There’s Blame to Go Around – Ten Takeaways from Saints 20, Eagles 14

The Birds were up 14-0 and lost 20-14.

That’s a crappy way to go out when you consider how well they started this game.

Funny thing about social media –

I don’t think anything remotely reasonable is said on Twitter or Facebook in the 30 minutes after a tough Eagles loss. It’s just reactionary and emotional stuff, people full of piss and vinegar and Bud Light who are looking for an argument. It’s more or less a cesspool of non-dialogue, but what’s fascinating is to explore the dichotomy among fans who were blaming the offense for the loss versus fans blaming the defense.

It’s true that the Eagles were poor on a number of third and long situations last night, and they allowed the Saints to put together some back-breaking long drives on more than one occasion. That’s factual information that we can verify with our own two eyes. Empirical data and whatnot.

But if you told me before the game that the Eagles defense would hold the Saints to 20 points in the Superdome, I absolutely would take that. You would have taken it, too. We all would have, because New Orleans only scored less than 21 points at home on one other occasion this season, which was when they rested their starters in week 17.

Seriously.

Last night was probably the best defensive performance by an opposing team in the Superdome this season, because Teddy Bridgewater vs. the Panthers in the season finale doesn’t count.

This loss is on the offense, which put up 14 points against the NFL’s 29th-worst pass defense. You can’t go 2-7 on third down in the dome and expect to win the game. You can’t waste a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty early in the third quarter. You can’t blow the few opportunities you get in a road playoff game against the NFC’s top- seeded team.

There’s blame to go around, but the scales are tilting much more towards the offense than the defense after that performance.

It was a fun ride though, for real. I wrote a bunch of sardonic shit earlier this season, saying that the Birds were done, they were cooked, they’re gonna finish 7-9, yadda yadda yadda. They proved me wrong, probably proved you wrong, and put up a really nice fight while falling just short of the NFC Championship game. That’s pretty damn good for a team that looked to be dead and buried on more than one occasion this year.

All that’s left for us to do now is cheer on Andy Reid, because I sure as hell don’t want Sean Payton, Bill Belichick, or Sean McVay winning the Super Bowl.

Barf.

1) Nick Foles

18 for 31, 201 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception that was his fault, and 1 interception that wasn’t his fault.

He just wasn’t good enough. He was under-throwing and over-throwing guys from quarter two through four, which is weird to me because he nailed Alshon Jeffery on a fantastic back-shoulder throw in the first quarter and dropped that touchdown pass for Jordan Matthews right in the bread basket. I don’t know what changed or why his accuracy waned as the game progressed.

I went through some of the condensed replay film and didn’t see anything that really suggested what the problem was. He didn’t totally step into a couple of throws, but on other occasions he was similarly back-footish and completed his passes. He wasn’t “forcing” throws I don’t think, but Nick just looked like he was having trouble putting the right amount of loft on the ball after that first quarter.

Case in point, the interception:

The thing that kills me about that play is that the Saints dropped eight guys into zone coverage. It was a three man rush, so you’ve got Lane Johnson 1v1 on the right and a pair of double teams elsewhere on the line. I know Nick isn’t a runner, but he could probably have climbed the pocket there or hit Wendell Smallwood in the flat. He saw something over the top and just didn’t put enough air under it, which is almost the opposite of what he did on the Matthews TD pass earlier in the game, which was a back-foot, “let me put it where my guy can get it” type of throw.

The Matthews over-throw towards the end of the game was another one that jumped out:

He just missed him. The Saints blitzed but the protection was clean enough.

I guess this brings the Foles vs. Wentz thing to an end. Or does it? I have no idea. I think we’re stuck with that forever.

2) Offensive shortcomings

Let’s play a game.

It’s called “compare how the Eagles did on Sunday to the opponent’s season averages.”

I wrote last week about how the Birds had a shot to really redeem themselves after Carson Wentz threw up that three-interception clunker in week 11.

That was predicated on these mediocre New Orleans season averages:

  • 14th in total defense (349 yards per game)
  • 29th in pass defense (269 YPG)
  • 14th in scoring defense (22 points allowed per game)
  • 22nd in first downs allowed (20.8 per game)
  • 24th in opponent third down conversion rate (41.3%)
  • 29th in yards per pass allowed (8.1)
  • 26th in completion percentage allowed (67%)
  • 27th in limiting opponent passer rating (100.3)

Look good right? The Birds should have been able to find some wiggle room attacking the Saints secondary, but here’s how they did in each of those categories:

  • 250 total yards
  • 201 passing yards
  • 14 points
  • 15 first downs
  • 28.6% on third down
  • 6.5 yards per pass
  • 58 completion percentage
  • 61.4 passer rating

That’s it. They Eagles finished well below the Saints’ defensive averages in all eight of those categories, which was incredibly disappointing. They opened the second half with a 14-10 lead and the ball and proceeded to go three plays for six yards and punt the ball right back to New Orleans, which set up the Saints’ game-winning drive.

