There are plenty of worthy places to start when looking at where things went wrong for the New Orleans Saints against the Baltimore Ravens — Baltimore controlled the game from start to finish, and just about any casual whim of Monday night’s game would illustrate why.
But for the sake of this exercise, let’s start at the 14:42 mark of the fourth quarter. New Orleans trailed 17-6 and it had just stopped, forcing the Ravens to go three-and-out. It took over with solid field position at its own 31-yard line. Little had gone right offensively to that point, but a big drive could have changed the color of the game.
Here’s what happened instead: A 3-yard run on first down, an off-target pass due to pressure on second down, and a drive-killing sack on third down.
This is actually the story of the game in three games. New Orleans never got the running game going, and without that pillar, the limitations of the offensive attack were exposed in front of a national television audience.
First and 10: Running back Alvin Kamara, who has done yeoman’s work dragging this offense toward respectability lately, was stuffed for a minimal gain. He carried the ball just nine times Monday, and five of those carries went for 3 or fewer yards.
Second-and-7: The Ravens sent one of their few blitzes after Saints quarterback Andy Dalton, who waited a beat for something to open down the field before whipping a ball to Kamara in the flat. The throw was late and behind Kamara and fell harmlessly incomplete.
Third and 7: In a third and long situation, the Ravens pass rush teed off. Saints right guard Calvin Throckmorton was no match for Baltimore’s Justin Houston, who got past Throckmorton and released Dalton less than three seconds after the snap. If it hadn’t been Houston, it might have been Calais Campbell, who beat Andrus Peat on the other end.
If Dalton had just a little more time, he might have seen Kevin White break wide open on the over route, which likely would have been an easy throw to keep a crucial drive alive. Instead, it was a three-and-out and a punt, and the Saints never got close to the Ravens again.
It was a total offensive collapse on Monday night, one that looked a lot like the ugly losses early in the season. New Orleans got little traction along its offensive line, establishing no rhythm while mounting three- and four-play drives and getting flustered by a Ravens pass-rush scheme that came from everywhere and nowhere.
And again, it wasn’t just that one sequence. That was actually the whole game.
The Saints’ first drive ended when the five offensive linemen blocked three defenders on third-and-6. The fourth, edge rusher Tyus Bowser, got completely free to force a punt.
A prime scoring opportunity sparked in the third quarter when nobody faced a third-and-4 at the Ravens 10 and nobody picked off a brilliant Marlon Humphrey. Dalton never saw Humphrey coming, and the nine-yard loss forced the Saints to settle for a field goal.
Again and again. It wasn’t something exotic that New Orleans couldn’t account for, it was worse – a physical man act that feasted on mental mistakes.
The Ravens pressured the Saints on 12 of their 35 dropbacks, and they did so despite sending five-man pressures just six times. They hit three passes on the field. They completely dictated play to the Saints attack.
Take one fundamental piece out of the offensive attack—in this case, the running game—and the whole thing fell apart.
Until Dalton hit Chris Olave for a gain of 11 on third and 14 late in the fourth quarter, the Saints had -14 net yards on nine third downs. Not surprisingly, only two of them moved the links. So many of those plays painted a picture of the Saints’ offensive ineptitude Monday. A failed Kamara run on third-and-1; Juwan Johnson runs a three-yard route two yards from the marker; three sacks. Just an ugly show all around.
Speaking of the third-and-1 play: I wasn’t sure what kind of impact Roquan Smith was going to have in his first game after joining a new team. Turns out he was pretty good. Smith was instrumental in the Ravens keeping Kamara in check, whether it was meeting him in the hole on third-and-short or covering him in space.
Lamar Jackson is the type of player that defies explanation, and no words will sum up his game, but here’s one that kept popping up in my notebook while taking a closer look at this game: Slippery. Yes, he’s fast and explosive and he’s dynamic and all that stuff, but he hurt the Saints the most Monday when he somehow managed to leave defensive linemen gasping for air when they had a safe sack. It wasn’t normal. He is a monster.
Not sure if he was the responsible party, but it sure looked like Marcus Maye bit pretty hard on the run on Baltimore’s first touchdown. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely ran right by him for an easy touchdown.
Tyrann Mathieu looked like he was trying to be in about three places at once on a crucial third-and-8 that kept Baltimore’s second touchdown drive going. Someone lost track of where they were supposed to be, either that or they didn’t notice the 6-foot, 250-pound Josh Oliver running wide open across the middle of the field. The easy 19-yard catch and run was the Saints’ last, best chance to get off the field that drive. On the next nine plays, Baltimore faced just one third down (needing just 2 yards to convert).
Rookie Rashid Shaheed is an exciting young player, but he had a tough game Monday in the return game: He had a shaky fair catch and let another punt hit the ground, causing the Saints to lose nearly 30 yards in field position on a bounce.
Demario Davis had a nice game: Two great stops in run support behind the line of scrimmage, and another explosive blitz where he forced Lamar Jackson to throw a rushed incompletion on third down (missing a wide-open receiver). One of the lone bright spots.
Payton Turner followed up his breakout Week 8 game against the Raiders with an up-and-down performance, but his up moments were very strong. He is still a young player who deserves a chance to show he can be more consistent. He could get a chance to do just that if Marcus Davenport misses time.
The Saints are hoping that linebacker Pete Werner won’t be out long, because Kaden Elliss will struggle in the weakside role if he has to play significant reps there. Elliss has some strengths as a playmaker, but playing in space is not one of them.