The New Orleans Saints dropped their second consecutive game Sunday night, losing a 37-30 disappointment to the Green Bay Packers at home. New Orleans once again had no answer against the pass, generating little pressure on Aaron Rodgers and suffering key breakdowns and mental lapses in the secondary. Offensively, the Saints fared a bit better, led by a monstrous game from RB Alvin Kamara, who had 197 total yards and scored two touchdowns.
New Orleans has lost consecutive games for the first time since the opening of the 2017 season. Several issues have plagued the 1-2 Saints team in the opening month of the season. Here are some of the most disturbing questions for a Saints team thought to be a championship contender, but has yet to answer over the first three games of 2020.
WILL SOMEONE COVER THE TIGHT END?
After beginning the year containing a talented Buccaneers trio of tight ends in the season opener, opposing tight ends have caught an eye-popping 23 passes for 241 yards and 3 touchdowns the last two weeks. Last night, the Packers tight end group of Mercedes Lewis, Robert Tonyan (WHO?), and Jace Sternberger (WHO?) pulled in 9 receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Green Bay closely watched film on how the Las Vegas Raiders employed their tight end, Darren Waller, against New Orleans last Monday night. New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and his unit have not learned to improve from that same film.
Waller, who had 12 catches for 103 yards against the Saints, is at least a Pro Bowl talent among the league's best at the position. The Saints defense is also getting scorched by pedestrian players and making them look like Pro Bowlers. With tight ends T.J. Hockenson (Lions) and Hunter Henry (Chargers) looming in the next two games, it might be time to study the film a little closer.
IS IT STILL OKAY TO HIT AN OPPOSING QUARTERBACK?
Saints linebacker Demario Davis sacked Aaron Rodgers on Green Bay's opening series, ending the drive, and forcing a field goal. After that, New Orleans had no sacks and would register just two quarterback hits the rest of the game. Only one of those came from their defensive line (Trey Hendrickson) as they gave Rodgers the time to survey a beleaguered New Orleans secondary that continues to struggle with blown assignments and undisciplined play. Last night was the second consecutive game the defensive line got little pressure on the quarterback after the opening quarter.
The Saints defensive tackles could not provide the interior push that they got in the first two games. Green Bay had success moving Rodgers out of the pocket on designed half rollouts, giving the defense fits along the edge. New Orleans defensive ends Cameron Jordan, Hendrickson, and Carl Granderson consistently lost their outside battles. They gave Rodgers plenty of time to exploit the underperforming secondary.
WHERE'S THE OFFENSIVE RHYTHM?
New Orleans ran the ball 12 times for 104 yards in the first half but attempted just eight runs in the second half. Despite abandoning the run against a reeling Packer defense in the second half, the team's passing attack was more effective than they had been all season. Quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 29 of 36 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, looked sharp at times through short and intermediate zones.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders finally showed signs of life, catching four balls for 56 yards and a score. Kamara is playing like an early candidate for Offensive Player of the Year and has been the team's only consistent pass-catching threat with 27 receptions for 285 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Saints are playing like a team with no offensive identity, especially without the injured Michael Thomas at wide receiver for the last two games. Without him, receivers are not getting separation down the field and, as a result, do not have the trust of their quarterback. Sean Payton has not consistently committed to the running game despite the success on the ground against both the Raiders and Packers.
A normally dominant offensive line continues to have pass protection issues inside. The 41-year-old Brees simply no longer has the arm strength to get the ball down the field without that proper protection and does not have faith in his receivers, both things we witnessed on several throws Sunday.
New Orleans has always had outstanding success with short and intermediate passes. But without even the threat of a downfield play, opposing defenses have been able to clamp down underneath to bottle up the New Orleans offense. For Sean Payton and his offensive coaches, it is back to the drawing board to get this unit into a consistent rhythm and better balance.
WHY BLAME THE REFS? THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE.
It has become too easy for Saints fans, and even some players, to blame their woes on pathetic officiating. The harsh reality is the players are undisciplined and make mental errors that have result in crippling penalties.
Did Aaron Rodgers flinch on a Demario Davis offside penalty that led to a game-clinching touchdown? Absolutely! But it was still Davis' job to maintain discipline, and the responsibility of CB Janoris Jenkins to play through the whistle and properly defend wideout Allen Lazard through the end of the play instead of getting flagged for an interference penalty that set up the score.
Should S Marcus Williams have been called for pass interference on a 3rd quarter pass to help set up the Packers go-ahead touchdown? Absolutely Not. The throw was uncatchable. But they still caught Williams out of position, despite a nice recovery, he contacted the receiver. It was an easy call for an official itching to throw a flag.
New Orleans continues to play undisciplined on both sides of the ball, which has not only caused them to lead the league in penalties but also back-to-back losses. This talented squad still has plenty of time to turn things around. But they must first, to a man, look in the mirror and take accountability for poor play and fix the miscues that have consistently plagued this team through every game this season.