14 November 2011

Week 10 Rear View: Saints at Falcons

To reiterate, every week during the season I'll be posting a summary of the Saints' game, complete with key stats and a "Good, Bad, Ugly" performance review. If you have ideas or feedback, please feel free to submit those to me via blog comment, Twitter, Facebook, email, text, message in a bottle or whatever floats your proverbial boat. 

Also, at four-week intervals, we'll see how the Saints rank league-wide in some important statistical categories. 

Final Score: Saints 26, Falcons 23
Record: 7-3
Complete Box Score

Yards Gained: 363
Yards Allowed: 481
Yards/play: 6.1
Yards/play allowed: 5.7

Turnover Differential: +1   [+1, 0], (-5)
First Down Differential: -12   [+18, -30], (+44)
Sack Differential: =1   [+1, 0], (-1)
Time of Possession Differential: -6:29   (+34:25)

3rd Down Conversion: 31%, 4/13   (53%, 72/135)
Opponent's 3rd Down Conversion: 31%, 5/16   (35%, 47/134)

2011 Aggregate Point Differential: +85
Average PPG
: 31.3
Opponent's Average PPG: 22.8

* as always, numbers in brackets [x] represent game totals, while numbers in parentheses (y) represent season totals.

The Good
* Has Marques Colston ever played better as a professional? This I seriously doubt. Once again, Colston nudged himself into the company of the NFL's best wide receivers with a dominating, ballsy performance in the Saints' biggest game thus far in 2011. 

Colston delivered an astounding 89% catch rate, catching 8 passes on 9 targets for 113 gritty, vital yards. Incredibly, each of Colston's eight receptions produced a first down--an impact performance if there ever was one. 

Take a look at this jarring catch log: 9 yards on 3rd and 2; 10 yards on 1st and 10; 14 yards on 2nd and 9; 15 yards on 1st and 10; 19 yards on 3rd and 8; 15 yards on 2nd and 14; 18 yards on 3rd and 5; 13 yards on 3rd and 11. 

Colston came up big--crucial play after crucial play--displaying his trademark physical and mental toughness while reminding Saints' fans that, yes, this quiet 7th-round, throwaway pick from sleepy Hofstra University is all but certainly the best wide receiver to ever don the black and gold. 

* Maybe Sunday's performance will finally quiet the absurd nonsense that typically surrounds the play of Roman Harper. It's eerily reminiscent of the now mostly silent LSU-fan-base vs. Les-Miles-as-bad-coach rhetoric that lingered for years even when Miles was mostly winning but periodically screwing up a variety of game management situations. 

Now too, I hope Roman Harper has silenced his doubters. Like Colston, Harper probably played his best game as a professional on Sunday. 

Take a look at this definitively beastly stat line: 13 tackles (10 solo), 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass defended, 2 QB hits. 

Harper was all over the field on Sunday, as evidenced by his stats. Yet again, Harper set the tone physically for a Saints' defense that sometimes seems to forget that just simply hitting the other guy as hard as possible is a worthy defensive strategy. 

If Harper holds on for the easy interception at the end of regulation, this would have been a performance for the ages. Instead, Harper let the ball slip through his famously tenuous grasp. But regardless, Harper's impact was potent and convincing in a game the Saints needed to win. 

Lastly, with a team-leading 6.5 sacks on the season, Harper needs just two more sacks to set an NFL record for sacks by a defensive back in a season (Adrian Wilson, 8, 2005). 

* Is that you, red zone defense? Why, yes, it is. Nice to see you. We've missed you around these parts lately. Coming into the game ranked last in red zone defense, the Saints picked a fine time to leave the past behind, limiting the Falcons to just three FGs in three red zone opportunities. 

Both the Falcons' first and last possession of regulation saw them threatening in the red zone, and the Saints' defense came up with big stops on both occasions. 

On the first possession of the game, the Falcons methodically choked the life out of the first quarter clock on a 16-play, 8:40 drive.The Falcons got as close as the 13-yard line, but the Saints stiffened and forced a FG, a moral victory if there ever was one. 

On the Falcons' last possession of the game, on their take-a-couple-of-years-off-your-life march down the field to tie/win the game, the Saints' defense finally bowed up from the (gasp!) 9-yard line and forced a FG instead of allowing what almost seemed like an inevitable soul-crushing, season-defining Falcons' TD. 

Though the Saints' defense is far from perfect, Sunday's red zone showing was a positive sign and a reminder that, when opponents settle for FGs instead of TDs against the Saints, they're typically not going to win the game. It's not much of a fancy formula, but it's a formula nonetheless. Let's hope there's a bit more where that came from. 

