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What we learned: Marshon Lattimore and Saints D “proved them right” in the wrong ways vs. Buccaneers

Pump the breaks and cool your nachos on those Super Bowl predictions. The Saints have a ton of work to do to realize their lofty potential.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Every dog has its day.

The eternally pessimistic Saints fan warned us about this game. The Marshon Lattimore could slump, we’re too cocky, and I don’t like the blowout predictions crowd all turned out to have legit fears.

The first sneak peak at the preview to the 2017 sequel was a dud of Independence Day: Resurgence proportions, as New Orleans was bludgeoned 48-40 in front of a home crowd that had high expectations for its beloved Saints.

Even the prognosticators who took a more leveled approach and warned us about it being a division game expected it to be a close win, but a WIN nonetheless. In reality, it ended up being the overzealous and over-hyped individuals like myself that predicted a decisive route who were humbled by Paul Bunyan sized palm prints across our mandibles.

“We needed this, we needed to get to slapped in our face one good time to see that we’re not on the level we think we’re on. But we’re gonna get better.” said Marshon Lattimore

Personally, I could have done without the facial reconfiguration but I DO feel a bit more cosmetically inclined following the procedure.

In fact, I’m so even keeled about it I’ll say this...

As a fan, a team, and a coaching staff it was necessary you’d prefer to start fast and win your opening game for momentum’s sake, but try to recall if last year’s squad allowed a Week 1 loss to define their season.

They didn’t!

Still, nothing from last year is a given and there are numerous burning questions the Saints need to answer if this team is going to “Prove them right” in 2018.

How much to use Alvin Kamara during 1st Quarter of Season?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Kamara’s performance of 17 touches for 141 yds and 23 points was brilliant, but if his production under the current workload wasn’t enough to eat a W, do you consider an increase in snaps? It was noted during the broadcast, Payton said “it’s hard not to “want” to give Alvin a ton of touches because of how good he is”. This creates a significant dilemma, as the Saints must win at least 2 of their next 3 to stay afloat in the NFC before a brutal 2nd quarter of their schedule kicks in. If they even expect to have a Shaq at the free throw line chance of securing those W’s, the want to give Alvin the ball may suddenly become a need.

No Pressure?

There were a ton of things in the secondary that were concerning, but the defensive line did not show up to the concert. While the corners and safeties had their share of bad notes, it’s crystal clear they were singing acapella for a better part of the performance. Everyone knows that it’s bass that manifest rhythm, and the Cameron Jordan led defensive line provided little of it against Tampa. There were broken plays in which Ryan Fitzpatrick, who went 21 of 28 for 417 yard and 4 TDs, had time to start a campfire before distributing the ball to an open receiver (75% comp). New Orleans has four (1st), two (3rd) and a Ryan Nielsen invested in that line and they delivered a DiGiorno level let down on Sunday.

Is it time to push the Panic Button on Marshon Lattimore?

Mike Evans had the same kind of success against Lattimore that Michael Thomas had been having against him during training camp practices. Evans compiled 7 receptions for 147 yards and 1 TD on the day with most of that coming with Lattimore in coverage. Perhaps he, like Thomas, is merely a crafty veteran who’s as much a technician as he is a physical specimen. Or perhaps the explanation offered up by coach Aaron Glenn provides solace that getting beat now is doing Lattimore some future good.

“You might get beat on a couple plays, but you got to focus on what we are trying to work on. What is the goal here? Is the goal here to change it and make sure we’re dominant, doing the things we’re trying to do, or just revert back to your old techniques, and you’re not really sound in the things we’re trying to teach?” secondary coach Aaron Glenn said.

Whatever the case, I think there’s a correlation between his struggles and the performance of the defense as a collective. Dennis Allen’s scheme is built around the former DROY’s cover ability and if his play drops off so does that of the entire defense. Still, it’s too early to pass judgement.

Verdict: Don’t call it a slump...yet!

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Say what you want, but the offense lacked teeth without Mark Ingram in the lineup. There was something missing about that offensive performance, as the Saints looked more finesse in this game than they did at any point last year.
  • During the broadcast, there was a nice little segment dedicated to the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick has 7 kids in 7 different cities after playing for 7 different teams. Kudos to Fitzmagic for living in the moment, but I don’t remember Antonio Cromartie being glorified in this way (just saying).
  • Dirk Koetter not calling the offensive plays earned a spot on my “reasons the defense collapsed” list.
  • Michael Thomas had a career day with 16 catches on 17 targets for 180 yards and a TD, but would probably like to have the dropped pass and lost fumble back.
  • Drew Brees was surgical as usual, going 37/45 for 439 yards with 3 TDs and no INTs. How many more times in his Saints career will we squander performances like this?
  • Saints defense didn’t force it’s first punt until 7:34 left in the 3rd Quarter.
  • Cameron Meredith was inactive and seen running with practice squad players. It’s far too early for assumptions, but if we learned anything from the Willie Snead situation last year where there’s smoke there’s fire.
  • Saints defenders were once again on the wrong side of a historical achievement, as they aided the Buccaneers in tying a franchise record with 48 points scored.
  • Four (4) new starters in your nickel package (Robinson, Anzalone, Davis, Coleman) also made my list of reasons the defense flopped. Tons of miscommunication errors on Sunday.
  • Thomas (17) and Kamara (12) both had double-digit targets in the passing game. Next closest player was “old man” Ted Ginn with (6) and the ageless Benjamin Watson chipped in with (4). The concern is Tre’Quan Smith and Meredith were added to this team to make a difference, and both were blanked out on the stat sheet for different reasons. Maybe Austin Carr steps up, but the Saints need to find a legitimate 3rd option.
  • The defense gave up 112 yards on 34 carries with 1 TD, and despite the low yards per carry (3.3) they couldn’t stop the run or the QB from escaping the pocket when needed. It doesn’t get easier next week as they face Tyrod Taylor and a Browns team that combined for 177 yards on 38 carries for 4.5 YPC and 2 TDs. I just hope this D cleans up nice like that one co-worker who always dresses tacky but manages to show up to the Christmas party sharper than a Ginsu blade?!

Nobody wants to hear this, but BOTH defenses were equally horrendous yesterday and combined for 55 first half points, most in the NFL since 2004. Despite giving up 40+ points a piece, it was the unit backed by an offense that didn’t Robitussin the ball up twice that won the game. Regardless, it’s obvious the Saints weren’t quite as good as most previously thought, nor are they nearly as bad as some currently think.

My intuition suggest the answer lies somewhere smack in the middle of both extremes and they’ve got 15 more games to tilt the needle either way.