As one of our final mental well-being exercises, a bit of Web Therapy (anybody else enjoying this Showtime original as much as Mrs. Hans and I are?), if you will, in regard to Thursday's disappointing loss to the Packers in the NFL Back to Football Opener, let's take a look back at my Hot Reads and see how they turned out.
After the jump you'll find each of my Hot Read choices, along with what I said I wanted to see, and then a breakdown of what actually happened, and then my take on what kind of impact it had on the game itself.
Primary Option: Protect Brees
What I'd like to see: With nearly an entire year to work on it, I hope to high heaven that the coaches have come up with something, anything, to help our guys deal with this kind of scheme, because I imagine we'll see it quite a bit this season. I don't know what it'll take to stop it, but I think I'll know it when I see it, or at least know it when I'm NOT seeing it. Good communication, no missed assignments, helping each other out, and crisp/clean center-QB exchanges, would at least be steps in the right direction.
What I actually saw: From the view on my couch, the protection was BARELY OK. Looking at it statistically, the line gave up three sacks and allowed six quarterback hits.
If they give up 3 sacks per game, that projects to 48 for the year, which is waaaay too high for my liking. And further, two of these sacks were very fruitful for the Packers. One of them was on third and two at the Green Bay seven, forcing the Saints to kick a FG (four point swing), another was on third and four and caused the Saints to punt on a three-and-out drive right after the Packers went up 15 in the 4th Quarter, and the other sack came earlier in the game on a second and two, but the Saints were able to convert the third down on the very next play, so no loss there.
But it also seems you could say that the pressure they did bring to Brees did not cause him to melt down and throw four interceptions, but while Brees did have a good statistical night, there were a number of throws that were off-target, so maybe the pressure was effective in some respects.
Other protection notes: The protection was utter crap on the 4th and short play in the Packers red zone. Brees rolled out of the play action into a heap of trouble and barely escaped with an incompletion (as opposed to a strip/sack/crunch fumble TD return)...Jahri Evans did commit a holding penalty (on a play when it looked like he was trying to block two, maybe three Packers at once, so I'm not sure if that's entirely his fault)...Darren Sproles and Jermon Bushrod each badly missed on at least one block that I saw (but I'm not sure if these led to sacks or QB hits or what).
Impact on the game: As I said above, I consider the performance to be barely ok. It didn't directly cost the Saints the game, but if they had played better, they might have won.
Checkdown # 1: John Kasay needs to get his kicks
What I'd like to see: A blowout in which we take a huge lead early so that it just doesn't matter how Kasay performs. But since I don't really see that as happening, I'll settle for a game in which he gets and succeeds on a couple of mid- to short-range opportunities, and hits all the XPs (putting us on the good side of any of those low-scoring outcomes I listed above).
What I actually saw: Exactly what I asked for (except for the huge Saints blowout) - Kasay had a perfect night in which he did everything that they asked him to do, which while not much (4 XPs, 30- and 38-yard FGs), considering his debut against the Titans, should be considered a roaring success. It didn't seem to me that Payton had to alter his game plan to avoid attempting a long FG, so that was good, too.
Impact on the game: Kasay's kicks kept the Saints right in the game, and he definitely did not lose the game.
Checkdown # 2: Balanced Offense
What I'd like to see: That's all good and well, Hans, but just what in the hell does that mean? The Saints need to be strong in running, able to convert that third-and-short on the ground so the Packers can't just jam the TEs and WRs and disrupt that quick pass to stop a drive, and late in the game if the Saints need a grind-it-out, clock-consuming drive. On the other hand, the Saints also need to have the passing game viable at the mid- and long-range levels to bail them out in case they get into the occasional second- or third- and long, for simple variety of attack, and to help open up the running game. (I feel like this needs more here, but I just can't quite formulate it coherently right now, so maybe someone who agrees can help with more explanation in the comment section.)
