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Game Observations: Saints Defense Solidifies Last Second Suck

The New Orleans Saints fell to the Cleveland Browns this past Sunday, losing 26-24 on the road.  Cleveland punched the Saints in the mouth early and were able to hold off a second half comeback with a game-winning field goal from kicker Billy Cundiff. The Saints offense struggled in the first quarter and a half and then found their stride, only to have the effort prove too little, too late. The Browns got a pick 6 off Drew Brees on a play where Brees threw a high pass under pressure to Jimmy Graham, who let the ball slip right through his hands and into the waiting arms of Tashaun Gipson. A play the ultimately was the difference in the loss.

Defense Can’t Close

The Saints defense proved once again that they are terrible with a lead in a 2-minute situation. The team gave up a field goal before halftime in Atlanta in week 1, then a last-second field goal to send the game into over time (where the Saints eventually lost). The final drive this week was a long, gut-wrenching drive in Cleveland that set up the game-winning field goal. Three 2-minute situations, three field goals allowed in a two game stretch that saw the Saints lose both by a total of 5 points. Not only that, both games were on the road, where the Saints have struggled terribly since last season. They are 4-8 on the road in that span (including both playoff games) and it has been the reason they haven’t won the division or a top playoff seed. While the defense only gave up 17 points to the Browns, it gave up 96 yards on the final drive and that is all that matters. That has to be fixed.

Robinson Stays Inept

Patrick Robinson has been the top Goat of the defense so far. The Saints boast a top secondary on paper with Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Keenan Lewis, but Robinson is clearly the weak member of the herd. He has looked lost, out of place, and downright terrible so far. And suddenly a secondary that was thought to be deep and top notch, is struggling at the #2 corner spot. I have stated my believe before that Robinson is a good #3 corner, but nothing more. Following this performance, I stand by that. He played well in the game and a half he played in last year as the #3 to Keenan Lewis and now retired Corner Jabari Greer. Now he is back to his #2 spot, and back to his awful play on display in 2012. He either needs to step up now, or the Saints will have to find a replacement soon because until that is fixed, it will be the go-to spot for every offense.

Rob Ryan’s Failure

It would not be proper to place ALL the blame on one defender, and while Robinson has been bad, Rob Ryan hasn’t necessarily put his guys in place to be successful. A guy who turn this almost same group of guys into a top-5 defense last year, seemingly has been unable to replicate that so far. Whether it is placing defenders too far back in coverage or simply having confused players on the field, Ryan has not had much success with his team. No pressure from the front 4 and none when they blitz is a major reason for their failures. And while there really isn’t an explanation as to why, Rob Ryan needs to find it and fix it.

Conclusion

While the Saints are 0-2, they are two-three plays away from being 2-0. And this isn’t just a feel good thing. They are literally two or three plays from a perfect record. The offense has found its running game, though running back Mark Ingram is reportedly out with for a month or so.  His backfield mates, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, must continue that production. This team is in a bad spot record-wise, but there is all the talent needed to dig themselves out. They have been here before, they just can’t let it get any worse like all the other times. And it has to start this week at home against a Vikings team that will be missing their best player, running back Adrian Peterson.