Monday’s performance came as a surprise.
Anyone who watched the team this summer or during the preseason couldn’t have imagined the first exposure to the Saints defense would be this bad. The coaches were surprised. And the players on the field certainly weren’t expecting the defense to have so much trouble getting organized and executing their coverages.
“We hadn’t shown any of that the whole camp. We just got to go back to doing what we were doing the week before,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “It’d be different if we were the whole camp, you saw that in the preseason games, going against the offense, but it didn’t show up.
“That’s why (defensive coordinator Dennis Allen) said I saw stuff on tape that I haven’t seen before. That’s why we’re just hoping we had a mental lapse and we move on.”
After a decent start to the game, things fell apart. The breaks in coverage came quickly and were damaging. There were at least four or five against the Vikings, with each one putting New Orleans in a deeper hole.
P.J. Williams surrendered a 44-yard reception when he took a false step toward the line of scrimmage on an all-out blitz and was beaten downfield. A breakdown in Cover 2 coverage between Vaccaro and De’Vante Harris led to a Stefon Diggs’ touchdown.
On Kyle Rudolph’s touchdown, rookie cornerback Lattimore got frozen on an underneath player when it appeared he was supposed to sink, which allowed the Minnesota tight end to get open and left Vaccaro in a bad spot. And another Cover 2 play busted when Thielen ran through A.J. Klein’s zone and never got picked up as he went out to the sideline. The play gained 27 yards.
And that’s not mentioning other mistakes, like when Harris failed to spot the ball on a deep pass to Diggs for a 30-yard gain. Even if Diggs hadn’t caught the ball, the yards would have still counted since Harris interfered with the receiver on the play.
Williams explained the errors were a result of a breakdown in fundamentals.
“Having your eyes in the right place, reading your keys, executing the defense the coach called,” Williams said. “We didn’t have a great week of practice like we should have. Just didn’t have our eyes in the right place, man. We came in the first game expecting to be a lot better than that.”
But it wasn’t all bad.
“Here’s the encouraging thing, there’s a lot of good things on that film, but there’s three or four explosives that can easily be addressed and obviously need to be corrected that ended up hurting us,” coach Sean Payton said.
It will be imperative this week. The New England wide receiver corps is a depleted with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola out of action, but the Patriots still have several weapons, including Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan, who can both get deep, and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
If the team isn’t disciplined, it knows that quarterback Tom Brady is accurate enough to take advantage of any coverage breaks. The Saints are optimistic the issues have been fixed, though it was a challenge to get to that point on a short week.
“The challenge on Tuesday and they’re off, and here they come Wednesday, is we’re on to New England, and yet we can’t go on to New England without addressing Monday night,” Payton said. “There might be a veteran team in Week 8 after a Monday night you maybe get the tape later. But there were a number of things with this team, especially that we had to put to bed in terms of corrections before getting to the New England plan. Fortunately, we were able to do that.”
It will be interesting to see how the Saints go about business this week. The team used a lot of two-safety looks against the Vikings, but it could be prudent to use more three-safety looks or play single high with Vaccaro in the box against Gronkowski. It’s also possible New Orleans decides to use veteran cornerback Sterling Moore more this week after leaving him on the bench against the Vikings.
But one way or another, the Saints have to figure out how to clean things up. If the coverage breaks are ongoing, then it won’t matter who is on the field or where. And New Orleans is expecting better than that.