What I actually saw: Straight-up huge discrepancies between the passing and running game in certain statistics - almost 4:1 ratios - not even close to even balance. 20 passing first downs to five rushing, 396 passing yards to 80 rushing yards, 49 pass plays to 21 rushing plays. The only balance was rushing yards per half: 37-44. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.
Even using my qualification of just being able to run it when you need to and just enough to keep the defense honest didn't help. There were some decent rushes spread throughout the game, but the Saints could not convert many short-yardage runs when needed (two second half examples: Ingram ran for no gain on 3rd and 1 in the red zone, followed by Brees's incompletion on 4th down; and then we all saw what happened on the untimed down at the end of the game), and the running game was far from effective, reliable, and consistent.
The only bright spot was the opening drive of the third quarter. Five of the first seven plays were Ingram rushes for a total of 26 yards and two first downs. Nice! But beyond that, the rushing game brought almost nothing to the table.
Impact on the game: To put it plainly, it cost the Saints the game. The lack of a rushing game forced the Saints to be one-dimensional on offense - 49 attempts is too many and this puts Brees at severely heightened risk of injury when he has to throw that much. Also, converting on both of those second half short-yardage opportunities listed above would have won the game for the Saints, and succeeding on just one of those would have tied the score (or cut the Packer lead to one). The rushing game had two chances in the second half to bail out the terrible defensive showing, but it failed.
Safety Valve: Field Position
What I'd like to see: These new guys need to cover the actual kicks well, bring down the return men hastily, and not commit penalties in order to keep Green Bay far from the end zone at the start of each drive. Morstead will also need to kick it well. Lots of touchbacks and fair catches would be nice.
On the flip side, those same guys need to block well on returns to allow Courtney Roby and Darren Sproles to make clean catches, run straight ahead while following the blocking schemes in place, and hang on to the ball when they get hit, giving our team better field position.
What I actually saw: Barely decent overall performance (considering the big picture).
The Packers only had three returns in the whole game, and while one of them did go for a 108-yard touchdown (the Saints cancelled it out with a TD return of their own, so that's a wash), the other two were nothing special. One of them was the 27-yard KO return on the opening drive for the Packers (and the way their offense was clicking, they could have started that drive from anywhere on the field and they would have scored a TD), and the other was a 5-yard return what would have been a 31-yard return if the Packers hadn't committed a penalty on it (and on that drive, the Packers burned off almost five minutes of the clock in the 4th, but did not get any points). Three returns, one of which went for a TD, and the other two provided not good, but not bad field position.
The Saints had five returns in the game: one was the Sproles 72-yard TD, one was a 57-yard kickoff return that jump-started a 3-play TD drive, one was a 19-yard KO return to the Saints 19 that led to a FG, one was a 20-yard punt return to the Green Bay 49-yard line that we wasted (ended in the 4th down red zone incompletion), and one was a seven-yard Jed Collins return to the Saints 26 (this was the "we're NOT kicking it to Sproles again" kick), that led to a three-and-out by the Saints. Five returns, two that contributed significantly to TDs, two that were neither here nor there, and one that we totally wasted.
Impact on the game: I've done the math a number of different ways, and it always seems to come out as a "no advantage" final rating. The Saints had two good returns that led to TDs, and another that gave them a great starting point, while the Packers had only one of those. So, they win that one easily, right? But the Saints completely choked on one drive that started at the Green Bay 49 and got nothing, and if you consider the fact that the Packers turned this 4th down failure into a long TD drive of their own, it was actually a 14-point failure. Holy crap, this assignment was more difficult than I thought it'd be. My gut and stat study tell me that field position didn't cause a make-or-break difference or clear advantage for either side in the long run.
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Alrighty, then. There's my first installment of analyzing and assessing my Hot Reads. Jump in below and give me your thoughts on them. Maybe I drew the wrong conclusions, and maybe I missed key points of the game. Maybe I was right on like Donkey Kong. Fire away!