The Saints managed to hold on just long enough to get a W that was hand gifted to them by the unfortunate kicker for the unfortunate Browns. While the team improved in some areas, they still have a lot to work on if they want to be playing in January.
Limit Big Plays
The defense slightly resembled their 2017 counterparts and performed much better in key areas. Firstly, they limited the big plays this week, giving up only three passes of 20 or more yards. This was something they struggled with against Tampa Bay, as DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans were able to get deep on them all game.
The defensive line was also able to get more of a push at the line of scrimmage, as well as pressure Tyrod Taylor multiple times, including two sacks by team captain Cameron Jordan. They limited Carols Hyde to only 43 rushing yards, and did an excellent job at containing any rushing attempts by Tyrod Taylor, minus the two plays where he was able to break free.
3rd down efficiency
One of the main areas of concern for the offense last year reappeared in this game, as the Saints went 3-of-12 on 3rd down conversions. Cleveland was able to consistently bring pressure on 3rd downs, sacking Brees 3 times. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi gave the interior offensive line fits all day, and racked up two sacks (he had a third that was wiped away by a penalty).
Converting on 3rd downs are crucial, as it can keep your defense off the field; and that may be a good thing while the defense gets into season form.
Where’s the run?
A key component of this team’s success last season was the efficiency of the run game. Kamara and Mark Ingram were the most dynamic duo the NFL had ever seen, but without Ingram the Saints have been held to 105 yards for a measly 2.56 YPC (yards per carry). Granted, part of that is the team falling behind so early in the games. Perhaps Sean Payton will change things schematically for the run game, or they could call Boston Scott up from the practice squad and see what the duo of he and Kamara look like together. No matter what happens, this is an area that needs to improve and fast. The Falcons have a high scoring offense and the less time they are on the field the better.
Thomas, Kamara, etc.
There’s a reason we call him “Can’t Guard Mike.” Through the first two weeks, he is leading the team in receptions and has broken the record for most receptions in the first two games with an impressive 28 catches on 30 targets. He is arguably the best wide receiver Brees has had his entire career, and has been a large reason the Saints have stayed competitive in the first two games.
Right behind him is the reigning offensive rookie of the year Alvin Kamara with 15 catches. The two have combined for 43 receptions in the first two weeks, which accounts for over 66% of all the output from the passing attack. Much like the one dimensional run game, the passing game needs to see someone else step up and contribute. Thomas will face some great cornerbacks later in the season, and if he is taken out of a game the offense needs to continue to move the ball.
This week will be the Saints toughest match yet. The Falcons boast a speedy defense and top 10 offense that will test both sides of the ball for us, but improving in some critical areas will get us back on track and “prove them right.”