Film doesn’t lie: New Orleans Saints loss to Atlanta Falcons was ugly

Posted by Jeff Duncan, The Times-Picayune November 11, 2008 2:25PM

Mike McKenzie’s injury is going to be tough for the Saints to overcome.

In studying the film of the New Orleans Saints’ 34-20 loss to the Falcons, there were few bright spots.

The Falcons dominated the Saints on both sides of the ball and looked like the smarter, better-coached, better-prepared, more physical, more enthusiastic and more disciplined football team.
More than anything, the thing that stood out to me was the Saints’ breakdown in composure.

FOX sideline reporter Charissa Thompson reported that cornerback Mike McKenzie was screaming at teammates, primarily safety Roman Harper, after the Falcons’ second touchdown, which was set up by a 32-yard catch by Michael Jenkins when the Saints appeared to blow a coverage on the play.

And everyone saw the normally cool-headed Drew Brees get into it with tight end Jeremy Shockey at the end of the third quarter.

The Saints have tried to downplay he incident but it was noteworthy simply because such scenes occur so rarely from the Saints, who by and large are a calm, collected and professional bunch.

Down the stretch, it’ll be interesting to see if these incidents are indeed isolated or the start of an ugly trend.

Stay tuned.

Now on to the video tape:

DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS: Saints fans keep clamoring for defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs to blitz but it seems like every time he does dial up a “red dog” the Saint get burned. On Jenkins’ 32-yard catch that set up the Falcons’ second touchdown, safety Harper got caught in no-man’s land, leaving 5-foot-9 Aaron Glenn in single coverage against the 6-4 Jenkins. Harper cheated to the line of scrimmage to help in run support but was hung out to dry when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan audibled to the deep ball at the line. One series later, Gibbs sent free safety Kevin Kaesviharn on a delayed blitz but the veteran appeared to also have the assignment on running back Jerious Norwood if he came out of the backfield. Kaesviharn was so hell-bent on rushing the quarterback that he picked up Norwood’s release too late and Ryan found him for an easy 21-yard gain. Later the Saints blitzed cornerback Randall Gay and linebacker Jon Vilma on the play, leaving Scott Shanle in single coverage on Norwood. Ryan unloaded the pass before the pressure arrived and Norwood was off to the race. Maybe now we know why the Saints don’t blitz more often. When they do it blows up in their faces.

Atlanta’s Roddy White made the Saints secondary look bad.

CORNER TROUBLE: The Saints cornerbacks really struggled. The Falcons attacked Gay on their first scoring drive, going at him three times in four plays for gains of 14, 13 and 16 yards, the latter a touchdown reception by Roddy White. Gay wasn’t close to making a play on the ball on any of the plays. Not making excuses for him, but Gay doesn’t look 100 percent healthy. Perhaps he’s still hampered by the undisclosed injury he suffered against the Chargers. Saints coaches called it “cramps” but it looked more like some kind of lower back injury. And Gay wasn’t the only one who struggled. Even before his injury, Mike McKenzie gave up a lot of big plays and looked hesitant to challenge the Falcons receivers. Ditto Glenn.

BAD CALLS OF THE DAY:The Saints reeled off consecutive gains of 30, 8, 11 and 8 on their first drive of the second quarter to give them a second-and-2 at the Atlanta 20. Then, they squandered their chances to score a touchdown and trim the Falcons margin to 14-10 with a pair of head-scratching calls. First, they ran Pierre Thomas into the gut of the Falcons defense on second-and-2, where he was stuffed by Grady Jackson for no gain. Where was fullback Mike Karney? Instead, the Saints went with a two-tight end set and motioned Billy Miller from the fullback alignment to the line of scrimmage. Then, on third-and-2, Sean Payton again tried to get cute, spreading the Falcons out with a three-receiver, one-tight end personnel package with Aaron Stecker as the lone back. Brees attempt to throw for the first down was thwarted when John Abraham beat Jammal Brown for the sack. If you want a definition of why the Saints are labeled a finesse team look no further than those two plays.

DIDYA NOTICE?: The Saints weren’t the only ones with a “shot” play – what Payton called the Saints first play, taking a shot down the field – in their repertoire on the first snap. It looked the Falcons were attempting a flea flicker on their opening play from scrimmage. Michael Turner was going to pitch the ball back to Ryan after the handoff but wisely kept the ball when Sedrick Ellis’ penetrated into the backfield. Bobby McCray tackled Turner for a 2-yard loss. The “tell” that something else was up: Both Falcons receivers acted like they were blocking then ran deep routes instead of sticking with their run blocks.

