Whoa, Nellie! I'm not sure if I can take too many more games like that stomach-churning, cringe-inducing squeaker on Sunday. But if it becomes a pattern, I'll get used to it, especially if they keep winning them.
I'm so glad they got the win, and they showed good resiliency and fortitude in a tough road game against a playoff-hopeful team to get them to 10-3 on the season. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.
Now let's take a stroll down Hot Read Lane to see how they played out during the game...
Primary Option: PROTECT DREW BREES
What I'd Like To See: Keep him on his feet (minimal hits and zero sacks), give him time to survey the field, but also support him with a decent ground presence early and often so it doesn't have to be on his shoulders alone, run the correct routes, and catch the ball when it comes to you. No stupid pre-snap penalties. Hang on to the damn ball.
Protection was pretty decent, for the most part (only 3 hits, and 2 sacks), and at times pressure ruffled him into bad throws, but he also brought it on himself a bit by hanging onto the ball for long stretches (sometimes it allowed something to open up, and sometimes he got popped because of it). The running game was present and cracked the 100-yard mark again, even though the total was a bit under the average, and at times the other "secondary" protections failed as there were some drops and penalties that hurt drives.
But despite all that, never once did Drew Breeeeeeees! lose his mind and start just chucking it out there like he did against the Rams, and he kept his cool for the whole game until finally hitting paydirt with Marques Colston twice late in the game. 0 INTs, another 300-yard game, passer rating over 100 and the Saints got the win.
They must have done something right. I"m calling this Hot Read: ACHIEVED.
Checkdown # 1: KOCJ2K
What I'd Like To See: Nothing from the previous paragraph. Nothing. He just needs to have less than 15 carries in the game. Whether that's through many three and outs by the Titans offense, multiple turnovers that give the ball back to the Saints, or long sustained drives by the Saints that chew up lots of the clock. I don't care. Just limit how many touches CJ2K gets (ok, this is the Saints defense, so maybe let's just keep him under 20 rushes) and the Saints can win.
Consider CJ KOed by the Saints D. Stone-cold stopped dead in his tracks. They limited him to 23 yards on 11 carries. CJ did get 43 yards on 5 catches, but no long TDs, no gain longer than 14 yards, and he never got into any kind of rhythm whatsoever. It seemed like they strung plays out, maintained their lanes, and never gave him any cutback options at all. They looked goooooood in that regard. Now they just need to clean up some of those missed assignments and sloppy tackling in the secondary and this will be one badass crew.
Hot Read: ACHIEVED
Checkdown # 2: WIN ON THIRD DOWN
What I'd Like To See: The Saints convert over 60% of third downs while holding the Titans to under 30% on third down conversions.
This one was pretty cut and dry. The New Orleans offense converted 11 of 19 third downs for 58% (missed it by THAT MUCH!!), and if they had just converted the last one, it would have put them over the 60% I called for and saved much gnashing of our teeth in the final minutes of the game.
On the defensive side, Tennessee was only able to convert one of their 10 third down chances for 10%. Nice job, defense!
Given that the Saints barely missed my mark on offense and held the Titans to well under my mark on defense, this one's also getting marked down as Hot Read: ACHIEVED.
Safety Valve: RED ZONE ROAD DEMONS
What I'd Like To See: One of two things to combat this malady. Either a perfect or high red zone TD percentage for the Saints, or many, many red zone trips that result in FGs to make up for the missed TD opportunities. If the second one happens, it will be a long afternoon at the office for us. Pass the antacids, please.
Well, they made the second one happen. The Saints ventured into the red zone three times on Sunday, got nary a TD out of them, and had to settle for a trio of FGs from John Kasay.
The Titans only made it into the red zone twice, converting one for a TD, while the other one ended in Jo-Lonn Dunbar's sack of Jake Locker, FTW, as the clock zeroed out in the 4th Quarter.
So, the Saints won the red zone battle, 9-7, and barely won the game. I didn't dig into the antacids, but I did hold off on my gameday beer until after the game, when I needed to settle my nerves.
That's another Hot Read: ACHIEVED.
Bonus Hot Read: MATCHING OF WITS
What I'd Like To See: Steely resolve, good play-calling, bold decisions, proper mid-game adjustments, and excellent clock/game management by the Saints coaching staff, contrasted with some rookie/inexperienced/just plain bad coaching mistakes made by the HC of the Titans. You don't have to ice your own kicker or anything, Mike, but make a bad review challenge or two, mismanage the clock or your time outs throughout, and particularly at the end of the half or the game, and that'll be just what Dr. HansDat ordered for the Saints win.
I'm not really sure how to score this one, folks. It really seemed like an evenly-matched coaching day to me.
Payton boldly chose to throw on that last third down play, and it almost blew up in his face, but it didn't. We can debate whether that was the right call to make, but no matter what we say, that right there is who Sean Payton is. He's going to go with the best play he's got to win with the offense, and we know he loooooves to throw the ball.
On the other hand, I didn't really notice any major rookie mistakes from Coach Munchak. They weathered the loss of their starting quarterback pretty well, and they had a chance to win right at the end. One thing I might question is the decision he made NOT to challenge the 4th down sneak by Locker, and even that was one that I think would have been a complete reach and a stretch to even try to get the spot overturned. The subsequent replays really showed no good angle or view that might have led to the refs changing the spot.
I'm calling this one a push, even steven. But I'd like you to let me know what you observed or assessed of the coaching jobs done by each side. What did you see that I missed?
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So, four out of five Hot Reads: ACHIEVED for the week, to the tune of a 22-17 win on the road. I'll take it. Bring on the Wikings.