AIR SCARE: Saints Playoff Chances Depend on Fixing Their Pass Coverage Issues

Photo Credit: New Orleans Saints on (Original by Michael C. Hebert)

If the current 2020 NFL Season actually ended this morning, the New Orleans Saints would not make or qualify for the NFL Playoffs, thanks mostly in part to the team’s notable and well-publicized struggles in defensive pass coverage during their first 5 games.

As of this morning, the Black and Gold has the 27th ranked pass defense in the NFL while giving up a whopping 17 yards per reception, and they are even worse at giving up points in the “red zone” (inside their own 20-yard line), where the Saints pass coverage is allowing opponents to score a jaw-dropping 85% of the time.

Long story short: it means that the Saints defensive secondary — expected to be one of the League’s very best before the season — has actually one of the very worst, at defending the pass either on deep balls thrown down the field  or in closer physical proximity towards their own goal line.

And if they still have any serious plans on making the NFL Playoffs at the end of the year, it’s something they’ve hopefully addressed (and have since gotten corrected) during their recently-completed Bye Week.

Green Bay Packers on Twitter (Original by Brett Duke)

With the (4-2) Arizona Cardinals‘ 38-10 victory last night over the (2-4) Dallas Cowboys on ESPN Monday Night Football, the (3-2) Saints now find themselves as the current #8 seeded team in the early NFC Playoff standings, and one-half game behind Arizona; who would be the #7 seed and the final Wild Card participant.

Obviously, that means that the Saints still have plenty of time — a whole 11 more regular season games to be exact — to get those notable coverage issues fixed, via the extra attention and detail that presumably was given towards fixing those problems over the course of the past several days by head coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, and defensive backs / secondary coach Aaron Glenn.

“There are a number of things that we have got to clean up”, Payton told the media following the team’s heart-stopping 30-27 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers last week.

“We’ll get back to work here next week. We will be in tomorrow. We will be in the next day. We will be able to address some of the things that we feel like we haven’t done well and get ready then to start playing after the bye.”

As noted by New Orleans.Football analyst Nick Underhill, the Saints defensive pass coverage issues aren’t just strictly about stopping the deep balls that have been thrown their way, but essentially are having problems at stopping the pass all over the field; regardless of the down, distance, or situation.

Bottom line: it’s been nothing short of embarrassing for a team and a franchise that was considered by many to be one of the NFL’s truly elite teams — and it needs to be rectified immediately if they have any hope of preventing their Super Bowl dream from ultimately turning into a nightmare.

Breakdowns in communication and a general lack of discipline have been singled out as the primary reasons for many of those issues.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Chargers on Twitter (Original by Brett Duke)

But given the amount of pure talent possessed by each one those very same players in question who seemingly all have been victimized at one time or another through their less-than-stellar efforts, it’s believed by many (including the New Orleans defensive coaching staff itself) that there is still plenty of enough time to get things turned around and headed back in a positive direction.

“On those critical plays down inside the 5, we’ve had probably three touchdowns on the goal line where we get beat on the play-action pass,” Saints starting safety and now 12th year veteran Malcolm Jenkins said to New Orleans Advocate / beat writer Luke Johnson this past weekend during the Bye. “We lack discipline with our eyes.”

Jenkins’ observation was one that was further echoed by Allen in that same interview.

“We’ve just got to do a better job of making sure we put our eyes in the right spot and just do our job,” Allen said.

Johnson noted in his article the other day that the Black and Gold’s main pass coverage struggles have come in goal-to-go situations. The Saints are one of four NFL teams who have allowed opponents to score on 100% of those situations. And Johnson additionally made the point that opposing QB’s through the first 5 games are completing 76.1% of such passes against New Orleans, which is nearly 15 percentage points worse than any other defense inside the 10-yard line.

To that very point: Johnson observed that each one of the 10 completed passes the Saints have allowed inside the 10-yard line have gone for scores — five of those touchdowns which have gone to tight ends — which basically means that the Saints pass defense has given up a touchdown to an opposing tight end inside the 10-yard line in each of their first five games.

That’s not good, especially for a team that had major aspirations of winning a Super Bowl just a few short weeks ago.

While those hopes haven’t come to an end just yet, clearly the Saints only have a small window of opportunity and a certain amount of time left remaining, to get their coverage issues worked out and put themselves squarely back into the race for one of the 7 Playoff spots available within the NFC.

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“It’s play that we’ve got to clean up and it’s, kind of, a post spear. We’ve got to get on top of one. It’s something that we will be able to clean up. It is something that we have to”, Payton emphasized.

“Like I said, there are a few things offensively and defensively that, I don’t want to say plagued us, but we haven’t been as good at in the first quarter of the season. We’ve got to improve in those areas”, Payton added.

“The film is important for us to make the corrections and teach from. That is really the essence of what we do at the beginning of the week is make the corrections. We talk about that race to improve and to get better. We are in that race.”

It’s a race this morning that with division rivals the Carolina Panthers and their starting QB (and former Saints #2 back-up) Teddy Bridgewater coming to town for a match-up at the Superdome this coming Sunday, is one that New Orleans finds itself needing to win, if they have any serious intentions of remaining alive and well for one of the last available Playoff spots in the conference come late December.

If the Black and Gold still has any serious plans on making the NFL Playoffs at the end of the year, it’s something they’ve hopefully gotten addressed (and have since corrected) during the past several days during their Bye Week — or else the only “Bye” will be the permanent one that they’ll have at the end of the season, if they don’t….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked previously as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending their games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, uptown at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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