After Further Review: Five takes from Saints loss to Panthers

Published: Sep. 19, 2021 at 6:03 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Take One: Polar opposite outcome

Picture how great everything went for the Saints in Week 1 against the Packers.

Now, picture the polar opposite. That’s what the Saints got in Week 2 against the Panthers.

They were the team that never led. They were the team that couldn’t run the ball. They were the team that couldn’t convert or get off the field on third down. They were the team that got dominated in time of possession.

And just like the Saints deserved every bit of their opening week victory, they equally deserved every bit of their first loss of the season to Carolina.

Take Two: Losing line of scrimmage

128 total yards.

I repeat, 128 total yards.

That was it for the Saints offense on Sunday. It was lowest output of the Sean Payton era.

And it all can be traced back to the line of scrimmage. The Saints offensive line looked lost all game. They never came close to generating a run game. Then, they were completely out-schemed and outplayed by the Panthers pass rush upfront.

There were far too many times where free rushers were in the Saints backfield untouched in route to Jameis Winston. Winston was lucky to only be sacked four times. It honestly felt like there were more.

The busts weren’t necessarily a product of losing one-on-one battles, although they did that too, but more of a team struggling with communication and not quite trusting what they saw from the Panthers. That’s concerning, mainly because the line calls now fall on the offensive line not the quarterback. If they’re inconsistent with that weekly, this offense will not reach its potential.

With the way the Saints are currently built, they simply have to have an elite offensive line to consistently win. Any dip in their production, will have a huge impact on the game. Look no further than Sunday for proof.

Take Three: Defense stumbles out the gate

Defensively, things didn’t start out great. On the Panthers first drive, they went 75 yards on five plays to score. From there, it felt like they were on the field the entire first half. They fell behind 17-0 at the break, and were on the field for 21 minutes.

To their credit, they regrouped and adjusted in the second half. They didn’t completely contain Christian McCaffrey, but they did make him work hard for his yardage. They even setup the Saints lone score after a fumble recovery off a blitz.

There is no doubt the defense had some key injuries. In particular, missing Kwon Alexander and C.J. Gardner-Johnson seemed to really stand out. But even with those guys out, this was not the type of overall effort this unit is used to putting forth.

Take Four: Steady special teams

The lone bright spot on Sunday came from the special teams.

Deonte Harris was fantastic in the return game. He finished with 156 yards on kickoff returns. Carl Granderson blocked a field goal that put the Saints in great field position. Plus, young punter Blake Gilikin continues to prove the Saints right by making him their guy. He had a 60-yard punt at one point in the game, and had another downed inside the 10-yard line. Ty Montgomery also made a terrific tackle tracking down a punt as a gunner.

Take Five: Other Observations

  • Winston finished 11/22 for 111 yards and two interceptions. That’s pretty fair representation of his day. Overall, he was average. With no run game, and a constant pass rush in his face he never looked comfortable. The two interceptions were concerning. In the grand scheme of this game, they didn’t have a huge impact, but both were bad decisions. On his first one, he was able to escape a blitz, but was off-balance when he threw it and the ball came out bad. On the second one, he climbed the pocket and looked like he let it go in the middle of the field as he was falling to the ground. Both were at the end of the half, but those are still decisions he should avoid.
  • Payton mentioned the staff’s pass rush plan a few times in his postgame press conference. It sounds like he didn’t like how they prepared for the Panthers front.
  • Speaking of coaching staff, Payton was also quick to shoot down their coaches in COVID-19 protocol as reason for the loss. Who knows just how much they had to adjust without those guys, but blaming their effort on that would be low hanging fruit.
  • The Panthers ran 73 plays on Sunday. The Saints ran 43. The Panthers possessed the ball for 38:32. The Saints possessed it for 21:28.
  • Solid NFL debut, Payton Turner. He set the edge nicely against the run, finished with three tackles for loss, and got his first career sack.
  • Sam Darnold looks like a whole new quarterback in Joe Brady’s offense. He was decisive and accurate with the ball.
  • The Saints were sloppy in the discipline department. They committed 11 penalties on the day to the Panthers five. While I agree the Christian Ringo was questionable at best, the Saints benefited from a similar call on Winston against Green Bay that negated an interception. They tend to even out. Overall, the Saints just lacked focus and were undisciplined.

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