The feelings that remained after Sunday’s game remain true after taking a closer look at the performance.
The Saints had opportunities to win the game but made enough mistakes and surrendered enough opportunities that the 34-28 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans feels justified. This is a flawed team that put together a flawed, uneven performance.
It was average, and the inconsistencies within it ultimately sank the Saints. Coach Sean Payton said earlier this year that this team can’t afford to overcome mistakes. That was true again Sunday.
Some of the issues the Saints faced earlier in the year — pass protection, generating a pass rush, defending against the run — went on hiatus for a couple of weeks but returned in this contest.
It’s clear New Orleans has some things to clean up if it wants to turn this season back around and compete for a playoff spot.
The biggest issue in this game, however, was health. The Saints had to play some backup linebackers with Hau’oli Kikaha, Dannell Ellerbe and Ramon Humber fighting injuries.
It ended up burning the defense. A good amount of the passing yards the Titans generated were on that group, which helped inflate the overall figures and, ultimately, the score.
But injuries are nothing new to this team. The Saints have been dealing with them all season. And at this point, they need to find ways to overcome those issues.
It’s a legitimate excuse, but no one is going to take mercy on this team while it tries to get healthy.
QUARTERBACK: 3 out of 4
It’s a tough business when a quarterback can throw for 387 yards on 28-of-39 passing with three touchdowns and it doesn’t feel like enough.
Given that the Saints lost, the natural inclination here is to harp on the interception Brees threw on a deep ball to Mark Ingram and the fact that Marques Colston was open over the middle.
But the team should have been able to absorb one mistake and still beat the hapless Tennessee Titans. This was a solid performance by Brees that was good enough to win. It didn’t work out like that.
RUNNING BACKS 2 out of 4
Ingram didn’t have much space to work with, which played a part in him averaging 2.5 yards per carry on 22 attempts.
One reason for that, outside of the offensive line doing him few favors, is that New Orleans attempted all but one run with two or three tight ends on the field.
The Titans responded to these looks by placing eight or more men in the box, which made it more difficult to run the ball.
On the one play New Orleans attempted to run with three receivers on the field, which led to the Titans putting six men in the box, Tim Lelito missed a block and Ingram was stuffed.
RECEIVERS: 2.5 out of 4
Not many complaints with this group.
Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks continue to develop stronger chemistry with Brees with each week, and it’s showing up in their statistics.
Colston is also playing better in recent games and has a knack for showing up in big moments.
Brandon Coleman had two big catches and let a third, thrown to his back shoulder, fall incomplete.
OFFENSIVE LINE: 1.5 out of 4
This group needs to open up more holes for the running backs and do a better job of protecting Brees.
The group gave up four sacks, and Brees was under pressure 12 other times. The damage was visible after the game as Brees suffered a swollen cheek.
Somehow Brian Orakpo went unblocked on the final sack of the game.
Left tackle Terron Armstead did not play poorly, but he probably had his weakest game of the season. He allowed a sack, a hit and another pressure, which is a change of pace after keeping a mostly clean sheet the last two weeks.
Jahri Evans and Ingram allowed the other sacks.
DEFENSIVE LINE: 2 out of 4
This might have been the best game of the season for the interior defensive line.
Defensive tackle John Jenkins routinely got the best of Titans center Andy Gallick and played a part in recording five run stuffs. Jenkins also picked up a quarterback pressure, his second since Week 4 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Kevin Williams also was strong against the run, particularly late in the game, when he made a pair of run stuffs on consecutive plays during a fourth-quarter drive.
Gallick hasn’t been particularly strong this season, and Titans guards Joe Looney and Chance Warmack have also struggled, but it was still good to see the Saints interior line come to life.
LINEBACKERS: 2 out of 4
Stephone Anthony has quickly developed into an important player for the Saints. Without his ability against the run, teams might be averaging even more yards per carry against this defense, which is a scary thought.
One his best plays came with 10:13 in the third quarter when he went in pursuit of a run around the left tackle, shed a block by Warmack and dropped Antonio Andrews for no gain.
Anthony also had three pressures and a few nice interior blitzes through the “A” gaps. The Saints, however, blitzed only around 12 times during this contest.
SECONDARY: 2 out of 4
Marcus Mariota threw for 371 yards on 28-of-39 passing.
That line suggests he diced the secondary, and in some cases he did, but not nearly to the level his numbers suggest.
After reviewing the game, 135 of his passing yards came at the expense of the linebackers or the scheme (uncovered players). Another 61 came as the result of an unlucky play when Keenan Lewis and Jairus Byrd collided into one another, turning an interception into a 61-yard touchdown.
Added together, the secondary allowed 236 passing yards or 175 and another 61 on a fluke play. That’s much more palatable.
One of the more confusing plays came with 9:32 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Saints had Brandon Browner and Kyle Wilson matched up on the outside receivers, and after Mariota made a check, Wilson moved in, leaving Browner on two men. Harry Douglas then made an uncontested catch for 12 yards.