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Barry Hirstius

5 Biggest Saints “Winners and Losers” in the 26-20 Loss to the Rams

It was inevitable that the New Orleans Saints' 8-game winning streak would end at some point, and yesterday at the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was that day.

The Saints, now (8-3), were simply outplayed in all aspects of the game (offense, defense, special teams), and give credit to both Rams head coach Sean McVay and his defensive coordinator / long-time veteran assistant Wade Phillips for the execution of solid game-plans.

Yes, the Saints were "short-handed" — but so is every other NFL team that has injuries at this time of the year. So Saints fans can spare themselves the embarrassment of using that narrative from here on out.

The bottom line was that New Orleans was outplayed, out-hustled, and out-coached; and in the NFL, more times than not it equates to an "L" in the win-loss column.

That's NOT to say that the (8-3) Rams are a "better" team than the Saints are. If these two teams played 10 times, they'd probably split the games 5 to 5.

But yesterday, it was the Rams who were the better team, period. End of story.

The Saints' next game is at home next Sunday at the Superdome against the (8-3) Carolina Panthers, whom they now find themselves tied with atop the NFC South Division.

It will be the biggest game of the season for the Saints, in a contest that could ultimately determine who will eventually be the champion of the NFC South.

With that in mind, here is the Saints News Network's 5 biggest "winners and losers" for the Saints in yesterday's loss to the L.A. Rams.....

 

THE BIGGEST WINNERS

 

5. CRAIG ROBERTSON, LINEBACKER

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The savvy 7th year veteran had a solid day, including when he sacked Rams QB Jared Goff in the first quarter, and later in the game made the tackle on an 8-yard loss for Rams WR / RB Tavon Austin

It should be noted that the Saints used Robertson in a few of their blitz packages, and it seemed to work with some degree of success.

Perhaps that's something that the Saints can utilize once again, with the most difficult part of their schedule upon us.

 

4. WIL LUTZ, KICKER

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Advocate

Lutz has gone back and forth all year on our "winners and losers" lists, and this week it was his turn to end up back in the "Winners" portion.

Lutz nailed all of his field goal (2 for 2) and extra point attempts, including a 50-yarder early in the 4th quarter that kept the Saints within striking distance of the lead.

He also successfully executed a perfect on-side kick at the end of the game, though the Rams were still able to come away with the football, and the win.

 

3. THOMAS MORSTEAD, PUNTER

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

After having a game where he didn't have to punt at all in a win over Buffalo a few weeks ago, Morstead's leg got a work-out early and often in this game.

He punted a total of 7 times in all, which equaled his season high; for a 53-yard gross average, and 44.6-yard net, with two downed inside the Rams’ 20-yard line. He also had a long of 60 yards.

It's a continuation of a fantastic season for Morstead, who could potentially give the Saints their first-ever Pro Bowl player in team history, at that position.

 

2. CAM JORDAN, DEFENSIVE END

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

It would be more than fair to say that the Saints defense as a unit struggled at times yesterday, but the one player who stood out head and shoulders above the rest was 7th year defensive end Cam Jordan, who essentially was a "1-man wrecking crew".

Jordan played like a man possessed, and had 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hurries, 2 tackles for loss and 2 passes defensed / batted down. He also now has 10 sacks on the season.

Jordan has been "snubbed" for selection to the Pro Bowl in recent seasons. but you can bet that they'll be hard-pressed to find a reason to keep him away this year.

 

1. ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

What more can we say about this kid that we haven't said already?

The 3rd-round pick from Tennessee is now EASILY the front-runner for the 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year award, and he potentially would be the Saints’ first Rookie of the Year award winner since Rueben Mayes back in 1986.

Kamara had what probably was the "highlight" play of his entire season, and that's saying a lot considering how many of them that he's had already.

On the very first play of the Saints’ 2nd offensive series, he busted through a hole on the right side of the O-Line and then out-raced the entire Rams secondary for a 74-yard TD run. He also had another "highlight reel" play later in the game when he high-hurdled Rams CB Kayvon Webster in the 4th quarter.

He finished with 188 combines yards from scrimmage (101 receiving, 87 receiving) and 2 TD's, and at times clearly looked like one of the best players on the entire field, which is damn impressive considering the wide variety of talent players whom he was out there with.

 He now has scored a touchdown in five straight games, the first rookie in franchise history to do so; and unquestionably now has to be considered THE BIGGEST STEAL of the entire 2017 NFL Draft class.

 

 

THE BIGGEST LOSERS

 

5. THE SAINTS KICKOFF / PUNT RETURN COVERAGE ON SPECIAL TEAMS

(John Valenzuela/Daily News/SCNG)

Previously retired 69-year old (and new Saints special teams coach) Mike Westhoff will have his work cut out for him in the next few days, as he grapples with another issue he was brought in (and coaxed out of retirement) to correct: the Saints godawful kickoff / punt return coverage team.