FUTURE STAR: The Saints have seen some impressive performances by opposing players this season – Brandon Marshall, Antoine Winfield, Steve Smith, Antonio Gates – but none by an opposing quarterback better than the one Ryan displayed against them. I was admittedly skeptical about the rookie from Boston College before Sunday. Not any more. He plays like an NFL veteran. Exhibit A: On second-and-5 at the Saints 34, Ryan noticed the Saints aligned in man-to-man press coverage and audibled to a new play, lofting a perfect back-shoulder pass to Jenkins in single coverage against Glenn. Ryan quickly identified the mismatch the 6-4 Jenkins had on the 5-9 Glenn and attacked it. The result was a 32-yard pass to the Saints 2, setting up the Falcons’ second touchdown. The Saints are going to have to contend with Ryan for a long time.

New Saints kickerGarrett Hartley had a good debut.

SILVER LINING: Lost in the disappointing loss was the fact that the Saints might have found a kicking game. Punter Glenn Pakulak and kicker Garrett Hartley. Hartley drilled both of his field-goal attempts and had solid depth and hangtime on his kickoffs. Now he just needs to work on his tackling skills. He took quite a blow from Jerious Norwood on his 55-yard return of the opening kickoff of the second half. Pakulak averaged a solid 48.3-yard net on his three punts. On his first punt, a soaring 56-yarder, he showed his athleticism by making a nice open-field tackle on Harry Douglas to save a touchdown.

• I liked the way Courtney Roby returned kickoffs in his debut as the main return man. Roby adds much-needed speed to the Saints’ return game and looks like a potential game-breaker back there. He averaged 25.4 yards on five returns, including a 41-yarder in the second half.

• Speaking of Roby, his 41-yard “Should I or should I not?” return resulted in a pair of injuries. Aaron Stecker pulled his hamstring while trying to make a lead block for Roby along the Saints sideline. Earlier in the play, Mike Karney strained his left knee when Marvin Mitchell fell into his leg from the side while making a block on Antoine Harris.

Marques Colston had a good day overall against the Falcons.

• Sure, Marques Colston dropped a critical touchdown on the Saints’ third series but he was spectacular the rest of the game. His seven-catch, 140-yard effort signaled to the rest of the league that he is definitely back.

• As can be expected of a second-time starter, center Matt Lehr struggled at times. He had a big holding call that negated a big pass play to Colston and was whistled for a false start in the red zone. He also was overpowered by Jackson on a second-and-1 play, resulting in the aforementioned stuff of Thomas for no gain.

• The Falcons did a nice job against Vilma, limiting him to a season-low three tackles. Vilma was also guilty of taking some poor angles, resulting in some nice gains by Michael Turner. It was not one of his better games.

• Devery Henderson has enjoyed a solid season and made some big plays for the Saints but it could be even better if he would learn to go get the ball instead of waiting on it. On the Saints’ opening play and another deep ball on their second series. Henderson had a chance to make big, momentum-changing plays and allowed the defensive back to out-fight him for the ball. Henderson should watch tape of how teammate Marques Colston goes up and competes for the ball instead of waiting on it to get into his body.

• Brees is not the same quarterback when he gets rattled. Once the Falcons established that they could pressure him early he started to rush throws and miss some reads. Very un-Brees-like. The Falcons had a remarkable 15 pass break-ups but many of them were due to inaccurate or forced throws into coverage by Brees.

• The Falcons used a quick count and hurry-up offense a couple of times to catch the Saints napping on defense.
PERSONNEL GROUPINGS: The Saints said their game plan was to run the ball on the Falcons but once they fell behind that idea went out the window. As a result, the Saints ran almost entirely out of multiple-receiver sets. They ran an incredible 55 plays in their two-minute drill, including the entire 36-play fourth quarter. Fullback Mike Karney left the game early in the third quarter with a knee injury but even before that he was being lightly used. He played a season-low nine snaps before the injury.

Here’s the breakdown of the Saints’ offensive personnel packages on all of their 76 plays from scrimmage:

3WR/1TE/1RB – 55 snaps out of 76 plays
2WR/2TE/1RB – 8 out of 76
2WR/1TE/1RB/1FB – 7 out of 76
4WR/1TE/ – 3 out of 76
1WR/3TE/1RB – 1 out of 76
1WR/2TE/1RB/1FB – 1 out of 76
3WR/1RB/1FB – 1 out of 76

Comments are closed.