Coming off the most lopsided back-to-back results of the Sean Payton era, the New Orleans Saints focused Monday on their under-performing offense rather than the beleaguered defense that led to former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s dismissal during the off week.
The Saints, who are 4-7 for the first time in Payton’s tenure, have been outscored 71-20 in losses to Washington and Houston, their largest losing margin in consecutive games since dropping their final two games of 2001 by the combined margin of 78-10.
Their 20 points against Washington and Houston are their fewest in a two-game stretch since managing 19 in consecutive losses to Cincinnati and Carolina to close out 2002. The Saints failed to score a touchdown against Houston for the first time under Payton and have not reached the end zone in the past six quarters.
“It was a tough film to watch,” he said. “I’d go back to the second half of the Titans game; offensively we haven’t really played good football, not near what we are used to. It starts with me and us getting a good plan together and being able to operate and play a complementary game.”
The Saints converted only thee of 12 third downs against Houston, but Payton pointed to problems on first and second down that led to those failures. New Orleans had to get 9 or more yards on nine third-down opportunities, succeeding once.
“The preparation, the want-to, the desire, those guys have been outstanding,” he said. “I’ve said this before, but this is a good locker room. We’ve just got to be better at what we’re doing and look closely at eliminating mistakes.”
Almost nothing worked against Houston. The Saints set season lows for first downs (14), yards (268) and rushing yards (50), with Drew Brees’ 218 passing yards better only than the 192 he had against Washington.
“Whatever you’ve been doing is not enough,” offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “We have to find a way to do more. That will start today watching this tape and figuring out what we did wrong. We just have to get better.”
Low and late
Although the Saints struggled to protect Brees against defensive end J.J. Watt and the Texans’ pass rush, he struggled with accuracy when he had time to throw.
He threw an incomplete pass at tight end Ben Watson’s ankle level on the opening series when Watson was open, setting the tone. He was low on an out pattern to Brandin Cooks, behind Willie Snead, wide of Mark Ingram, and short of Cooks to turn possible connections into empty plays.
In the fourth quarter, he threw late to Cooks at the goal line, allowing Kareem Jackson to step in front of him for an interception that helped the Texans end Brees’ streak of 45 games with a touchdown pass.
Payton credited Houston’s defense for making Brees look bad. The Texans rank third in the NFL in pass efficiency defense.
“That’s a team that forces a lot of quarterbacks to be off,” Payton said. “They get opponents into long situations, they rush the passer well and their cover people are really good. You have to be that much more precise.”
Cornerback Delvin Breaux has won the Ed Block Courage Award, which is given annually to the player on each team who has persevered through adversity.
The voting is done by teammates.
Breaux broke three vertebrae in his neck as a senior at McDonogh 35 in 2006, never received medical clearance to play for LSU, then went through semi-pro football, Arena Football and the Canadian Football League before signing with the Saints in the offseason.
He has started every game, making 34 tackles with one interception.
“It’s pretty cool because these guys see me every day and know my personality,” Breaux said. “I’m just blessed that they picked me to win the award. It means a lot. It’s an awesome award.”
The Saints defense started slowly in both halves under new coordinator Dennis Allen, giving up touchdowns on the Texans’ first two series of the game and 10 points on the their first two series of the third quarter.
New Orleans did not allow a point for the rest of either half, and Breaux credited improved communication.
“I’ve never seen us play like that,” he said. “We were actually talking. It was a surprise to me. I was like, ‘OK, he’s responding back to me.’ We just felt more comfortable.”
Defensive end Cam Jordan was less impressed.
“We didn’t have any improvement in the first half,” he said. “We let some things go, and that’s on us. We came out the second half with a little more resiliency, but it wasn’t enough.”
Repeat start for Peat?
Rookie first-round draft pick Andrus Peat, who beat out Tim Lelito for the starting spot at left guard against Houston, received a mixed review from Payton, who singled out his holding call and false start as negatives.
Payton did not guarantee Peat would remain a starter but appeared to be leaning that way.
“There are a handful of technique things that need to be cleaned up,” he said. “Yet there are a few times on the film where you are looking at it and you’re like, ‘Wow, that is pretty good.’”
To avoid its first four-game losing streak with Payton on the sideline since 2007, New Orleans has to beat undefeated Carolina (11-0) on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Carolina, which has won 15 regular-season games in a row, started the streak with a 41-10 victory at the Superdome last December. … Payton said the Saints would not play for the future regardless of their position, trying to win each of their five remaining games.