Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints – Ups & Downs

Chris Graythen / Getty Images North America
Chris Graythen / Getty Images North America

Here’s a look at the better and not so good performances from the Saints 27-34 loss against the Ravens.

UP

Joe Morgan – Wide receiver brought a spark to the Saints with an end around run and a long reception.

Drew Brees – Despite his interception, the quarterback was mainly accurate and finished the game with 420 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Junior Galette – Although, he only registered two sacks; Galette seemed to generate pressure on Joe Flacco constantly.

DOWN

Akiem Hicks – Along with the rest of the defensive line, the defensive end was pushed around the field on runs all night long.

Pass protection – The offensive line struggled as quarterback Drew Brees was sacked four times and hit in motion that resulted in an interception return touchdown.

Tackling – The defense kept missing tackles all day long, which led to a big day for Baltimore running back Justin Forsett.

Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints – Second Half Notes

Wesley Hitt / Getty Images North America
Wesley Hitt / Getty Images North America

Here are my Saints thoughts regarding the second half of the Saints’ 27-34 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Offensive line struggle in pass protection – The pass protection started to break down very frequently in the second half as Drew Brees was sacked four times during the game. Right tackle Zach Strief admitted in the locker room after the game that Brees was under pressure more often than they wanted to and although, they had to face a very good pass rush; it’s not an excuse for their performance.

Back to the committee – After carrying the heavy load for weeks in the absence of Pierre Thomas, running back Mark Ingram played a smaller role today with Thomas back. The two players played nearly the same amount of snap until the last minutes of the game when Thomas came in and stayed on the field when the Saints ran a no huddle offense. Despite trying to get both players involved, the Saints could not really get the running game going today.

Cannot stop the run – As all football coaches will tell you, you will not win many football games if you cannot stop the run and this was the case today for the New Orleans Saints. Kenny Vaccaro emphasized that they knew that Baltimore is an excellent running game, but the Ravens executed and they could not stop them. Head coach Sean Payton also touched upon the fact how not stopping the run creates difficult situations for the defense.

 

Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints – First Half Notes

Wesley Hitt / Getty Images North America
Wesley Hitt / Getty Images North America

Here are my Saints notes from the first half of the Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens.

No success on the ground – The Saints are having a really tough time running the ball on this Baltimore defense. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram, the two running backs, ran for a total of 4 yards on 8 carries. Unless the offensive line can start to create holes for the run, the Saints will face a challenge in winning this game with a one dimensional offense, relying solely on quarterback Drew Brees.

Goal line struggles continue – New Orleans failed to score on a fourth-and-goal situation for the second time in as many weeks. Last week against the Bengals fullback Erik Lorig was stopped short after a catch while today Mark Ingram was stuffed on a goal line run. The issue continued in the second quarter when Ingram failed to stay in bounds after a reception at the 2. The Saints are kicking themselves in the foot with such poor execution at the goal line.

Tackling issues – Ravens running back Justin Forsett already has 102 rushing yards on only 12 carries at halftime. However, many of those yards came after the contact as the Saints were unable to wrap up Forsett and missed several tackles, including one on the first Ravens play of the game when Forsett broke free for 38 yards.

Steve Smith…again – As I highlighted in my preview, Steve Smith is the player with the most touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints since 2001. Smith added another touchdown after an amazing reception that required all his experience and plenty of body control. He also beat cornerback Corey White for a long reception later in the first quarter and already has 69 yards at halftime, which is the most for him in a game since Week 6.

Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints – Instant Preview

Zoltan Buday / Inside Handoff
Zoltan Buday / Inside Handoff

Home field advantage? – Although, the Saints were once invincible in the Superdome; after two consecutive losses at home they seem vulnerable. On the other side the visiting Baltimore Ravens all but good memories of New Orleans as they beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII in the Superdome in February 2013.

A familiar face – Of all players, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith scored the most touchdowns against the Saints since 2001 with 12 scores. Of course, Smith used to play twice per year against New Orleans as a member of the Carolina Panthers and this will be his first game against the Saints in a Baltimore uniform. Probably there is no need to remember the players and coaching staff of the Saints how dangerous Smith can be.

Cooks preview? – Before the NFL Draft, when I interviewed Brent Brennan, New Orleans wide receiver Brandin Cooks’ Oregon State wide receiver coach, he compared Cooks to Steve Smith. Although, due to Cooks being on Injured Reserve we are missing out on seeing them on the field in the same game; according to Brennan Smith can provide a preview of what Cooks might become in the future.

New deep threat – The Saints have struggled to make big plays recently. This can continue with Cooks out, who was basically the biggest deep threat of New Orleans. Most likely it will be second year wide receiver Kenny Stills’ job to fill Cooks’ shoes; however, Stills has not been as productive in his second season so far as he has scored only two touchdowns compared to the two he recorded as a rookie.

