Take 1: Unlucky Break
Sometimes, a team is simply unlucky. Nowhere was that more evident for the Saints than the first touchdown of the game for Tennessee. It should have been a game-closing interception, not a game-changing touchdown. Marcus Mariota heaved up an absolute prayer while Keenan Lewis and Jairus Byrd waited for the easy pick. Somehow both guys lost track of each other, collided and tipped it in the air. Delanie Walker was looking in the complete opposite direction when it was tipped. He literally turned his head and had the ball land right in his hands. He picked up a block downfield and scored a touchdown. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had they been able to make the tackle.
Of course, the worst part of the play was just how much the momentum was in the Saints' favor at that point. Before that play, the Titans had four drives, ran ten plays and gained 24 yards. They were 0-3 on third down and only had one first down by penalty. The Saints only had two drives (because of the Marcus Murphy fumble), ran 15 plays, gained 152 yards, were 3-3 on third downs and were up 14-3.
The Saints scored on the drive following the freak play, but had they made that interception they would have gotten the ball around midfield with a very good chance to go up, 21-3. I'm not sure the Titans could have rebounded from that in the Dome.
Take 2: Field Goal Fatigue
At some point, it can't just be the kicker that's the problem, right? I know they've been the convenient scapegoats for the entire Sean Payton regime. But this problem has persisted for far too long to constantly blame the man kicking the ball.
Sunday was the perfect example.
The problem was clearly the snap. It was low and too far inside. In fact, Thomas Morstead did a great job of handling the snap and placing the ball in time for Kai Forbath to kick it. Next, the protection was not very good. Josh Hill was beat badly around the corner by Coty Sensabough. Zach Strief helped inside for Jahri Evans which created a gap that allowed Brian Orakpo to shoot through. He was actually the player that got a hand on the ball.
Throughout all of these field goal issues over the years, Justin Drescher has remained the long snapper and Greg McMahon has remained the special teams coordinator. At some point, the finger has to point to them in their struggles. For the season, the Saints have now missed five field goals and three extra points. I can only imagine the frustration this team feels by having zero confidence in this seemingly simple operation that they can't get right.
Take 3: Penalties, Penalties, Penalties
I was surprised to see only 17 penalties called on Sunday. It felt like more. Maybe that's because of the alarmingly high amount of indecision of the officiating crew between calls. I'm usually not one to go after at the officials but this crew didn't have control of this game.
11:43 2nd quarter- they announced offsetting penalties but only penalized the Titans for roughing the passer without any explanation of why the other flag was picked up.
7:13 2nd quarter- they threw a flag for what appeared to be pass interference or defensive holding but then picked it up without any explanation. That was the Saints first three-and-out of the game.
3:04 2nd quarter- they flagged Terron Armstead for a very questionable holding penalty.
11:32 4th quarter- they penalized Michael Mauti 15 yards for running into a player on the Titans' sideline. However, it was clear Mauti was pushed into that player by another Titans player.
12:22 4th quarter- Brian Orakpo was flagged for two unsportsmanlike penalties. I'm not sure what constitutes getting ejected in the NFL, but considering that the original penalty wasn't even on Orakpo and he made a punching motion towards the official, he should have been tossed. He wasn't and made two very impactful plays later in the game.
I know there was a lot of buzz about the three roughing the passer calls on the Titans. The only one I thought was questionable was the first one by Karl Klug that negated a Titans' interception.
As a whole, there seemed to be too many stoppages of play talking about the call, as opposed to just making the call.
By the way, both calls on Brandon Browner were legit.
Take 4: Brees' lone mistake
Drew Brees played another stellar game, short of one throw. I still don't know what Brees saw when he went deep down the sideline to Mark Ingram and was picked off in the third quarter. Literally, nothing made sense on this play.
First off, why was Ingram even running that route? In the five seasons he's been here, I don't think I've ever seen him run a go-route in the red zone. Secondly, he was covered by a cornerback. Maybe if a linebacker had been on him, Ingram may have had a better chance at getting behind him. As I watched Ingram, it was as if he knew B.W. Webb was covering him and ran his route like he had no shot at getting by him. Third, the throw was long. Ingram had zero chance at even breaking up the pass, much less catch it. Webb appeared to playing cover 3 on the back end. The only explanation I can think of is perhaps Brees thought Webb would eventually drop down and pass Ingram off to the safety in a cover 2 look. But even that seems unlikely given that Webb was running back towards the goal line before Brees released the ball. And finally, Brees had another option. When he stepped up in the pocket, he completely missed Marques Colston on a crossing route for a substantial gain.
It was just a bad moment for Brees that came at a crucial time. At that point the score was 21-20, had they gotten points there, it may have been enough to push them to victory.
Take 5: Other Observations
- Mauti referred to the final play of the game as the ‘oh sh-t’ screen. Basically the tight end hides out in the middle of the field, then releases towards the opposite way of the play. The Titans scored twice on this play in the game.
- I have no explanation for CJ Spiller only getting six snaps. He was a player Payton fell in love with this offseason yet he doesn’t feel the urge to play him more.
- John Jenkins with ten tackles is a stat I didn't expect to read.
- It’s hard to ignore just how confident Marcus Mariota got in the fourth quarter and overtime Sunday. That’s concerning. A rookie quarterback who had just returned to action, playing for an interim coach on a 1-6 team got red-hot in one of the most hostile environments in football. That’s solely on the defense who, after a red-hot start, fell back to leaky ways. They weren’t able to fluster Mariota who for just the second time all season, looked like he belonged.
- One development that I love over the last two weeks is the Saints’ usage of Brandin Cooks. As I’ve studied him, I’ve realized he is just better when he gets the ball as he is moving. In other words, he is better when he catching the ball off a route, not standing still on a wide receiver screen or punt return. In the last two games, Cooks has ten catches, 159 yards and three touchdowns.
- I’ll touch briefly on the Brandon Browner locker room incident. I was in the scrum talking to Jairus Byrd when I overheard Browner talking over us in the background about asking Byrd about the freaky pass. Eventually, I moved on to talk to Kai Forbath and had my back turned to the actual altercation. The bottom line is this: reporters and players have heated discussions all the time. It comes with the territory in this business, especially after a game where emotions are high. I just can’t recall a reporter-player exchange over something that had nothing to do with that player. Browner went overboard. Moving on.