In what basically was a do-or-die game for hopes of the no. 1 seed in the NFC, here is what the Saints’ 13 offensive possessions looked like.
- 6 three-and-outs
- 8 punts total
- 1 INT
- 4 TD drives
Five of those drives that ended in punts and the INT drive were all in the first half, where they managed to gain a weak 113 total yards.
They did manage to get some things going in the second half, beginning with a TD drive to start the half, but then went scoreless from that point until it was all but too late in the fourth quarter. And even one of their second half TDs came on a short field after a turnover.
The defense did its job, as you can read about here. But they were on the field for a ridiculous amount of time due to this offense not maintaining possessions.
The Chiefs won the time of possession battle decisively — 40:52 vs. 18:46 for the Saints — as well as total plays — 92 vs. 52.
And most importantly, as Sean Payton would argue, they converted 1/11 third downs. That’s just never going to get the job done.
So, what went wrong? Well, a lot of things. But we’ll begin with Brees.
Watching live, it looked like a train wreck for Brees in his first game back since Week 10 after breaking almost half of his ribs. And to be fair, it definitely was a bad game for him.
He put the ball in harm’s way too often and passed up easy throws that would’ve kept drives going to do so.
On both of these throws, it’s early in the game and there’s an open check-down underneath. Instead of taking what the defense gives, he forces two balls that should go down as INTs in the box score, but he got away with them.
These were undoubtedly poor plays, but watching the game for a second time, I noticed there wasn’t much he could do on most of the other pass plays.
With Michael Thomas, Deonte Harris and Marquez Callaway already out, they then lost Tre’Quan Smith to injury early in the second half. So, it was down to Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, and guys like Juwan Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Tommylee Lewis catching passes.
And boy, were they bad (besides Sanders). The Chiefs were playing a lot of man coverage, and there was just zero separation downfield on what seemed like the majority of the plays.
Because #Saints fans love pictures, here is how all the starting WRs + Cook did in terms of separation against the Chiefs. Remember, the league average is 2.86.— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) December 21, 2020
J. Johnson: .93 Yards
J. Cook: 1.21 Yards
T. Smith: 2.37 Yards
E. Sanders: 2.78 Yards
L. Humphrey: 2.84 Yards. https://t.co/Lbe66FqCPM pic.twitter.com/LkpH2ku7TW
Humphrey made a couple nice plays in the second half, but he also fell down on an awful out route that resulted in a pick in the first quarter.
Brees sees the look he wants before he lets the ball go here, but Humphrey just doesn’t gain separation and falls down after the ball is released.
And don’t even get me started on Johnson, who was basically glued to the corners covering him all game.
But the guy I was most disappointed with was Cook. He’s supposed to be a guy who can be counted on in this offense, but he’s continued to underwhelm for weeks now, including in this game.
He hasn’t had a game with 50 receiving yards since Week 8, and in this game, he was getting locked up and causing miscommunications with Brees.
And maybe it’s not completely fair to blame the miscommunications on Cook when he’s playing with a QB he hasn’t played with in four weeks, but when you’re a veteran and the only one it’s really happening to, you’re going to get a fair share of it.
There was one where he doesn’t read a corner blitz correctly, but one miscommunication in particular was definitely on him, in my opinion.
He’s got a sort-of option route here, where he can run the seam or bend it towards the middle of the field, if it’s two-high. It ends up very clearly being one-high coverage, and he should’ve ran the seam.
This is offensive football 101. We saw Brees go to the sideline and speak with him about their struggles at one point in the game, but hopefully they can clean some stuff up on a short week. Because we know what Cook is capable of, Brees just has to pull it out of him.
The one bright spot of the offense in this game was the line play. Surprisingly, Ryan Ramczyk was the only one to give up more than two pressures, via PFF, but the rest of the guys protected valiantly.
Take this play for example, where the protection, along with good pocket manipulation by Brees, results in a TD.
With the line performing that well, the offense has a good chance to turn things around on Christmas day against the Vikings.
They’ll just need some receivers out there who can create some space for Brees to throw to.
This will be another game against a team who likes to play split-safety coverage. The Vikings are top five in the NFL in Cover 2 Zone rate and top 10 in Cover 2 Man rate.
They’ll mix in a little Quarters coverage and Cover 6, but they simply like having their two really good safeties — Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris — dictating things deep.
The good news is they likely won’t play as much man coverage as the Chiefs did, which was obviously a struggle to combat without dynamic receivers. So, if Brees is seeing static zone looks, he can use his eyes to manipulate defenders and open throwing lanes.
But if they play more man, Sean Payton is going to need to roll out more pick plays, which he didn’t really utilize until it was too late last game.
Marquez Callaway also could help in this game, if he does in fact play, as he gave the Carolina Panthers fits in Week 7 against their zone-heavy approach.
The last tip I would have for this Saints offense would be to focus on a play action-heavy approach, as the Vikes are second-to-last in estimated points added (EPA) per play allowed against play action this season.
Their linebackers are somewhat inexperienced and have struggled getting back in time to cover PA passes at times this season.
This isn’t a must-win game, but winning at least one of the next two games is a must in order to win the division, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could likely win out.
If the offense picks it up a couple notches from last week, I like their chances.
It sure would be nice to clinch the NFC South and eliminate Minnesota from playoff contention on Christmas day, so let’s hope the Saints bring their holiday spirit to the dome on Friday.
How confident are you in the Saints to beat the Vikings? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.