3) A great performance, other than…

The defense more or less fought like hell but just couldn’t get off the field, which resulted in the Saints running 71 total plays vs. the Eagles’ 47. The time of possession margin was again ~37 minutes to ~23 minutes, which is absolutely brutal.

Here’s what the Saints did with their drives:

  1. one play, zero yards, interception
  2. three plays, zero yards, punt
  3. seven plays, 23 yards, punt
  4. twelve plays, 79 yards, touchdown
  5. four plays, 12 yards, punt
  6. seven plays, 67 yards, field goal
  7. eighteen plays, 92 yards, touchdown
  8. eight plays, 62 yards, field goal
  9. ten plays, 41 yards, missed field goal
  10. (end of game)

Drive #4 required a fake punt and a 4th down conversion to score a touchdown, so of course you have to give credit where it’s due. This is one of the best offenses in the league, playing at home and executing while down by 14 points.

But just looking at that 18-play drive specifically, you allowed a 1st down on a penalty, allowed a 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 16 conversion, and couldn’t take advantage of two penalties on their offensive line, penalties that moved them back into a pair of 2nd and 20 situations on the same drive. That was the killer there, the fact that they couldn’t turn two holding calls into a punt or field goal.

4) “Bringing pressure”

A lot of talk about Jim Schwartz and his scheme last night.

Here’s who he’s got in the secondary:

  • Josh Hawkins (pulled off the scrap heap)
  • Rasul Douglas (2nd year dude on a bum ankle)
  • Avonte Maddox (rookie)
  • Cre’Von LeBlanc  (pulled off the scrap heap, but played a fantastic game)
  • Malcolm Jenkins (veteran Pro Bowler)
  • Corey Graham (veteran backup)
  • Tre Sullivan (backup dime safety)

What would you like Schwartz to do with this group?

I’m not trying to be an asshole, I promise. I’m just not sure what kind of options he really has. You can play dime and blitz Nigel Bradham. You can throw a safety blitz, maybe.

You risk a lot if you blitz in front of that patchwork secondary group, because if you don’t get there, you’ve got guys like Maddox and Hawkins 1v1 with the likes of Ted Ginn Jr. and Michael Thomas.

Geoff made some sense after the game:

Let’s look at the two plays Geoff is talking about. Here’s the 3rd and 16:

I have more of a problem with the defensive line configuration there. I know you’re forcing 1v1s on the strong side of the field with three guys lined up on the left, but it’s just too easy for Drew Brees to step through the hole behind the left guard and climb the pocket instead.

I mean, look at this:

You can’t throw that cheese against somebody as good as Brees. That’s the easiest pocket climb he’ll ever make, with all four linemen totally bypassing him and getting caught too far down the field.

But Geoff is right; Bradham did have a chance to make a tackle there. He was in position.

Clip two glitches for some reason, so my apologies, but here it is:

They rush six, Brees spots a 1v1 against Avonte Maddox immediately, and the ball is out before anybody gets there. That’s less than 2 seconds from snap to throw. I tried to time it on my phone a couple of times, and while I’m prone to human error, I stopped the clock at 1.81 seconds.

Shrug. I dunno man, they had chances to get off the field in different looks and different situations, and they didn’t do enough of it. Drew Brees is good against zone and he’s good against the blitz. I’m not sure what else Jim Schwartz could have done.

5) Injuries part 2

What is it about the Superdome? It feels like bodies just pile up in that place.

Injuries in the first Saints game:

  • Jason Kelce (elbow)
  • Rasul Douglas (knee)
  • Sidney Jones (hamstring)
  • Avonte Maddox (knee)
  • Jordan Hicks (calf)
  • Rick Lovato (concussion)

Injuries in this game:

  • Brandon Brooks
  • Fletcher Cox
  • Rasul Douglas
  • Jason Peters
  • Brandon Graham
  • Michael Bennett

Some of these guys were in and out of the game. Some finished and some didn’t, but losing your Pro Bowl right guard in the first half sucks. Losing your Pro Bowl defensive tackle for some plays sucks (ironically Cox drew a flag on his first play back on the field). Losing your left tackle in what seems like every game this season also sucks, but I’ll leave it to Russ to comment on Jason Peters.

