The Saints have a lot of cleaning up to do this week.
That much became clear during Sunday’s 37-34 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons. There were missed tackles, busted coverages, and several other correctable miscues that led to New Orleans coughing up an early lead and ultimately surrendering 568 yards on defense.
The good news is that after reviewing the game, it does not appear this team has any fatal flaws. The unwelcome result was due to a lack of execution and a solid Atlanta game plan. If the Saints spend time correcting things — and they will — this team should be able to shake this one off and get on track this week against the Cleveland Browns.
Quarterbacks: 3 out of 4
It’s hard to find much wrong with a performance in which a quarterback completes 69 percent of his passes for 333 yards. Still, if the goal is for objectivity, Drew Brees has played better games.
There were plenty of impressive moments, which is why he earned the above score.
But the result of this game forces you to look at missed opportunities — even if it seems like picking nits. If Brees had put a little more on two deep passes to Joe Morgan and Robert Meachem in the first half, the Saints likely would have put this one away early. There was also the interception on a pass to Brandin Cooks, which was thrown a bit behind the receiver. If he had led Cooks, New Orleans wins this game.
Brees took an average of 2.63 seconds to get rid of the ball and did a good job evading pressure. His 2-yard scramble with 11:33 remaining in the fourth quarter was particularly impressive.
Brees also looked good rolling to his right, where he completed both of his attempts for 19 yards.
Receivers: 3 out of 4
-- Cooks is going to be a weapon for this offense. The way he was used in the preseason was pretty standard, so it was fascinating to see how Sean Payton deployed him Sunday afternoon. He lined up wide in both receiver spots, both slot positions, and came out of the backfield for one reception.
He’s a chess piece that must be accounted for on every snap.
-- Marques Colston obviously stands out for his fumble in overtime, but it wasn’t an egregious error where he wasn’t protecting the ball.
Colston also deserves credit for drawing a 24-yard flag for pass interference and a 13-yard reception that set up New Orleans’ final touchdown.
Earlier in the fourth quarter he tripped on a route, leading to an incompletion, but a review of the game shows that Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow caught his back foot while backpedaling.
-- Morgan should have been given a flag on a deep pass that fell incomplete in the first half. It appeared Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant pushed him late.
Would have liked to see more out of Morgan, who ran 31 routes but was targeted only three times. He did, however, have a few nice blocks in the run and screen games.
-- Tight end Ben Watson is on the hook for a pair of run stuffs.
Running backs: 2.5 out of 4
-- Credit needs to be given to Mark Ingram for two nice blitz pickups. One of them came on Cooks’ 32-yard reception with 14:36 remaining in the first quarter.
-- Linebacker Parys Haralson came in as the fullback on a few goal-line runs. He opened a hole for a Khiry Robinson touchdown in the second quarter.
-- Ingram ran like a different player later in the game. His 19-yard run his longest of the game, but his 5-yard gain with 10:15 remaining might have been more impressive. There was nothing there, but he fought for his yards.
-- Robinson displays good vision and patience when finding running lanes. Like Ingram, his 21-yard gain was the highlight, but he displayed his patience on a pair of shorter runs in the second quarter.
Offensive line: 3 out of 4
-- The offensive line was pretty solid in pass protection. The first pressure did not come until 6:42 in the first quarter. Terron Armstead (two), Ben Grubbs (two), Jonathan Goodwin (one), Jahri Evans (one), and Zach Strief (two) each allowed pressures.
Brees was not hit. He was sacked when Evans tried to pass off Justin Banineaux to Strief, who failed to contain the pass rusher, but a flag negated the play.
-- Impressive to see Armstead 20 yards down the field, blocking on a Cooks’ end around.
-- There were a few breakdowns early in the game in the outside-zone blocking scheme, but it came together better later in the game.
-- Grubbs was otherwise solid as a run blocker, but he failed to pick up a man on an Ingram run that was stuffed with 5:28 remaining in the first quarter.
-- Armstead was particularly impressive in the running game. He opened a lot of holes, but it was a team effort between Armstead, Grubbs, and Goodwin to open up the hole for Ingram’s 19-yard gain.
Defensive line: 1.5 out of 4
-- Junior Galette spent most of his day with his hand in the dirt, thus creating a four-man front. The Saints used several alignments across the front four, most commonly a standard look and a four-man over front (heavy on one side with the nearest tackle to the other defensive end lined up over center).
-- New Orleans used its amoeba defense once in the first half. Matt Ryan was able to hold the ball for 6.75 seconds.
Generally, the Saints did not create enough pressure (12 overall). When they did, Ryan did a good job navigating around it or fleeing the pocket to either run or extend the play. However, it’s important to note Ryan got rid of the ball in 2.22 seconds or less on 24 of his 40 pass attempts.
Linebackers: 1.5 out of 4
-- David Hawthrone and Curtis Lofton both had issues in pass coverage, but they showed up at times against the run, combining for at least seven run stuffs.
-- Overall, though, the Saints were poor against the run, though some of that might be the result of lining up in a nickel package for at least 50 plays Sunday.
-- The Saints blitzed (not necessarily always with a linebacker) 12 times Sunday. However, due in part to Ryan’s quick trigger, it was mostly ineffective. The quarterback was 8-of-12 on such plays.
Defensive backs: 1.5 out of 4
-- The plan early appeared to bracket up Roddy White and Julio Jones with a cornerback and safety, when possible. When there was only one high safety, he typically shaded to Patrick Robinson’s side.
This worked well in limiting those two early on, but the Falcons figured out a way around it and moved the ball other ways.
The plan backfired a few times in the first half, such as when Robinson was beaten by Devin Hester for a 35-yard gain down the left sideline. Ryan never looked at anyone else and did not have to move the safeties.
Robinson was beat a few other times — most notably by Jones for a 27-yard gain that set up a touchdown in the third quarter when he was not given safety help — but most of the yardage he surrendered was on short, underneath passes.
-- Missed tackles were a huge issue across the entire defense. Kenny Vaccaro led the charge with six. He missed three all of last year.
Special teams: 3.5 out of 4
-- Kicker Shayne Graham connected on both of his field goals, with a long of 50 yards.
-- Travaris Cadet returned one kick for 34 yards.
-- The Falcons had one kick return for 21 yards, and one punt returned for a yard.
-- Punter Thomas Morstead put both of his punts inside the 20 and had an impressive average hang time of 5.01 seconds.