Saints Offense No Match For The 12th Man
The showdown between NFC powerhouses did not live up to the hype as the New Orleans Saints were flat out embarrassed and outplayed by the Seattle Seahawks from start to finish. Several alarming weaknesses need to be rectified in preparation for the Saints' divisional battle with the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night in the friendly confines of the Superdome. If they put up another lackluster performance, the Saints will certainly suffer another tough beating.
The one area that was most troublesome was New Orleans' inability to put together sustainable drives on offense. Their first three drives resulted in three-and-outs, including a fumble by QB Drew Brees that resulted in a return touchdown for Seattle. This unfortunate scoop-and-score put the Saints in an early 10-0 hole. It was not until their fourth drive that the Saints recorded a first down, a statistic that has astonishingly not occurred since Brees and head coach Sean Payton took over the offense in 2006.
The Saints had six drives where they put themselves into third-and-long situations, failing to convert on any of them, and five drives that resulted in three-and-outs. Check downs and screen plays, an area that more often than not results in explosive plays for this team, were ineffective.
The leading receiver was RB Darren Sproles, who compiled just 34 yards on seven receptions. TE Jimmy Graham, who seemed to be a lock as a 100-yard receiver on a weekly basis, was nonexistent minus a second quarter touchdown. He finished the game with just three receptions for 42 yards.
Brees and his receivers were unable to hook up for any big plays downfield, a staple that keeps this prolific offense churning and puts points on the board. Their longest passing play went for 20 yards to Graham. To make matters worse, the Seahawks were missing two players in their secondary - Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond - and yet the Saints struggled to take advantage. Their wideouts caught a measly eight passes for 49 yards.
Brees threw for 147 yards, ending his 43 game streak of throwing for at least 200 yards, while the seven points the Saints scored was the lowest tally put up by the team since 2006. The 188 total yards were the fewest put up by a Payton coached team ever. To add salt to the wound, this was Brees’ first loss on Monday Night Football after nine consecutive victories.
Nothing went right on offense and it brings about questions once again of whether the Saints can win on the road late in the season. Since 2009, New Orleans is 3-4 in outdoor games in December and January. The team is also 0-3 in playoff road games.
So what sort of challenge is up next for the Saints?
Carolina, like Seattle, has an identity centered around a tenacious defense and an offense spearheaded by a mobile quarterback who can wreak havoc on opposing defenses with both his throwing and rushing abilities. Cam Newton has proven to be a nightmare once he escapes the pocket, something the Saints allowed Russell Wilson to do constantly, which led to their demise against the Seawhawks.
This matchup is just as crucial for the Saints as was their showdown in Seattle. The two teams enter this weekend’s game tied for the division. Carolina is also arguably the hottest team in the league right now, sporting a franchise-record eight game winning streak. The Panthers are firing on all cylinders and are as dangerous a team as any in the NFC.
The two teams are undefeated within their division so far this year (3-0) with three divisional games remaining, including two games in three weeks against one another before finishing up the season against divisional opponents.
The Saints are going to have to find a way to create offense against this Panthers team which has surrendered 15 points or less in six of their last eight games. They also rank second in the league in both sacks and interceptions. Considering the Saints managed a dismal seven points against the Seahawks, things will not be much easier against the stout defense of Carolina.