NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Saints coach Dennis Allen spoke this week about the need to “evaluate everything we’re doing” during New Orleans’ bye week, he didn’t exactly sound like someone whose team has an inside track to the postseason.
With seven games left, the Saints’ outlook could be summed up as a mystifying mix of promising prospects and troubling trends.
“We’ve been way too inconsistent,” Allen lamented.
The Saints (5-5) hoped to enter the bye week on a three-game winning streak and with a sense they were hitting their stride. Instead, they nearly got run out of the stadium in Minnesota, falling behind 27-3 before scoring 16 straight points to make the final score look more respectable.
Derek Carr led New Orleans to just one field goal before being knocked out of the game with concussion symptoms. The Saints also lost receiver Michael Thomas (knee) and top cornerback Marshon Lattimore (ankle) to injuries during the game that are not expected to be season ending, Allen said, but were significant nonetheless.
But if the loss hurt morale, it was hardly damaging to the Saints’ postseason chances. They remained atop the NFC South. Furthermore, only one of their remaining games is against a team that currently has a winning record (Detroit at 7-2).
That’s hardly a daunting path to the playoffs.
“We can still do some special things with these guys,” Saints second-year defensive back Alontae Taylor said.
Statistically, the Saints have some numbers that are flattering, while others are worrisome.
Their defense entered Week 11’s action tied for the NFL lead in takeaways with 18 (12 interceptions and six fumble recoveries). They ranked 10th in the NFL in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed, but their 18 total sacks tied for 26th.
Offensively, the Saints ranked 12th in yards per game, but 22nd in third down efficiency, 18th in scoring and 24th in red zone efficiency, converting just 48.6 of possessions inside an opponent’s 20-yard line into touchdowns.
The Saints have been competitive in most of their games, but have no victories over teams that currently have a winning record. They also have lost to two teams (Green Bay and Tampa Bay) that entered Week 11 with losing marks.
In signing Carr, the Saints hoped to solve their offensive woes from a year ago. So far, that hasn’t happened, even if there have been good days and big plays that have demonstrated their potential to be better.
Carr’s four interceptions this season are relatively few, but his 10 TD passes are fewer than 18 other QBs.
The Saints hoped the return of Alvin Kamara from a three-game suspension to start the season would be a boost. New Orleans went 2-1 while the star running back was out. They are 3-4 since his return, and if he remains at his current 3.7 yards per carry, that would tie a career low for the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Thomas, who missed most of the past three seasons with injuries, made it through most of his first 10 games healthy. His 39 catches for 448 yards and a TD made him the third-most productive receiver on the club. But he has not resembled the All-Pro he was in 2019, when he set an NFL record for catches in a season with 149. And it’s not yet clear when he’ll be back.
Meanwhile, veteran defensive end Cameron Jordan, who has posted 10 or more sacks six times in his career, and hasn’t had fewer than 7 1/2 in a season since 2012, has just two this season.
While Allen isn’t singling out particular players, he foreshadowed possible changes when New Orleans returns to action in Week 12 against Atlanta.
The coached spoke of reviewing his team “from top to bottom.”
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re: A, from a coaching standing point, doing the right things and coaching the right things; And B, are the players doing what we’re coaching them to do?” Allen said. “And certainly, if (players) are not doing the things we’re coaching them to do at the level we need them to do it at, then yeah, we do have to consider some changes.”