6) the Zebras

I wrote down nine things regarding the officiating:

  1. Taunting on Tim Jernigan: seemed like a pretty straightforward call because he was standing over the guy and yelling at him
  2. Brandon Graham non-fumble: easy review that the booth got correct, as did Dean Blandino in his consultation
  3. Rasul Douglas 3rd quarter pass interference: ehhh, I mean, I dunno.. they were letting guys get away with a lot of things in the secondary last night, but flagged this for some reason
  4. Saints 3rd down conversion in 3rd quarter: Keith Kirkwood hooked Malcolm Jenkins on a pick play and was not flagged. He literally reached out and grabbed him with his arm.
  5. holding against Haloti Ngata: correct call and wiped out a touchdown
  6. holding on Max Unger on same drive: bogus call against the Saints as Treyvon Hester was falling to the ground almost immediately after the snap
  7. 3rd down pass to Golden Tate: sure looked like face guarding to me, but I honestly think Golden needed to do a better job of selling that or fighting for the ball to get the flag
  8. pass interference on the Saints in the 4th quarter: well, the guy did grab Zach Ertz and wrap him near the line of scrimmage
  9. roughing the passer on Marcus Davenport, 4th quarter: I dunno.. we’d be complaining about that if it happened to the Eagles, right? He got Nick high, but hit him more in the neck area and didn’t exactly strike him in the face

Can’t blame the refs for this loss, but I’m sure Angelo Cataldi gave it a try this morning.

7) Value in the margins

Weekly entry. Last one for the season.

Let me start by going through the auxiliary battles from the first game, the 48 to 7 loss back in November:

  • lost time of possession, 37:30 to 22:50
  • -3 turnover margin
  • 3-10 on third down (30%)
  • 0-2 on fourth down (0%)
  • allowed Saints to go 6-11 on third down (54.5%) and 1-1 on fourth down (100%)
  • lost 18 yards on 3 sacks
  • 0-1 success rate in the red zone
  • 6 penalties for 49 yards

Pretty brutal, that game.

Here’s how the Eagles fared on Sunday:

  • lost time of possession, 37:50 to 22:10
  • -1 turnover margin
  • 2-7 on third down (28.6%)
  • 0-0 on fourth down (N/A)
  • allowed Saints to go 8-15 on third down (53.3%) and 2-2 on fourth down (100%)
  • lost 0 yards on 0 sacks
  • 1-1 success rate in the red zone
  • 4 penalties for 30 yards

Third downs and time of possession really killed them in both trips to New Orleans.

Combine those games and the Eagles went 5-17 on third down for a 29% rate. The Saints went 14-26 for a 53.8% mark and finished 3-3 on 4th down tries. That’s pretty much why they controlled the clock in such a lopsided fashion against an Eagles team that finished top-three in TOP this year.

New Orleans committed 11 penalties for 84 yards last night and the Eagles didn’t do enough to take advantage of that.

8) Doug’s best call?

I really liked the QB sneak for the touchdown. Seemed like a very obvious call at the time, a “let’s not over-think this” type of call.

That’s the only one that jumps out to me..

9) Doug’s worst call?

The timeout before halftime was because the Eagles weren’t lined up properly. However, the Saints might not have gotten that play off in time, with the clock at three seconds before they could get everybody in the right spot:

Probably best to just give the Eagles the benefit of the doubt there.

People were also talking about whether or not to accept the penalty prior to the fake punt. I think declining the penalty is the proper call, because you’ve got the opponent backed up on 4th and 1 in their own territory, down two scores. It’s a risky play and the Saints converted it, but if they fail you’ve got a two touchdown lead, a ton of momentum, and the ball in the their half of the field.

The timeout on the opening drive of the second half was really bad though. Andy Reid school of clock management there. Just take the 5 yard penalty and save those timeouts for the end of the game. That was a killer.

I’m also not sure why Eagles were rushing to get a play off before the two-minute warning. They had 27 yards to the goal line and plenty of time to get there. The objective was to score without giving Brees time to march down the field for three points.

10) The broadcast

Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, and Pam Oliver.

Burkhardt is fine. No problem with him.

Davis is a strange one, because I think he’s decent as a color guy, but at times it just feels like he’s beating me over the head with analysis. I think he just has to pace himself a little more, if that makes sense. It’s like he’s punching me in the face after every play when sometimes I just need a bit of a break. He’s one of those guys who, while you appreciate what he does, makes you feel like you need a cigarette after the game, even if you’re a non-smoker.

Broadcast-wise, there were fewer shots of Carson Wentz, which I appreciated. He’s not in the game, so why show him 40 bazillion times? I think the only thing that bugged me was the several times Foles and Jeffery were described as “basketball guys,” which is whatever. I get it. Nick throws it and Alshon goes up and gets it.

The commercials were pretty mediocre as well. I feel like commercials get worse every year. My mom used to press the mute button during every commercial break and I feel like that’s a good life lesson that I should have picked up on.

Anyway, go Chefs!

The post There’s Blame to Go Around – Ten Takeaways from Saints 20, Eagles 14 appeared first on Crossing Broad.

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