situation could've easily been avoided.
First off, Lance Moore should have had the first down on his second down catch. It appeared where he caught the ball he was past the necessary yardage. But when he turned around to go up field he took a very small step backward. That small step cost them the inches that they needed.
The back-to-back Jed Collins plays were deflating. Collins clearly got the first down on the run when the Jets called the timeout. The catch is one we've seen him make many times. This time, however, Collins turned his head before he secured the ball to make the catch.
As for the fourth down play, it was doomed from the start. Brees never really sold the fake to Mark Ingram and at no point did Quinton Coples think Ingram was getting the ball so he stayed home. By the time Hill got the ball, he had no chance. After watching again though, I'm not so sure even if Coples crashes down the line and Hill gets the handoff that he makes the first down. Hill was at least five yards behind the line of scrimmage and doesn't have the greatest wheels in the world. By the time he turned the corner, the linebackers and safeties may have had enough time to recover to make the tackle short of the first.
Another side note that no one thought much of at the time, and I'm not saying it's the right call even today, but there didn't seem to be any hesitation by Payton to go for it. But the Saints were within Garrett Hartley's range at the 35-yard line. He had just nailed a 55-yarder. If they go for the field goal then they cut the lead to six. The next time they had the ball they kicked a field goal that would've cut the lead to three which could've possibly made the final drive full of different circumstances.
What's done is done now, but it did kind of sum up the entire day for the Saints.
V. Other Observations
- One Saints defender who's played well of late is cornerback Corey White.
- Darren Sproles was missed in a big way by the Drew Brees. With the available personnel going into Sunday, it was clear the Saints had Sproles featured a lot in their packages. His ability in the check down game would help offset their inability to work the vertical seems with Marques Colston out and Jimmy Graham still hobbled (at least vertically). Add that to a very active Jets defensive line and you see why his absence was so crucial. Brees had to get rid of the ball a bit faster than he wanted and he didn't have his very effective security blanket to throw to. The Saints get so many yards (ARS) that way.
- Calls for an improved run game Sunday are misguided. The quality of runs was not the problem; the quantity was. The Saints effectively moved the ball in the traditional ground game against one of the better run defenses in the league. Four of their 13 runs resulted in first downs. They should have simply run it more. They were never in a situation where the run game was not a valid option. Coach Payton admitted as much Sunday.
- Mark Ingram did not play bad. I know that's hard to hear for Saints fans.
- No need to dive, Nick Toon. If you stay on your feet on your first drop you may have scored a touchdown. By diving, you made the catch more difficult by forcing your body to adjust in midair. By staying on your feet you likely would have run through the catch and possibly into the end zone.
- Geno Smith has the look of normal, erratic rookie quarterback. The 2012 quarterback class, he is not.
- I don't think I've ever seen three timeouts taken in the first quarter in a game at any level of football.
- The personal foul call on the Jets defender for a roughing Brees in the fourth quarter was a terrible call.
- Jimmy Graham had nine catches for 116 yards, but he is still not 100 percent. If he were, he would not have run a simple out route well short of the first down on the last play of the game for the Saints. On fourth and 19, I thought for sure Brees would go down the seam and back-shoulder Graham in a jump ball situation.
Saints bounce back in a big way at home on primetime television against Dallas to improve to 7-2.
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