* Coach Payton's return to the sideline was a welcomed sight and emotional boost.

Even if Payton's impact is still at less than full capacity, his presence and confidence are vital cogs in a delicate machine that demands input from its varied components to operate in a close-to-optimal capacity.  

Crutchless or not, Payton should be on the sideline for the remainder of the season. And that's a good thing.  

* And obviously, let's not forget to give the Saints' much-maligned run defense its due. 

If nothing else, on the one running play this season that really mattered, the Saints' run defense was up to the task

Stuffing Michael Turner on 4th and inches in overtime was a thing of beauty, and an image that will endure as a defining play for the 2011 Saints. 

The Bad 
* Does Malcolm Jenkins miss the calming veteran presence of Darren Sharper? Too often this season, Jenkins has played at an uneven, inconsistent pace. After fully believing that Jenkins would make the proverbial leap to the ranks of the elite this year, I can't help but to think that Jenkins has regressed a bit and is struggling to find his way at times. 

On Sunday, though Jenkins contributed mightily on the Falcons' failed 4th and inches carry in OT, he still left a few plays on the field. 

And while Jenkins certainly didn't play terribly on Sunday--nor has he this season--there's still room for improvement.  

Late in the second quarter with the Falcons backed up to their 19, Jenkins got turned around and was slow to react to a pass that Harry Douglas turned into a 46-yard reception. Jenkins seemed to be slightly out of position, then got turned around after Leigh Torrence slipped, leaving Douglas wide open.

Luckily, that mistake did not prove costly when the normally-reliable Matt Bryant missed a 41-yard FG as the first half expired. Those missed points proved to be the difference in the game; that the Falcons even had an opportunity there was the remnant of Douglas' 46-yard catch-and-run.  

Then, early in the third quarter, Jenkins took a brutally-poor angle on the wide-bodied Michael Turner, allowing Turner to rumble 24 yards into Saints territory on a possession that soon after resulted in ...

* ... maybe the worst display of tackling in the NFL all season. After the Falcons converted a 4th and 1 from the Saints' 26-yard line, Jason Snelling caught a short pass from Matt Ryan and proceeded to make a mockery of the Saints' defense, battering through nine wanna-be tacklers on his way to a 21-yard TD. 

As illustrated masterfully by FOX on the TV broadcast, Snelling both eluded and ran through a blanket of Saints' defenders--including a group of five that had him corralled--and then dismissively stiff-armed Malcolm Jenkins on his way to a TD.

* The Saints' running game was nowhere to be found on Sunday. 41 yards? 2.6 yards per carry? Needless to say, these are not impressive clips. (I said it anyway)

For the second time in three games, the running game has been non-existent. While the Saints have mostly run the ball effectively this season, the disappearing act that's recently manifested itself is something that certainly needs to disappear in its own right.    

More specifically, Mark Ingram was a complete non-factor in his limited duties begging the question: Is it Ingram or Ivory from here on out?

Assuming the relative health of both backs, who will the Saints deactivate on gameday for the last seven games? It seems extremely unlikely that the Saints will carry 4 RBs during gamedays, meaning that either Ingram or Ivory won't be playing. 

My guess is that Ingram is still the man for now. But if Ingram delivers another sluggish performance or two, Sean Payton might be faced with the unenviable task of deactivating his first-round pick on gamedays. 

Here's to hoping that Ingram returns to full health during the bye week, and plays up to his Heisman-winning pedigree the remainder of the season.   

The Ugly 
* As referenced earlier, the Saints 2-minute defense was mostly abysmal on Sunday at the end of both halves. 

With 1:05 left in the first half and the Falcons backed up their own 1-yard line, the Saints permissively allowed the Falcons a potentially back-breaking big play to get into FG range before the half expired.

The Saints were bailed out by a Matt Bryant miss.  

Then with Atlanta backed up to their own 6-yard line with 1:55 left and no timeouts, the Falcons quickly dug out of the hole in four plays, including consecutive 23-yard catches by Harry Douglas and a 20-yard catch by Douglas. 

The Falcons effortlessly moved the ball into scoring range as time expired, and had several chances to win the game outright much less tie it.

Adjustments in this area are likely to be priority #1 for Gregg Williams during the bye week. 

Worth Repeating 
"The thing I'm most proud of is the 2nd half wasn't perfect but we fought back in OT. 4th and 1 was a huge stop. We made the plays we needed to." - Sean Payton   

* photos courtesy of Yahoo! Sports 

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