NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The good news for the New Orleans Saints is that their muddling start has been good enough to keep them in contention in the anemic NFC South.
After all four teams in the division lost in Week 6, New Orleans (3-3) entered Week 7 just a half game out of first place.
Whether the Saints’ offense and quarterback Derek Carr can find the consistency and competence in the clutch to capitalize remains to be seen.
It’s not like New Orleans is incapable of moving the ball.
During Sunday’s 20-13 loss to Houston, the Saints outgained the Texans 430 to 297 in total yards. Carr passed for a season-high 353 yards.
The Saints crossed Houston’s 35-yard line on seven of 10 offensive series — but got in the end zone only once.
“When you’re not scoring down there, there’s a lot of factors that go into that,” coach Dennis Allen said Monday after reviewing footage of the game. “Can we call better play calls? We probably can. And yet, if we execute some of the plays that are called, we might see some better results.
“All of us have to take ownership in that,” Allen added.
The Saints’ last four drives all ended inside the Texans 30 — with two stalling inside the 20. The result of those series were one made field goal, one missed field goal and two fourth-down failures.
“We moved the heck out of the ball,” Carr said, but lamented that when the Saints got deep into Houston territory, there were some plays “where you go back and you look at it and you’re like, ‘Not everybody was on the same page.’
“We feel as an offense, as players, if we can do better there, we can help the team win,” Carr added.
Rookie kicker Blake Grupe missed two field goals, although one was from 52 yards in the first half. Those misses were costly and forced the Saints to go for it on fourth down twice late in the game. But blaming the kicker would be to minimize New Orleans’ inability to get in the end zone.
In four of the Saints’ six games this season, they have failed to score more than one touchdown. They were held out of the end zone entirely during a 26-9 loss at home to division-leading Tampa Bay in Week 4.
Offensively, the Saints have scored a total of eight touchdowns in six games.
“All we can do is just go back to work and continue to grind at it,” Allen said. “I just believe that eventually it’s going to turn around for us.”
Although New Orleans defense faltered early in Houston, giving up 17 points in the first half, they allowed just one field goal after halftime and went on to hold an opponent below 21 points for the 14th time in 16 games (since the middle of last season). The Saints also held the Texans to fewer than 300 total yards for the game and have allowed just eight touchdowns this season.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
New Orleans is 7 for 19 in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on just 36.8% of drives inside their opponents’ 2-yard line. That ranked 27th in the NFL before Monday night’s game.
WR Rasheed Shaheed. The second-year pro who went undrafted out of Weber State had 85 yards receiving and a touchdown on just two catches, including a 51-yarder.
Saints coaches decided to bench second-year left tackle Trevor Penning — the second of their two first-round draft choices (19th overall) in 2022 — but were forced to re-insert him after an ankle injury to James Hurst, who initially had moved over from guard to take Penning’s starting spot. Penning was subsequently penalized twice — once for tripping after being knocked on his back by defensive end Jonathan Greenard. He’s having his share of positive plays, too, but has lacked the consistency to win the complete confidence of coaches. Now, because of injuries, it looks like the Saints have to play Penning again this week, whether or not that would be their preference.
In addition to Hurst’s injury, starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (concussion) left Sunday’s game. Meanwhile, backup linemen Andrus Peat (groin) and Landon Young (hip) are nursing injuries that could affect their availability. The Saints will have to hope tight end Juwan Johnson is closer to coming back from a calf injury that has sidelined him for three games.
3 — The combined number of victories this season by the three teams the Saints have defeated so far: Tennessee (2), Carolina (0) and New England (1).
New Orleans has just a few days to regroup before hosting a Jacksonville squad that will bring a three-game winning streak into Thursday night’s matchup in the Superdome.