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 22, Titans 17
Complete Box Score
Yards Gained: 437
Yards Allowed: 373
Yards/play allowed: 6.8
Turnover Differential: 0 [+0, -0], (-2)
First Down Differential: +7 [+24, -17], (+49)
Sack Differential: 0 [+2, -2], (0)
Time of Possession Differential: +15:27 (+36:18)
3rd Down Conversion: 58%, 11/19 (54%, 94/175)
Opponent's 3rd Down Conversion: 10%, 1/10 (33%, 55/166)
2011 Aggregate Point Differential: +129
Average PPG: 31.9
Opponent's Average PPG: 22.0
* as always, numbers in brackets [x] represent game totals, while numbers in parentheses (y) represent season totals.
* Is there a player in the NFL more criminally-underrated than Marques Colston? During the offseason, I examined whether Colston should be considered among the elite at his position, even though he's virtually never mentioned as such. On Sunday, Colston again proved that when called upon, he's as good as it gets.
After a first half of perhaps the most conservatively-called plays of the Payton era, Colston made an indelible imprint on a game in need of a stamp. With Jimmy Graham at less than full capacity with back spasms, Colston stepped to the fore and was the key player in the 22-17 win.
Colston caught all 7 passes thrown his way, gaining 105 crucial yards--78 of which came in the second half.
More importantly, both of Colston's TDs came in the decisive 4th quarter, one when he found himself wide-open for an impressive leaping grab that he converted into a TD; then soon after, he scored the game-winning TD on a patented 1st down strike from Brees.
As pointed out by a few people, Payton slyly inserted seldom-used RT Pat McQuistan into the game on first down for what appeared to be a heavy run formation. On cue, Payton called a play-action pass and Colston had just enough space down the seam for Brees to drop in a perfect TD pass.
A quintessential Payton moment.
* In the last five games the defense has surrendered just one first-half TD, allowing the Saints the luxury of consistently playing with the lead during its five-game winning streak. And while it hasn't been all good for the Saints' defense this season--or even in this game--the defense has made enough strides to make the Saints look increasingly formidable.
Again on Sunday the defense played outstanding on 3rd down, limiting the Titans to just one conversion in ten attempts.
On a day when the offense struggled with consistency in finishing off drives, the defense continually served up chances for the offense to get into rhythm.
Further, the deservedly much-maligned rush defense was up to the task of slowing down Chris Johnson for the entirety of the day. Operating out of a 3-4 alignment that might just be a revelation, the Saints' LBs protected the periphery of the field and muted Johnson's big ability off the edge. As a result, the Titans continually faced 2nd and 3rd-and-longs that they were largely incapable of converting.
Finally, let's give Malcolm Jenkins a mention of praise for his spectacular open-field tackle of Chris Johnson on 2nd and 10 to prevent a first down and, probably, a touchdown. The stop proved crucial as two plays later, the Saints stuffed the Titans on 4th and 1 to blunt a go-ahead scoring opportunity for Tennessee late in the game.
Jenkins hasn't quite taken the leap that I expected this season, and that might be partly because the defensive scheme (which requires him to play 20 yards off the ball) has neutered his impact. Regardless, it was promising to see Jenkins make a confident, crucial play against the opponent's best player in a big spot. I feel certain there's more of that to come.
* Chris Ivory deserves credit for stepping into the void created by Mark Ingram's absence and maintaining the rushing attack's efficiency. It was an unassuming, though impactful, performance.
Again the Saints cracked 100+ yards on the ground, and again they hit the magic benchmark of 25-ish rush attempts. Ivory contributed with 53 yards on 13 carries (4.1 per) and flashed his impressive, vicious blend of power, explosion, and speed.
While I am admittedly a big fan of Mark Ingram, in Ivory I see a young Corey Dillon capable of being a special talent when he's healthy.
The Saints are in great shape with Ingram and Ivory sharing duties; for now, I expect Ingram to remain inactive for another week until he's fully healthy.
Once that happens, we should expect to see 4 RBs on the active roster because each of them is too good to be unavailable if needed at this point in the season.
* Lastly, one important note of good (great?): the Saints have not turned the ball over in their last four games, and they've turned it over just once in the past five.
Under Payton, the Saints are 21-0 when they don't turn the ball over.
* How many times did Saints' defenders completely whiff on tackles? (This is a rhetorical question, though one also rooted in empiricism. I think that's like a paradox or something.)
Johnny Patrick set the unfortunate tone on the opening kickoff when he harmlessly, yet completely missed an easy tackle. And Tracy Porter recorded three head-shaking whiffs at the hands (feet?) of Chris Johnson, Lavell Hawkins, and Jake Locker.
The worst of all? On 3rd and 10 late in the 3rd quarter, Patrick Robinson took a brutal angle and missed what seemed like an easy open field tackle on Damian Williams, who turned it into a 54-yard gain. On the next play, Jake Locker scored to give the Titans the lead.
Recurring missed tackles and blown coverages (notably and most recently against the Falcons, Giants, and Lions) are not the hallmarks of a good defense. Obviously.
These same shortcomings coalesced into one ugly defensive performance last year against Seattle in the playoffs. You remember that, don't you? Well the problems linger.
Without a remedy for these fundamental ailments, the Saints face the prospect of falling victim to a similar, painful postseason fate this year.
* Lance Moore's end zone drop on 3rd down at the end of the first half was a play that, while certainly not egregious by any means, Moore routinely makes. And it was a big moment in the game. In a game on the road where points were not easy to come by, it's incumbent on Moore to make that catch.
Though I'm not here to crucify the sure-handed Moore for failing to make a difficult catch, I have come to expect a player of his caliber to deliver in key moments. Those four points that were left on the field? Those certainly would have been helpful late in the game.
* So let's recap here. The Saints take a 12-point with 7 minutes remaining and promptly respond by allowing the Titans to score a TD in just three plays. How does that happen?
And how do the Saints get into such a poor defensive alignment that Will Herring is covering WR Nate Washington?
It's one thing when a linebacker has to cover a RB or a TE, but the opposing team's chief deep threat? With a double-digit lead to protect in the 4th quarter? Unacceptable.
And then again on the Titans' last-second charge to win the game, only this time with Jo-Lonn Dunbar covering him? Ridiculous.
It's another rudimentary lapse that the Saints' defense, and its coaches, should simply be beyond committing this late in the season.
* The officiating was unconscionable on Sunday, with the referees throwing a bizarre amount of flags (19), many of which seemed to be on non-violations.
What's worse is that early on, they clearly missed a pass interference penalty on Malcolm Jenkins. To compensate, they called a phantom, make-up holding penalty on Jo-Lonn Dunbar that negated a Darren Sproles' touchdown on a punt return. The problem? Dunbar wasn't even on the field.
Upon review, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman had difficulty pinpointing the culprit, finally settling on Martez Wilson because, well, he was blocking someone.
Then, the refs completely missed Marques Colston being mugged by Cortland Finnegan in the end zone at the end of the first half. Finnegan had a firm grasp of Colston's arm, yet the refs failed to flag it.
In a game where there seemed to be a flag on every other play, the refs missed a few easy calls. What gives? Just a perfect storm of ineptitude.
I'm not going to bemoan the referees' incompetence to the point that I'd say it significantly affected the outcome of the game, but the frequency, inconsistency, and pettiness of the punitive philosophy espoused by Mike Carey and crew marred the game as a whole.
"When he took off as if he were running, I just took off with him. I was supposed to be in coverage, but hey, I made a play." Jo-Lonn Dunbar
* photos courtesy of Yahoo! Sports