Feel for the city – I can’t not mention my experience this afternoon. This is my first time in New Orleans and I immediately fell in love with the city’s pre-game vibe. It was no surprise to me that so many Ravens fans traveled to the Big Easy for Monday night.

Inactives – The Saints inactives for today’s game are WR Robert Meachem, RB Khiry Robinson, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB Terrence Frederick, LB Kyle Knox, OT Nick Becton and DE Brandon Deaderick. The biggest news is obviously not who is on the list but who is not: RB Pierre Thomas will be active for the first time since Week 6. He could not only help take the load off Mark Ingram but can actually be more dangerous than Ingram tonight as a receiver out of the backfield.

Bold prediction – See below.

Prediction – With their season in the balance, I expect the Saints to win a nail biter and beat the Ravens 20-17 in overtime. Is this bold enough for you?

Offensive Line Was Up to the Task

Jim Rogash / Getty Images North America

Despite their struggles over the first quarter of the 2014 season, the offensive line has slowly become one of the key strength of the New England Patriots.

Before the game the Lions were 10th in the league with 26 sacks over the season, 2.6 per game. However, the Patriots did not allow a single sack to Lions despite the fact that quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass 53 times, an incredibly large number.

Bill Belichick emphasized in his postgame press conference how important it was to limit Detroit defensive tackle Ndamokung Suh’s impact on the game.

“You have to limit him. That guy can ruin a game. You have to know where he is on every play. You have to try to put – look, you can’t not block him. He’s right there in the middle of the defense so somebody has to block him.”

Due in large part to the offensive line’s work, Brady was able to throw for 349 yards and two touchdowns against the No. 1 defense in the league.

“That’s just what we got to do, it’s kind of our job description and we take pride in that” offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer told Inside Handoff after the game about maintaining a clean pocket for Brady.

“It was not perfect by any means, but it was good enough for today. We need to watch film to see what we need to do better and that is what the focus is got to be.”

This performance came despite the fact that starting guard Dan Connolly had to leave the game with an ankle injury and backup Josh Kline had to come in the game and perform in his place.

“It doesn’t change anything when someone goes down. We are all just a collective unit, we just pick up the guns and keep going” rookie center Bryan Stork told me after the game.

Stork also emphasized how much training means to the next-man-up approach.

“We just all try to prepare like we are all going to play, you just never know.”

Although, New England ran for only five yards on six carries in the first half, it is not something that worries the team right now due to how they planned the game and the win, of course.

“We won, we do whatever it takes” Vollmer summarized perfectly after the game.

It has to feel nice for the Patriots that after the terrible outing in Kansas City they were able to put together a solid unit that is actually improving by the week and giving enough time to their quarterback to do his job. Now they must hope that Connolly does not have miss an extended period of time.

Detroit Lions at New England Patriots – Ups & Downs

Jim Rogash / Getty Images North America
Jim Rogash / Getty Images North America

Here are the better and not so good performances from the Patriots’ 34-9 win over the Lions.

UP

Tim Wright – Tight end comes up with two touchdown receptions on his first two catches.

Darrelle Revis – Cornerback becomes a regular in this column with another impressive game.

Offensive line / Tom Brady – Good protection from the offensive line upfront allows Brady to pass for more than 300 yards.

DOWN

Jamie Collins – Linebacker commits two unnecessary penalties in one drive in the first half.

Detroit Lions at New England Patriots – Second Half Notes

Jim Rogash / Getty Images North America
Jim Rogash / Getty Images North America

Here are my thoughts from the second half of the Patriots’ 34-9 win over the Detroit Lions.

Revis Island – Seems like I am just repeating myself, but cornerback Darrelle Revis was brilliant today as well. Except for a couple receptions in the first half, he was able to limit Detroit wide receiver Golden Tate’s impact on the game. Aqib Talib had some good games for the Patriots last year but I think there is no doubt that Revis’ addition in the offseason was an upgrade for the defense.

Good protection – Plenty was made before the game of how the Patriots’ offensive line can handle Detroit’s defensive line. Although, New England could not get the running game going, they had success over the air as quarterback Tom Brady threw for more than 300 yards. As all coaches and players will tell you, such performance starts with the offensive line and they indeed did a good job of protecting the quarterback and allowing him enough time to find open receivers and make plays.

No run game – The Patriots ran on only a few occasions and did not pick up many yards on the ground. While both seem extremely low I don’t think it is a reason for concern as the Patriots prefer to game plan for every single game and they clearly viewed it easier to attack the No. 1 run defense of the Lions through the air. I expect a lot more running next week when New England visits a Packers team that is more vulnerable on the ground.