I know at 0-3, no one is in the mood for silver linings. But after watching the tape, I'm starting to believe some of the players that this is team is close to getting their first win. The problem is, the hole they're in may be too much to get themselves out of.
1. 'Cool hand Luke'
As I wrote after the game, Luke McCown was the biggest reason the Saints nearly won that game. He was poised, patient and confident. He managed the game beautifully. He finished 31-38 for 310 yards. But he also had three crucial drops from his receivers which would have impacted his stats even more. He was extremely effective on third down, almost perfect even. He finished 8-8 for 104 yards with that one pesky interception on the game's most important down.
As for that interception, two plays earlier McCown recognized that when Colston ran the out-route and Cooks ran deep down the sideline, Josh Norman jumped Colston underneath to make the tackle. Thus, it left Cooks open behind him. But when they ran the play again, Colston ran to the inside. With no route to jump, Norman was able to recover to Cooks running deep to make one of the best interceptions I have ever seen. I'd be very curious to know if the wrong route was run by Colston or McCown simply read the play wrong and should have went inside to Colston.
2. Brandon Browner struggles
Brandon Browner is just not a zone cornerback. If he is not pressing a receiver at the line, he really is not an asset to this defense. That should have been obvious before the Saints signed him but it's really obvious after Sunday's loss.
I counted four huge plays where Browner was in zone coverage and was badly beaten for big-time yardage. Those four plays resulted in 139 yards. Newton finished with 315 yards passing.
I know there is now a knee-jerk reaction to bench Browner when Keenan Lewis returns. I don't completely agree with that. When asked to play press man, he is still very effective, short of a few penalties. However, asking him to play zone that much is asking for a liability.
3. C.J. Spiller Effect
I hope Sean Payton saw the same thing I did on tape and came to the most obvious realization of the season: CJ Spiller needs more snaps. His impact on the 16 he received was huge.
His final stat line looked pedestrian. But he was responsible for four impact plays, even when he didn't touch the ball.
On the Saints' first touchdown drive, he was matched up with A.J. Klein and drew a holding penalty. On the Saints' final scoring drive he caught a beautifully-run wheel route for 19 yards to keep the drive alive. On the next play, the Saints split him out wide, sent him in motion and faked the reverse to him. The defense completely paused, allowing McCown to toss it Khiry Robinson who was basically able to walk it into the end zone. On the game clinching drive, the Saints lined him up in the backfield and sent him on a swing route. McCown faked the pass to him, then turned to the backside and hit Brandin Cooks on a wide receiver screen who ran it for 16 yards to convert a big third down.
Spiller gave me a glimmer of hope for this offense. Defenses clearly respect his versatility. In fact, he may the one player teams respect most from the Saints' skilled guys. The Saints should definitely use that to their advantage.
Bottom line: Spiller needs more snaps.
4. Senio Kelemete
Part of the reason McCown was so confident is because the Saints gave him great protection. Senio Kelemete was a part of that. Filling in for Jahri Evans, Kelemete was solid on Sunday.
His best play came on Mark Ingram's touchdown run when both he and Max Unger pulled around the right end and made the key blocks on the edge to get Ingram to the goal line. Ingram's longest run of nine-yards, just two plays before that one, was also run behind Kelemete.
Should Evans have to miss more games, Kelemete is more than capable of doing the job.
5.Extra Point Woes
When Payton talks about the little things that prevent teams from winning games, this is the first thing I think about. Even at 32 yards, extra points should be automatic, and they've missed two so far this season. Both misses have had a serious impact on their second and third losses of the season.
Sunday, like the previous Sunday vs. Tampa Bay, it affected their approach to the rest of the game. First off the fault lies with McCown. He simply botched the snap and prevented Zach Hocker from even attempting a kick. Had they made that kick, the score would have been 17-10. The Panthers scored 17 straight after that. However, if the score was 27-17, instead of 27-16 on their final touchdown drive, the Saints would not have had to go for two after Khiry Robinson's touchdown run, which they missed. Plus, if both of those one-point extra points were made, then on the game-clinching drive they would have only needed a field goal to tie. Instead, they had to go for the touchdown to win.
The Saints have enough legitimate issues on this team that have to overcome. Making extra points should not be one of them.
- Browner got the worst grade on the Saints defense. But Stephone Anthony was not too far away. Anthony looks completely lost in basic zone coverage. Plus, he had an idiotic targeting penalty that could have been avoided. Anthony has had a boom or bust type of three games.
- Damian Swann and Delvin Breaux continue to grow as players. Both had nice games Sunday.
- It doesn't matter if the Saints have the Legion of Boom back in the secondary, if they can't get any type of pass rush they have no shot.
- Credit Jamarca Sanford and Austin Johnson for the key blocks that sprung Marcus Murphy on his 74-yard punt return for a touchdown.
- Not sure why Joe Morgan did not get in the game Sunday. He and Garrett Grayson were the only two active too not get a snap.
- The Saints were most effective passing and running out of their 11 personnel package (3 WRs, TE, RB). They ran it ten times for 29 yards and a touchdown out of this package. McCown went 20-26, 195 yards and an interception out of this grouping.
- The 63 offensive Snaps broke down like this:
11- 36 snaps
12( RB, 2 TE's,2 WR's)- 15 snaps
21 (2 RB's, 2 WR's, TE)- 8 snaps
13 (RB, 3 TE's, WR)- 4 snaps