The day after a heartbreaking loss in Green Bay the message at the New Orleans Saints training facility was that the team is improving and playing hard.
“It was a great effort by our guys. When I say effort, their hearts and souls were in the game to outhit and outplay this team,” said interim head coach Aaron Kromer on Monday of the way the team played. “At the end of the game, we had a situation where we had a chance to win it. That’s all you can ask for when you’re at a place like Lambeau against a team like Green Bay”
While the passing game looked at time like the old Saints offense, the ground game still is struggling. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw the ball 54 times while the running backs saw only 19 carries, a product the running game coordinator says came from Brees being on his game. “We ran it 19 times and not very effectively, but at the same time it took a little pressure off of Drew when we did it and that’s the goal,” Kromer said. “At the same time, Drew was so hot it made no sense not to put the ball in his hands.”
Fans on social media and on talk shows continue to clamor for running back Chris Ivory to play believing that could help jump start the ground game. When asked if the running game is a disappointment and if Ivory possibly could come back into the mix the response was, ““It’s hard to say disappointing when you have almost 500 yards of offense,” Kromer stated. “So when you have something that’s working, you go with it and stay with it. We had one game with 162 yards of rushing and then we had three others where we have not. Sometimes it’s a product of the game and sometimes it’s a product of who’s hot.”
The Saints defense did manage to create two turnovers but Green Bay’s offense totaled 421 yards in the game. “I thought we played much better in the second half by holding them to seven points which I thought was important,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “Overall, we did limit the big play. I think they had two passes of exactly 20 yards and a run play for 10 yards. We define the big plays as more than 10 yards on a run and more than 20 yards on a pass. I thought we did well there.”
Pressure on the quarterback was another area where the Saints struggled in defensively on Sunday. The Saints defense had zero tackles for a loss and zero sacks. Against Seattle, the Packers surrendered eight sacks in the first half and the Seahawks defense had 10 tackles for a loss.
“We need to have a better pass rush period. We need to get more pressure on their quarterback,” said Kromer when asked about possible solutions to getting a better pass rush.
I have one solution. Pick up an Acme rocket back pack like the one Wile E. Coyote uses and strap them to the members of the defensive line. At times on Sunday you saw defensive linemen get in the back field and chase Rodgers but either came up short in sacking him or simply couldn't run him down.
“We have to find a way to mix it better and find a way to win a couple of these one-on-one matches,” says Spagnuolo. “When we do win, like Bunkley did on that one play, we have to try to find a way to get him down. We flushed him out a couple of times and there was one third-down play that we did flush him out because of Junior (Galette) but Rodgers gets out on the edge and turns a third-and-six play into a seven-yard gain for the first down.”
The lack of pressure and defensive stops isn't due to the lack of trying new things either. “We did try to mix it up and went with a different personnel group in the second half where we had Martez (Wilson), Junior (Galette), Will (Smith) and Cam (Jordan) in there as opposed to other nickel packages,” says Spagnuolo. “We changed where we rushed three a couple of times and so we are kind of mixing it and trying different ways to do it yet somehow, some way we have to find a way to do it. We have to find a way to effect the quarterback more.”
Sunday the Saints host the 3-1 San Diego Chargers. Quarterback Phillip Rivers has six touchdowns to four interceptions in a passing offense that ranks 23rd in the NFL. They are 17th in league in rushing yards. Defensively the Chargers are playing well, they are ranked sixth against the run and 18th against the pass. Kickoff Sunday for the prime time match-up is set for 7:20