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Saints' 3rd-Down Woes Contribute to First-Half Offensive Struggles

Poor third-down execution may be the main culprit to New Orleans' offensive struggles in the first half of games.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - "We have to fight everything and play a complete 60 minutes," Cam Jordan said after the Saints' disappointing 20-10 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints are 1-1 on the season and hold a 0-1 NFC South record behind the Bucs, with the Falcons and Panthers winless in the division.

Winston Sacked by Barrett

For New Orleans, their first-half offensive atrophy points to a lack of converting on third-downs. Pete Carmichael's offense has been anemic in this area. 

In two games, it's been a heavy "pass versus run" ratio that has contributed to the Saints' sluggish first-half offensive performances. 

Equally important was a lack of having more 3rd and shorts in the Bucs contest, which gave Todd Bowles ample ammunition to call blitz and pressure packages against Winston -- much as the Saints did to Brady on the afternoon.

Taysom Hill

Here's a rundown of what I noticed of the Saints' first-half offense from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Week 1) and Caesars Superdome (Week 2) press boxes:

Saint's Slow First-Half Starts

Atlanta Game

  1. Winston connected on 5-of-10 (50%) passes for a paltry 24 yards.
  2. He was sacked 3 times by the Falcons.
  3. The rushing game accounted for 106 net yards on the Falcons' defense.
  4. Saints had a low conversion on 3rd downs at 2-of-6 at a 33% success rate.
  5. The average starting position per drive was at the 30-yard line.

Bucs Game

  1. Winston's first-half passing numbers improve slightly from Week 1. He was 13-of-19 (68%) for 70 yards, with his longest pass for 13 yards.
  2. Again, the offensive line surrendered 3 sacks to the Bucs.
  3. New Orleans rushed for 61 yards, with Ingram carrying seven times for 39 yards.
  4. An ineffective 3rd-down efficiency slowed the offensive attack for New Orleans. 2-of-9 on 3rd downs for a 22% success rate didn't help the Saints.
  5. New Orleans has converted only four third downs in the first halves of their first two games.
  6. The average starting position per drive was at the 19-yard line. Poor field position start possessions did not help the offense's productivity against a solid defense.
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Dennis Allen and Pete Carmichael

3rd Down Plays vs. Bucs

  1. 3rd and 5 at Bucs 12 (9:10): (Shotgun) QB Winston pass incomplete short left to WR Olave. Lutz Field Goal. Saints 3, Bucs 0
  2. 3rd and 3 at Saints 44 (1:25): T.Hill at QB. (Shotgun) T.Hill right guard to NO 42 for -2 yards (S.Barrett).
  3. 3rd and 6 at Saints 13 (10:55): (Shotgun) QB Winston pass incomplete deep right to C.Olave.
  4. 3 and 10- Saints 20 (5:43): (Shotgun) PENALTY on TB-D.White, Neutral Zone Infraction, 5 yards, enforced at NO 20 - No Play.
  5. 3rd and 5 at Saints 7 (8:10) (Shotgun) J.Winston pass short middle to M.Thomas to NO 20 for 13 yards (C.Davis). Pass 13, YAC 0
  6. 3rd and 5 at Saints 25 (5:28): (Shotgun) J.Winston pass short left to C.Olave to NO 33 for 8 yards (J.Dean). Pass 8, YAC 0
  7. 3rd and 2-NO 41 (3:59): (Shotgun) J.Winston sacked at NO 41 for 0 yards (S.Barrett). FUMBLES (S.Barrett) [S.Barrett], recovered by NO-J.Hurst at NO 39.
  8. 3rd and 5 at Saints 36 (1:33): (Shotgun) J.Winston pass short middle to C.Olave to NO 40 for 4 yards (L.David). PENALTY on TB-L.David, Unnecessary Roughness, 15 yards, enforced at NO 40. Pass 4, YAC 0
  9. 3rd and 4 at Bucs 39 (1:17): (Shotgun) J.Winston sacked at TB 39 for 0 yards (A.Winfield).

How do Dennis Allen and Pete Carmichael address the slow starts? "We have to execute better," Winston shared in his post-game comments, still, does the play calling must factor into the equation?

  • If you examine the Saints' 3rd-down play calling and the situations, Winston and Hill were in the shotgun formation for 9 of the 9 plays.
  • The lone rushing attempt was Taysom Hill when Shaq Barrett tackled him for a loss of two yards.
  • New Orleans was at 3rd and less than 5 yards 7 out of 9 times but chose to rush the football once with Hill.
  • Did Carmichael feel the passing game with net the yardage vs. Ingram, Washington, or Jones Jr. would achieve on the ground?
  • Winston was sacked twice out of the 3 first-half sacks during 3rd-down plays.
  • The heavy reliance on the pass and not finding balance to get the Saints at 3rd/4th and two or less made the offense somewhat predictable without a balanced in-game strategy.
  • Winston's timing and his receivers' execution were out of sync early in the contest.
  • Pass protection seemed be an issue also while allowing 3 sacks and 1 huge TFL on Hill.

Winston declined to address that the four fractures in his back were the problem and took ownership of his play. "I come into games focusing on execution. And today on 3rd down, I didn't execute," Winston cited to a reporter.

The New Orleans offense must discover a path out of their 3rd-down maze -- and soon! Slow starts in the NFL produce losing seasons. It would be a shame to waste a talented roster because of a lack of offensive balance in the next 15 matches.

What's next? A second-straight early-season visit to Carolina to face the winless Panthers at 12:00 PM CT on Sunday, Sept. 25. New Orleans opens as a 3.5 point favorite in the Week 3 clash of NFC South foes.

Bucs-Saints Coverage