New Orleans Saints: a Win is Nice, but There Are Still Problems Left to be Solved

[caption id="attachment_247" align="aligncenter" width="665" caption="Picture from the Times Picayune"][/caption]

You know what they say; any win in the NFL is a big one.  Recently, though, the Saints have had their share of quality matchups, and the Black and Gold have performed admirably.  Life is good in the “Big Easy” these days.  Any time the Saints leave Atlanta with a victory is party time in New Orleans, and the fan base now has dreams of another playoff run sprinting through their minds.  On Sunday, the Saints went into Atlanta knowing that the NFC South title could very well be on the line.  The Week Ten game against the Falcons had a multitude of titles:  a statement game, a divisional contest, a brutal rivalry.  Regardless of what you called it, there is one universal way to describe the actions that occurred in the Georgia Dome on the 13th of November; it was “an instant classic.”

Whether it was QB Drew Brees putting up Pro Bowl-type numbers from under center (322 yards passing, two TDs and no INTs), WR Marques Colston (eight receptions for 113 yards) , WR Robert Meachem (two receptions for 69 yards and a TD) and TE Jimmy Graham (seven receptions for 82 yards and a TD) providing plenty of targets down the field, or the Saints’ defense providing a crucial stop on fourth down in Overtime, New Orleans put together a solid performance from every angle.  Of course, with all the excitement that went in the Saints’ favor, there were several issues worth pointing out in the contest.  Those issues are what I intend on addressing.

Let us first begin with the run game (or lack thereof).  Now understand this:  I realize that the Atlanta Falcons are a significantly better defense against the run than they are against the pass; however, that isn’t a solid enough excuse for the RBs getting only 16 carries in Sunday’s contest (Pierre Thomas had six, Mark Ingram had eight, and Darren Sproles had two.).  The Black and Gold totaled a miniscule 41 total yards on the ground, as they averaged only 2.6 yds/attempt.  Add on the fact that the team’s best pure runner, Thomas, isn’t receiving the majority of the carries, and it’s a tad easier to understand why the run game looks so poor.  To be brutally honest, I’m not head coach Sean Payton (shocking, I know), so I can’t say that I fully understand how to fix the problem, but I’ll give it my best shot.  The simple fact of the matter is this:  the Saints have to establish how they wish their run game to function. 

What do I mean by this? 

The playbook consists of a set group of plays for each runner, but these plays seem to be called at awkward times during the game (For some reason, the coaching staff loves to stick Ingram in the game on short yardage third-down attempts.  I get it; he’s supposed to be a power runner.  But if anyone honestly believes that Ingram is better suited for that role in the game than Thomas, then I would certainly like to hear why.).  All in all, I believe that the Saints should learn to establish Thomas as their first-down back, instead of constantly swapping between both himself and the rookie.  Next, Ingram should be used for the occasional (once every 3 drives) first down run play, and only subbed in when Thomas needs a breather.  Finally, use Sproles exclusively on third-down attempts.  Problem solved?  I would love for it to be that simple, but is it ever?  Regardless, the team’s next contest features a poor New York Giants’ run defense (ranked 19th in the NFL), so New Orleans better begin to find exactly how they want their run game to operate.

Now let’s flip over to the defense.  Over the last few weeks, I’m starting to slowly despise one member of the Saints’ coaching staff:  Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams.  Now, this is nothing personal (let’s establish that).  My main peeve with Williams has been his style of play calling.  Why am I slowly beginning to despise him?  Once again, simple.  Williams has made a name for himself as a gutsy play caller.  He’s known for his exotic blitz packages and his aggressive style of defense.  There is one problem; the Saints defense is not currently built to be a blitzing corp.  This season especially, it appears as though the Saints’ “D” is having trouble penetrating the backfield, as the team’s primary pressure comes from the occasional safety/LB blitz (trust me, Roman Harper’s stats look solid for this very reason).  The Saints’ defense was able to record one sack in today’s contest, courtesy of Harper.  Now, this issue translates directly to the secondary, which has been a concern since Week One against the Green Bay Packers.  The Saints currently rank 18th in the NFL in pass defense for a reason; the squad’s secondary is a young one, and it is a group that is not currently capable of playing press coverage for an extended period of time.  So what does this have to do with anything?  When your team sends a member from the secondary to blitz the QB and that said DB does not reach the QB, then you’re left with a young DB trying to cover a WR without any safety help from over the top.  On Sunday, Falcons QB Matt Ryan essentially took advantage of this, as he passed for 351 yards and two TDs.

My point is this:  Gregg Williams has his own style of play-calling, and he seems to be unbending in terms of deviating away from the heavy pressure packages in order to provide help for the young DB corp.  This ultimately leads to QBs getting sufficient  time in the pocket, and the opposing offense’s WRs have plenty of time to find open space down the field.  It’s frustrating to watch, and quite honestly, I wish he’d learn to adjust to the defense’s strengths.

In the end, though, a win is a win.  With team’s like the Giants, Lions, Titans and Falcons coming up on the schedule, we should see how well the Saints have learned from their miscues in the past.  The bye week should give them a chance to sit down and weed out any issues.  The playoffs seem close enough to taste; now the squad just has to make its way through the meat of the schedule.

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