Solution for the Saints is simple, but tricky: Just play better
METAIRIE – It’s obvious that the New Orleans Saints have to perform better than they have recently if they’re going to end their three-game losing streak.
“There’s plenty of areas that we can improve on,” defensive end Cameron Jordan said.
The tricky part is making that happen – beginning with the game against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night in the Caesars Superdome.
The Saints defense gave up 242 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at Philadelphia last Sunday, dropping the Saints from No. 1 to No. 3 in the NFL in defending the run.
“That’s embarrassing,” Jordan said.
This losing streak – the Saints’ longest since 2016 – started with a 27-25 loss to the Falcons in which the run defense lived up to its ranking by allowed just 34 rushing yards but the pass defense yielded 332 yards.
The most significant common thread in the three losses has been in turnover margin. The Saints were plus-7 in turnover margin before this streak began. In the last three games they have not taken the ball away and have given it away five times.
“If you lose the turnover battle,” tackle James Hurst said, “you’re going to find yourself on the wrong end of a lot of games.”
The Saints have on the wrong end of double-digit margins in each of the last three games.
“I think we obviously need to start stronger,” Hurst said. “There’s been too many three-and-outs, four-and-outs, five-and-out kind of drives.”
It’s relatively easy enough to identify the issues, concoct proper adjustments and practice the adjustments.
But this is a short week. The game against the Bills will kick off about 100 hours after the game in Philadelphia ended – or about 65 hours sooner than a typical kickoff.
Jordan said that handling the mental aspects of this quick turnaround is “quite easy because I want to be as far away from that last game as possible.”
But the diminished recuperative time – especially after 10 games – makes it unwise for the Saints to do much physically in practice. The players had Monday off and went through two very light workouts Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I don’t think we put a helmet on the last two days,” head coach Sean Payton said after practice Wednesday.
“The preparation’s totally different,” Hurst said. “It might be half physical and half mental in a normal week. Now, it’s about 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical this week.”
At some point some semblance of a Saints cavalry will arrive as some among the inordinate number of players sidelined by injury will get healthy enough to play.
But the cavalry ain’t coming Thursday night.
In fact the list of unavailable players grew again this week.
Adam Trautman and Landon Young were added to injured reserve, joining C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Malcolm Roach and Payton Turner as players the team might get back at some point.
Andrus Peat isn’t likely to come back and Jameis Winston, Wil Lutz and Michael Thomas definitely aren’t coming back.
Alvin Kamara will miss his third consecutive game and Ryan Ramczyk will miss his second consecutive game Thursday. Marcus Davenport and Tonah Kpassagnon also have been ruled out.
“I think people bring (excuses) to us saying, ‘Oh this guy is hurt, and that guy is out,’” Hurst said, “well, I don’t think anyone is finding any comfort in saying, ‘Well, if we had A, B, or C, the outcome might be different.’
“Everyone is just looking at their job trying to understand what they can do better or what we can do better as a unit; offensive line, running backs, receivers, quarterbacks, (are asking) what can we do to make the team better?”
In what passes for good news these days Mark Ingram II and Terron Armstead are questionable.
Perhaps another bit of good news is that things aren’t going much better in Buffalo, which is 6-4 after a 4-1 start.
Like the Saints, the Bills have a short week.
Like the Saints, the Bills are coming off a bad performance – in their case a 45-10 blowout at home against Indianapolis.
Like the Saints, the Bills played poorly against the run last week, allowing Jonathan Taylor to rush for nearly 200 yards and four touchdowns as well as catch a touchdown pass.
Unlike the Saints, though, the Bills don’t have an inordinate number of key players sidelined.
The improvement isn’t coming from working overtime or suddenly getting healthy.
But it must come from somewhere if this streak is going to end.
Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian could have been speaking for the whole team when he assessed his play.
“I don’t want to overanalyze,” Siemian said. “I’ve just got to play better.”
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…