NEW ORLEANS (AP)New Orleans Saints coach Dennis Allen views his team’s recent rough patch through a hopeful lens.
“We’re not even at the halfway point” of the season, Allen noted Friday after reviewing video of Thursday night’s 31-24 loss to Jacksonville. ”There were some encouraging things in terms of our ability on offense and what we can do. I saw what we can be offensively.”
The loss was the fourth for the Saints (3-4) in five games, but they are by no means out of the NFC South race. Tampa Bay entered this week leading the division at 3-2.
Three of New Orleans’ losses were close, with the Saints threatening to go ahead or tie the score in the final two minutes of each.
They were in range of a late go-ahead field goal in an 18-17 loss at Green Bay, but rookie Blake Grupe pushed it wide from 46 yards with 1:10 to go.
In their two most recent losses at Houston and against the Jaguars, the Saints efficiently drove deep into opposing territory during the final minute of the game, only to stall abruptly with four consecutive failed passing plays each time.
The Saints also showed on Thursday night that they were capable of rallying after a potentially demoralizing play. They trailed 24-9 after Jaguars linebacker Foyesade Oluokun intercepted a deflected pass and ran it back for a touchdown. But New Orleans suddenly broke through offensively with 15 straight fourth-quarter points to tie it.
Those possessions provided a respite from frustration over the offense’s general inability to convert third downs or finish drives with touchdowns.
“I think we’ve identified the challenges. But it’s not about identifying the challenges,” Allen said. “It’s about finding the solutions to those challenges. That’s what we’ve got to work on.”
Allen spoke earlier this season about potentially making lineup changes if players repeatedly miss assignments or use poor technique. That has already happened to some extent with benching of left tackle Trevor Penning, a 2022 first-round draft choice who this week worked behind Cameron Erving, a veteran journeyman who only recently was signed to New Orleans’ practice squad.
Allen said he has not decided to make any other significant changes – yet.
“That’s all stuff that needs to be evaluated,” Allen said. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve made any decisions on that at this point, And yet I wouldn’t say we’ve ruled anything out.”
New Orleans’ no-huddle offense changed the momentum of the game, allowing the Saints to erase a 24-9 deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdowns and the march inside the Jacksonville 10 in an effort to tie the game back up in the final minute before fizzling out.
“No question I felt like that was something that jump-started the offense a little bit,” Allen said. “Maybe that’s something that can benefit us as we continue to go through this season.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Saints’ red-zone woes largely continued. They scored two TDs on five drives inside the Jacksonville 20. The Saints also struggled on third down, failing on 15 of 18 against the Jaguars.
Defensive end Carl Granderson continues to look like one of the Saints’ best players. Hustling to chase a pass play from behind, he arrived in time to recover Jacksonville receiver Christian Kirk’s fumble after a catch 19 yards downfield.
Although Chris Olave often looks like the best receiver on the team, his communication with quarterback Derek Carr and his route running have been increasingly scrutinized lately. He was targeted by Carr 15 times but finished with just seven catches for 57 yards.
“There’s a lot of good things I see him doing,” Allen said. “I just think it’s the inconsistency with which we’re operating.
“There’s plays where it’s not efficient and effective and not being done exactly the way we need it to be done,” Allen added. “So, that’s what has to be cleaned up.”
The Saints did not appear to have any significant new injuries on Thursday night. Now they hope the extra time off will help right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (concussion), left tackle James Hurst (ankle) and tight end Juwan Johnson (calf) recuperate.
13 – The number third-down passes Carr threw on Thursday night that did not result in a first down. Eight were incomplete and four were caught short of the line to gain. One was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
The Saints visit Indianapolis on Oct. 29, followed by a home game against Chicago and a visit to Minnesota before a bye in Week 11.
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