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Saints at Panthers: Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down

Here are a few of the lone encouraging signs, and several concerning traits, from the Saints week three loss in Carolina.
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The New Orleans Saints are a disappointing 1-2 after frustrating 22-14 loss at the Carolina Panthers yesterday. If not for an improbable comeback against Atlanta in week one, the Saints would be staring at 0-3, with all three losses in the NFC South.

Battered QB Jameis Winston threw for 353 yards, but misfired on several throws where he was obviously affected by a back injury. Normally reliable K Wil Lutz had one field goal blocked and missed another wide right. Wideouts Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Tre'Quan Smith left the game with injuries, thinning a group that was already without Deonte Harty.

Defensively, the Saints held Carolina to just 293 yards, 12 first downs, 4 of 14 on third downs, and one touchdown. They sacked QB Baker Mayfield three times and hurried him on several throws, holding him to just 12 of 25 passing for 170 yards.

However, New Orleans allowed 148 yards on the ground, including 108 to Christian McCaffrey. Pathetic tackling caused mediocre WR Laviska Shenault to take a short throw for a 67-yard touchdown that all but put the game away.

There were many things that went wrong and few that went right for New Orleans on Sunday, but here is this week's edition of Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down.

Thumbs Up

Chris Olave, WR

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Chris Olave (12) catches the ball against Carolina Panthers cornerback CJ Henderson (24). Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Olave had an outstanding afternoon, catching 9 of his 13 targets for 147 yards to lead all receivers on the day. The first-round pick from Ohio State showcased his deep ball skills, but also showed great run after the catch ability on short throws and terrific route precision along the sideline and over the middle.

Michael Thomas had another, catching all five of his targets for 49 yards before leaving with injury. Even Tre'Quan Smith pulled in a few deep throws and ended up with four catches for 105 yards. However, it was Olave who was the most consistent threat on Sunday for an offense that continues to shoot itself in the foot with mistakes.

Playing against a deep secondary with three top-tier corners, Olave showed the skills of a seasoned veteran in his routes. Thomas is still the top target in the offense, but expect Olave to be a major factor in the passing game on all three levels going forward.

Thumbs Down

The Rest of the Offense

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) fumbles the ball on the hit by Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54). Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) fumbles the ball on the hit by Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon (54). Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

A questionable, and convenient, penalty on Mark Ingram took the Saints out of field goal range on their opening drive. It was the third straight week that an Ingram mistake took points off the board. He wasn't the only one who cost his team with miscues.

The Saints had seven penalties, with the most damaging on the offensive side. Their offensive line, while slightly improved in pass protection, failed to get any consistent push for the running game. New Orleans continues to struggle on third down, standing at just 33% conversion rate after going 5 for 13 in this game.

Winston threw two interceptions that weren't necessarily his fault, but nearly threw three more on bad passes. His back injury is also clearly affecting his mechanics. Kamara, dealing with a rib injury, was again ineffective as a receiver and barely averaged four yards as a runner.

Outside of the 17-point fourth quarter in Atlanta, this offense has scored only 34 points over the other 11 quarters of the season. Simply unacceptable for an offense that has so much talent.

Thumbs Up

Bradley Roby, CB

New Orleans Saints cornerback Bradley Roby (21) breaks up a pass intended for Carolina Panthers receiver Robbie Anderson (3). Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints cornerback Bradley Roby (21) breaks up a pass intended for Carolina Panthers receiver Robbie Anderson (3). Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY

Roby, along with Marshon Lattimore, completely shut down D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson, Carolina's dangerous pair of wideouts. Moore and Anderson were targeted 10 times, but combined for just two catches for 16 yards.

Roby was targeted more often than Lattimore, one of the league's best cover men. He responded by breaking up two passes and forcing Baker Mayfield to throw the ball away on several other targets.

Demario Davis and Marcus Davenport had solid outings, but Roby and Lattimore were the defensive standouts. The same could not be said for the rest of the team’s coverage unit. Underwhelming receivers like Shenault, Shi Smith, Ian Thomas, Tommy Tremble, and Giovanni Ricci combined to catch six of their nine targets for 147 yards.

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The Saints were without S Marcus Maye in this game, with CB Paulson Adebo still limited by an ankle injury. With a talented Minnesota receiving corps coming up, Roby's play after an up-and-down first two games is an encouraging sign.

Thumbs Down

Dennis Allen/Coaching Staff

New Orleans Saints head coach Dennis Allen looks on against the Carolina Panthers. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints head coach Dennis Allen looks on against the Carolina Panthers. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints were vastly outplayed by an inferior Atlanta team for the first 50 minutes of week one. They lost composure and failed to make adjustments in adversity against the Buccaneers in week two. New Orleans again looked sluggish out of the gate against an inferior Panthers squad who was more physical on Sunday.

The players certainly bear a large share of the responsibility, but the Saints have been decidedly out-coached in all three contests. This team has looked unprepared at the onset in two of their three games and continues to make undisciplined mistakes.

The offensive game plans lack imagination, with predictable play-calling in several situations. Their offense's failure to make in-game adjustments to opposing defenses is mind-boggling. Dennis Allen, a defensive head coach, along with coordinators Kris Richard and Ryan Nielsen, have not been able to devise schemes to consistently pressure opposing backfields.

Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has been with the franchise since 2006. Allen is in his 13th year with the team. Nielsen has been with the Saints for six seasons, Richard two, and defensive assistant Peter Giunta seven seasons. Offensive Line coach Doug Marrone was with Carmichael, Allen, and Sean Payton for their first three years in New Orleans before returning this season.

This is a seasoned coaching staff, not just in the NFL but with each other in New Orleans. To be so clearly out-coached and seemingly unorganized is inexcusable.

Again, the players on the field are responsible for better execution. This team has simply not made the plays to win games and are lucky to even be 1-2. It's way too early to panic, but the Saints must execute better and need to be more decisive and disciplined on both the field and the sidelines if they are to reverse their fortunes against the Minnesota Vikings in week four. 

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