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Familiar issues plague New Orleans Saints in loss to Detroit

Furious rally undermined by slow starts on offense, defense

Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the Detroit Lions in Week 13 of the 2023 NFL season.
Check out the game action shots from the New Orleans Saints game against the Detroit Lions in Week 13 of the 2023 NFL season.

The New Orleans Saints fell into a familiar cycle, and extracted a familiar result Sunday in the Caesars Superdome.

Early deficit caused by stagnant offense and susceptible defense, settle in, furious rally and one-score loss – in this case, a 33-28 decision to Detroit that was New Orleans' third consecutive loss and dropped the Saints' record to 5-7.

The Saints now are a game behind Atlanta (6-6) in the NFC South Division standings, and the Falcons own the tiebreak courtesy of their head-to-head win.

OFFENSE: When the Saints put it together on offense Sunday, it was along the lines of what has been envisioned for this offense, with several explosive plays and a good run-pass mix, leading to success in the red zone, where they scored touchdowns on all four trips. New Orleans was efficient on third down (6 of 12) and owned time of possession (32:10-27:50). But by the time the Saints got in gear, they trailed 21-0. For all the hopes of starting fast overall, the Saints still haven't found the right formula that will help them get to the end zone early and often enough to match the opponent score for score, until things settle down. And committing two turnovers – Derek Carr's pass went through Juwan Johnson's hands for an interception, and Carr collided with an offensive lineman on his lost fumble – didn't help at all. Rushing for 113 yards was good work against a defense that only allowed 93 per game coming in, and Alvin Kamara ran for 51 yards and two touchdowns and totaled 58 yards on six catches on a historic day, as he became the franchise all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and total yards from scrimmage. But New Orleans needs to find its gear earlier, because climbing out of holes has been too much for this team to handle. And Carr (17 of 22 for 226 yards and a touchdown, with an interception), for the second time in three games, was knocked out of the game with a concussion (in addition to back and shoulder injuries). He has taken a beating this season.

DEFENSE: It's difficult to accurately describe just what has happened to a prideful defense that was the anchor of the team, but has experienced slippage at an inopportune time. True, the Lions worked with a short field on two of their four touchdowns due to the turnovers. But stiffening and forcing a field goal attempt used to be the defensive response, and it wasn't Sunday. The Lions joined the list of teams that have scored early against the Saints – it was 21-0 with 8:15 left in the first quarter – and have found success running the ball (142 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries). The Saints surrendered a handful of chunk plays and couldn't contain rookie tight end Sam LaPorta, who caught the pass on all nine targets and totaled 140 yards and a touchdown. Tightening up on defense prevented a blowout; the Saints allowed just 12 points after the initial barrage. But the adjustment phase for the defense has been slow and especially costly, given that mostly when it happens, the Saints' offense hasn't been able to counter with scores of its own. Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16 of 25 for 213 yards and two touchdowns) was sacked once, and too often was able to scan the field until a receiver pried loose in the secondary.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Nothing really to report here, which is a good thing. Kicker Blake Grupe was healthy enough to handle kickoff duties and with Rashid Shaheed inactive, Lynn Bowden Jr. returned five punts for 30 yards and a kickoff for 18. The unit came within a whisker of blocking a punt, which could have been the momentum swing that New Orleans needed. But absent a big positive play, at least there wasn't a big negative play.

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