Yesterday, the coverage units gave up a pair of big returns by Rams WR / KR Pharoh Cooper, beginning on the opening kickoff when he dashed 40 yards to give the Rams great field position to start the game, which allowed Los Angeles to gain early momentum and set the tone for the remainder of the contest.

Cooper then rubbed salt in the Saints' wounds, when he added a 40-yard punt return in the 3rd quarter. Overall, it was a disgraceful performance for a unit that clearly needs to go back to the basics, like how to make a fundamentally-sound open-field tackle.

 

4. DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK

Photo courtesy of The Orange County Register

You won't ever often see the Saints' greatest player of all-time make his way onto our biggest "losers" list, but yesterday was one of those rare occasions.

Brees simply "misfired" on a number of throws that he can typically make with his eyes closed if he wanted to, but just seemed to be out of sync — and credit the Rams defensive line (and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips for that.

Brees was also fortunate not to have been intercepted, as he tried to force the ball into some tight windows that were a result of the Saints WR's inability to create separation.

In all, it was a tough day at the office for Brees even though his final stats (268 passing yards, 101.8 QB Rating) won't reflect it. It'll be interesting to see how he and the offense responds next week against the Panthers.

 

3. KENNY VACCARO, SAFETY

Photo courtesy of The Times-Picayune

Coming into yesterday's game, it was hoped that the return of 5th year veteran Saints veteran safety Kenny Vaccaro after missing the past two games with a groin injury would give the defensive secondary a "boost".

Unfortunately for the Saints and Vaccaro, it had the opposite effect.

In fairness, Vacarro was asked to play nickel back / slot CB, the position that it was believed prior to the game would be manned by Sterling Moore. But the Saints have used Vaccaro previously as their nickel back this season and have had some success, although it's a completely different story altogether when facing the Rams’ high-powered passing attack.

Rams QB Jared Goff was able to expose Vaccaro's inability to run with the Rams WR's, as evidenced by the pair of penalties in coverage on the Rams’ 2nd offensive series, which ended in a field goal.

But the play EVERY Saints fan will remember from this game?

When Vaccaro was beaten by Rams WR Cooper Kupp for a 53-yard bomb down the left sidelines in front of the Saints bench, to set up the Rams’ 2nd touchdown.

Essentially, Vacarro STOPPED running alongside Kupp in one-on-one coverage before quickly trying to recover once he realized the ball was coming to Kupp, but it was too late.

Somewhere in New Orleans this morning, a Saints fan is still yelling at their TV:

"WHAT DID YOU STOP FOR, KENNY?!?!"

 

2. DE'VANTE HARRIS, CORNERBACK

(Photo by John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Saints fans were bracing themselves all of last week when it became evident that both starting CB's Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley would miss this game, because they knew Harris — who clearly has struggled this season when pressed into action — would see a lot of playing time in their absence.

Let's just be nice about it and say that Harris played as he was expected to.

The Rams WR's systematically and consistently beat Harris time and time again on a wide array of pass routes, and eventually the Saints coaching staff decided that they had seen enough after Harris blew yet another coverage late in the 3rd quarter and replaced him with Sterling Moore. 

Oh, and let's not forget the embarrassing WHIFF of an attempted tackle that he tried to make on Rams RB Todd Gurley late in the 2nd quarter.

It's never fun when we here at the Saints News Network have to single out a Saints player for a poor performance, but sadly in this case: Harris lived up to his reputation.

 

1. SEAN PAYTON, HEAD COACH

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Let's just go ahead and call a spade a spade: for as good of a job that Sean Payton has done this year with coaching this young Saints team, yesterday he was out-coached and outmaneuvered by a younger and less-tenured head coach in 31-year old Rams head coach Sean McVay.

McVay had the Saints’ defense off-balance for a majority of the contest, and threw in a bunch of misdirection plays that kept the Saints' aggressive defense always trying to guess what would be coming next; instead of being able to freely play in attack-mode.

As a result: the Rams possessed the ball for over 10 more minutes than the Saints did (35:26 to 24:34) — and that eventually was what made the difference by the game's end; when the Saints simply didn't have enough time to mount a full "come back" as they had done the previous week against the Redskins.

It would be more than fair to also question Payton's strategic decisions; such as electing to kick the field goal with just over 10 minutes to go in the game, instead of trying for the touchdown.

And perhaps most egregious of them all: starting Harris as one of the two outside boundary CB's, when you KNEW that Harris had no shot at keeping up with the Rams WR's.

Sure, the Saints were outplayed in every aspect and deserved to lose this game yesterday — but the blame for the loss also has to be shared by the man in charge whose job it is, to make sure that those type of things don't happen.............

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Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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