The New Orleans Saints outing against the Green Bay Packers Sunday night was... frustrating.
The offense averaged a half yard more per play than the Packers and put up 30 points without their best player — Michael Thomas. They ran the ball at will, averaging 6.1 yards per rush, compared to 3.8 by the Packers.
But we all know what factors often decide games, even though they’re pretty much impossible to predict: turnovers and penalties.
And they lost in those facets, as they have for two weeks now. They turned the ball over on that heinous fumble by Taysom Hill in the fourth quarter and committed eight penalties for 83 yards, as opposed to two for 10 yards by Green Bay.
While stagnant offense was the primary issue through two weeks this season, the Saints lack of discipline defensively is what ultimately lost this game, in my opinion.
Lattimore, Saints secondary had an awful showing
This Saints secondary was supposed to be a strength heading into the season, but instead they’re getting chopped up by an offense without its best receiver. The run defense held up, as usual, but the back-end hemorrhaged yards left and right, in addition to giving up free yards via penalties.
Going into this game, we knew it’d be hard to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers, with how stout the Packers offensive line is. With that being said, the back end was going to have to step up and lock down the no-name cast of Green Bay receivers.
But now, they now will remember their names, because they got torched by them.
Marshon Lattimore was targeted four times and gave up four catches for 83 yards and a TD, including the play above where he creeps down because of the play action for some ungodly reason and gets burnt by Allen freaking Lazard. (And my goodness what a throw)
Janoris Jenkins only gave up three catches on six targets for 11 yards, but was called for two huge pass interference penalties. One was tough because it was after an offsides penalty and he was put in a terrible position — but still, costly mistakes.
Marcus Williams gave up two catches on two targets for 84 yards and had a brutal DPI called against him.
The only member of the secondary wasn’t awful was Malcolm Jenkins, who allowed a TD on a bogus play that should’ve been offensive pass interference.
These two plays, which were on the same drive, stuck out to me when analyzing the secondary:
Notice these are basically the same exact plays, except the first one is under center and with play action. But they both have curl-ish routes on the outside with a deep post/seam streaking down the middle of the field.
This is a Quarters coverage beater, which the Saints are in on both plays. The outside curl to the bottom of the screen is to try and pull the safety down so the post/seam has inside leverage on the other safety as he turns upfield.
On the first play, Jenkins and Marcus Williams are back deep. MJ does a good job of opening his hips toward the seam and running with him to cut him off from being open deep.
The Packers liked what they saw from this look obviously, and came back to it two plays later on 3rd-and-10
And when they did, they caught P.J. Williams in at safety for MJ. And Marcus is the spot MJ was in on the previous play.
Instead of trusting underneath coverage and running with the seam player like MJ did, Williams gets sucked down towards the curl, allowing Lazard to laser right past the slower P.J. for a ginormous gain.
This stuff just cannot happen. To give up a play like that on third and long is asking for trouble.
The secondary has to improve quickly if this defense wants to stay at a high level for the rest of the season.
Brees was more accurate, but still overlooking open receivers
Drew Brees has steadily improved from Week 1 to Week 3 in terms of his short-to-intermediate accuracy. That’s shown not only in his completion percentage numbers (60.0 to 68.4 to 80.6) but just in his ball placement.
In Weeks 1 and 2, he was just missing open guys with poor ball placement.
This week, I only charted one really inaccurate ball:
And one that was a bit high to Taysom Hill on a screen:
Where the struggles have continued into Week 3 have to do with his decision-making and passing up on potential big plays.
He just looks jittery and rushed in the pocket at times, and you can tell he doesn’t have trust in a lot of his receivers right now.
Take this play for example:
It’s a 2nd-and-7, and the Saints are down three points in the fourth quarter. This is a huge drive.
The Packers are in Cover 1 Robber. The Saints run a great counter to that coverage: a drive concept, Hi-Lo-ing the underneath “Robber” defender, who’s circled here:
Not only could Brees have hit his favorite target Alvin Kamara, who had been going God-mode all game, on the wheel route out of the backfield, but he also misreads the coverage.
The robber goes with the underneath crosser by Deonte Harris, leaving Adam Trautman open on the dig route behind him for a first down.
Brees doesn’t see it and checks it down for a minimal gain. They would punt the ball away two plays later, and the game was effectively over.
This next one is an example of him just not even looking down the field, playing into him not attempting a single 20+ yard pass this game:
Emmanuel Sanders is running a middle seam/crosser against a two-high look.
Drew’s first read is to the left side of the field, and it’s not there. He comes back to the middle of the field and looks at AK, who he’d been checking the ball down to all game.
If he just takes a half a second to look downfield, he could see that the underneath defender is only worried about Kamara in front of him, and not Sanders running right past him. And it’s not like Brees is even under heavy pressure or anything. He has time to reset and throw.
But instead, he checks it down in the short middle of the field in a two-minute drill, which isn’t ideal.
Brees was 5/6 for 78 yards and a TD when throwing in the intermediate (10-19 yards) area. So we saw him make some accurate passes with anticipation somewhat down the field in this game.
And honestly, if he can keep doing that, the downfield stuff doesn’t matter as much. That’s why he was so good last year when never throwing 20+ yards, because he never missed when throwing shorter than that.
He got a lot closer to that form Sunday night as far as accuracy, but the hesitation to air it out and decision-making still needs improvement.
If he keeps on this weekly upward trajectory, and the Saints defense gets going again, watch out.
Anzalone has been an unsung hero on this defense
One guy whose name we haven’t really heard much so far this season: Alex Anzalone.
The young middle linebacker has finally gotten healthy, and he’s been one of the bright spots on this defense.
He ranks eighth out of 57 linebackers in PFF coverage grade, at 73.3, allowing only five catches for 32 yards. And his overall grade of 70.4 ranks ninth.
The reason you haven’t heard his name much is a good thing. It’s because he’s not allowing any big plays!
He’s not the mauler in the run game that Demario Davis is, but he does the little things in coverage and sideline-to-sideline pursuit that really add value to a defense.
Check out the explosion and speed in pursuit on these plays, limiting yards after the catch.
Then this is my absolute favorite Anzalone play from Week 3:
The Saints are in Cover 2 zone, and the Packers run a great play to combat this: Scissors.
There’s an intersecting corner and post route to try and split the safety on the bottom of the screen and make him pick his poison as to which one he wants to let run free.
Marcus Williams runs with the corner, leaving Anzalone, who’s responsible for the middle of the field in C2, one-on-one with a speedy slot receiver running the post.
Anzalone fluidly turns his hips, cuts him off and runs stride for stride with him, forcing an incomplete pass.
This play didn’t get him a ton of recognition, but he deserves it. And he deserves more recognition in general for the job he’s doing at Mike linebacker. A very underrated piece of this defense.
What were your takeaways from the game Sunday night? 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.