Michael Thomas was clutch. Michael C Hevert, Saints website
In the 22nd meeting of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, The Saints dropped the ball and fell to 7-2 with a 26-9 loss to their heated division rival. Here are my observations:
-Michael Thomas had 13 catches on 14 targets for 152 yards. He was the lone bright spot in a dim game for the Saints. Brees was 32/45 for 287 yards, but failed to throw a touchdown pass. Thomas is the Saints top receiver. Everyone knows he's going to get the ball and be targeted a high percentage of the time, yet he still dominates. If he's not considered one of the top receivers in the league, something is wrong with that list.
-Marcus Williams came from the middle of the field to pick off Matt Ryan with four minutes left in the game and the team down by 14. Eli Apple lost his man on a go route and Williams made the save. This was the type of play that makes Williams one of the better players on this defense and one of the best young safeties this team has ever had.
-Julio Jones is one of the best wide receivers in the game. He's usually a matchup nightmare for the Saints and anyone else he goes up against. After Marshon Lattimore got hurt, the rest of the defensive backs picked up his slack and held Jones to three catches on nine targets for 79 yards, with 54 of those yards coming on a play in which Apple bumped into a teammate and caused Jones to be wide open.
-By the start of the 2nd quarter, the Falcons ran for a season first half high of 67 yards. They ended the first half with 85 yards (21 more than their previous first half high) and totaled 143 yards, which is 74.5 yards more than their season average of 68.5 per game.
-The Saints average 6.6 penalties (tied for ninth) and 51.2 penalty yards (4th) per game. They had 11 penalties today for 85 yards. Four of those were illegal use of hands to the face. This is something that has to be addressed. It's not normally called this frequently, but every one of them were legit. It's similar to holding because it can be called on every play.
-Speaking of the run game, the Saints only managed 52 yards on 11 carries themselves. They came into this game averaging 114.3 yards per game. The fact that they were playing from behind all game played a large part in this stat. Only running the ball 11 times is no excuse. The Falcons averaged giving up 118.4 yards a game on the ground. Sean Payton seemed to panic and keep throwing instead of sticking with the run.
-To say the Falcons' pass rush has been anemic this season would be an understatement. They came into this game with seven sacks. While the Saints' pass protection, and Brees' pocket presence, has typically yielded low sack numbers. They gave up six today and had only given up 12 all season.
-228 yards and nine points are numbers you'd think you'd see in the 1st quarter, not a game total. When Brees has played a complete game this season, the Saints averaged over 500 yards and 30.5 points per game. Not a good look, especially when you're in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC.
-Lattimore (hamstring) and Andrus Peat (arm) both left the game in the first half. Neither returned to play and it showed. Jones got all his catches and yards after Lattimore got hurt, and Brees was sacked five times after Peat went out. Not to mention left tackle Terron Armstead has been sick all week. This made for a disaster along the offensive line.
This rivalry will always be intense. Over the last two decades, the Saints have dominated the series 24-15. For a 1-7 team to play and dominate a 7-1 team in their buiklding is unacceptable from a Saints point of view. Props to Falcons' head coach Dan Quinn for having his team prepared. Sometimes a team needs a kick in the pants to get them going. The Saints were coming off a bye, played at home, and lost to a division rival who was heading towards a top draft pick due to their record. Next week when they play Tampa, I'll be interested in seeing how this Saints team comes out.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.