It’s hard to be too critical when the Saints have the best record in football and are in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed in the NFC.
Still, it was a roller coaster of a game, especially in the first half, with plenty of “Ups” and “Downs” along the way. Here are a few that stood out:
The defense as a whole had what could be considered their most dominant performance of the season, if not the past decade plus, against the Carolina Panthers last night.
Vonn Bell looks like a player who is taking massive strides in his third year now. Demario Davis cements himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL right now. PJ Williams has shown massive improvements in the slot as the year has gone on. Marshon Lattimore played tight coverage all game, forcing Cam Newton to not even look his way on the majority of the Panthers’ passing plays. Eli Apple has seen a career resurgence in New Orleans. The Saints defensive line, led by Cam Jordan, caused pressure on the Panthers all night long. All in all, the Saints defense held the Panthers to seven points of offense (coming on a gadget play on fourth down), under 250 total yards of offense, 13 first downs, sacked Newton four times, and forced two turnovers, including this great play by Apple in the end zone:
Eli Apple found himself an interception in the end zone!#NOvsCAR pic.twitter.com/MMv6QPXLKn— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) December 18, 2018
The Saints offense struggled in just about every way imaginable last night.
The Saints couldn’t move the chains on third down. Injuries depleted an already struggling offensive line. Costly penalties kept the Saints behind the sticks at every turn. Secondary receivers couldn’t get open. When they would get open, they would drop the pass.
Personally, I have the utmost faith in the Saints offense to start rolling again once they’re back in the Dome, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later. Ted Ginn Jr and Terron Armstead can’t get back fast enough.
Up: Defensive play-calling
Just like it was one of the best games of the year for the New Orleans Saints defense, it was one of the better games for Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen.
For the first time all season, the Saints’ opponent didn’t find immediate success with their pre-scripted plays. Allen also went full-Gregg Williams, calling multiple (and different) blitzes all through the game, forcing Cam Newton to make quick reads and rush throws. When throws were made, Allen avoided a lot of the soft zone defenses, and played tight man coverage almost the entire game.
If this is a sign of things to come from Dennis Allen, it could be huge for the Saints.
Down: Offensive play-calling
On the flip-side, Sean Payton needs to step his game up and in a hurry.
It’s inexcusable to not be running the ball in the 3rd quarter when the Saints were finding so much success with it in the first half. The shovel pass to Taysom Hill in the first series was absurd. The play call on the two-point conversion was a poor one as well - if anything, that is where you should be seeing Taysom come into the game. Then, with the game on the line, and a roster that includes the likes of Drew Brees, Ben Watson, Michael Thomas, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and the aforementioned Taysom Hill, you put the game in the hands of Tommylee Lewis? No, no, Sean.
The Saints defense bailed out a bad night for the Saints offense and Sean Payton. Let’s just hope we’re back to seeing playoff-caliber Payton when we’re back in New Orleans.