This certainly was a game which the Saints had a legitimate shot of winning. Their second possession was strong and productive to get them on the board early and they even rallied from behind 21-7 to tie the game up at 24. Although the run game of the Ravens carried them today, the Saints had the advantage. I don’t feel like the play calling did anything to help the cause.
A lot of heat will understandably come down on the defense for this loss because Ray Rice literally had a field day against them. After shutting him down early on, he came out and just took it to the Saints defense.
They just didn’t have an answer for him as he rushed for 153 yards on the day and had a touchdown reception. However, after giving up three touchdowns in the first half, Gregg Williams’ unit held the Ravens to three field goals after that. The game was still within the Saints’ reach. If the defense has a redeeming quality, it’s their ability to keep the opposing offenses out of the endzone despite letting them move the ball effectively.
In my last article, I expressed concern about possible issues with play calling today. The reason was that with Baltimore being so good against the run, I feared that Sean Payton would revert to a lopsided offense that requires abandoning the run game.
Well, that’s exactly what happened. And it was totally without cause. I’d really expected to see a heavy dose of Pierre Thomas–not from scrimmage necessarily, but in screens designed for him. Instead, I saw screens to Reggie Bush and to Jimmy Graham that went absolutely nowhere for the most part. Conventional wisdom would dictate that if you opt to run the screen, you put the ball in the hands of your best player for that particular call.
Thomas is the best screener on the team hands down. That one play has done more to spread defenses and open up offensive opportunites for the Saints than any other they typically run. Yet and still, it was not a given that the Saints weren’t going to be able to run the ball effectively because Thomas had a tough run from scrimmage and picked up 9 yards on a first down carry and he picked up some short yardage first downs.
We don’t know if he could’ve done more of the same because the run game was abruptly abandoned and Thomas was all but taken out of the gameplan except returning kickoffs. I knew it was bad when Payton opted to pass on 3rd and 2 rather than try to punch ahead for the first down.
The Saints finished with a measly 24 yards rushing as opposed to 267 passing! So the biggest mistake was not maintaining balance on offense, or at least trying to. We’ve seen this before and each time, it’s ended up being unfortunate for New Orleans. So I ask, how can you have a gem like Thomas on your roster and not at least give him a shot to make something happen for you?
That’s not to say that the Saints didn’t put together some brilliant drives through the air. Jimmy Graham caught two touchdown passes today and Lance Moore had one of the most spectacular catches ever in the endzone.
But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times–the Saints are a team that must have balance. I don’t care if the rushers only get 35 or 40 yards per game, defenses have to respect the run (or else get burned on the ground) and that opens up some other avenues offensively. When that is taken out, the gameplan becomes one dimensional, thereby becoming easier to defend against. They made the game interesting, but in the end that wasn’t enough.
Despite today’s loss, all is not lost for the Saints because both the Giants and the Bucs also lost, leaving them both a game behind the Saints who are still leading the pack hoping to clinch a wildcard playoff spot. But I can tell you, things are going to be a lot more critical now that they couldn’t get it done against the Ravens.
They’re at Atlanta next week, who clinched a playoff berth today by virtue of the Giants’ loss and then at home against Tampa Bay to close out the season. We already know that the Falcons are going to run Michael Turner down the Saints’ throats to set up the pass for Matt Ryan. The question is, how will the Saints stop it? They didn’t do a good job defensively against Baltimore’s run game, so they’d better figure something out quick if they hope to contain Atlanta.
Also, special teams has been awful this season and need to make some major adjustments. The Saints absolutely cannot afford to lose another game; today’s loss hurt them enough. It’s hard to believe that even after vacating the run today, they still could’ve won that game. But they should never have been in that difficult position in the first place. I hope that this game serves as a lesson in play calling because it can’t happen again if the Saints hope to march into the playoffs.