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Shorthandedness of New Orleans Saints shows in play against Miami in loss Monday night | NFL Week 16 analysis

Saints had 22 players on Reserve/Covid-19 list for game

The New Orleans Saints take on the Miami Dolphins at the Caesars Superdome in Week 16 of the 2021 NFL season.

Try as they might to downplay absences and disruptions, the New Orleans Saints simply could not overcome the wave of them that preceded their Monday night game against Miami in the Caesars Superdome.

With 22 players missing due to Covid-19 protocols – including the top two quarterbacks, the three starting linebackers and a starting safety – the Saints simply could not produce the balance required against the Dolphins in a 20-3 loss.

OFFENSE: When Coach Sean Payton said that rookie quarterback Ian Book couldn't fairly be evaluated from Monday's game, he wasn't just tossing Book a bone or making an excuse. The Saints' offense was minus its two starting tackles, a contributing factor to Book being sacked eight times. And Book, making his NFL regular-season debut, hadn't worked with the first-team offense until late last week, likely a factor in the interception (returned for a touchdown) he threw on the team's third offensive play. But the Saints also failed to convert on any of 12 third-down attempts (and just one of three fourth-down tries), and rushed for 83 yards on 23 carries. There wasn't much to like about what New Orleans did offensively against Miami, and Book didn't have much of a chance to change that outcome.

DEFENSE: Thirteen points and 259 yards allowed isn't a bad night's work at all. Neither is producing stops on 10 of 15 third-down attempts, sacking the opposing quarterbacks three times (twice by Cam Jordan, once by Marcus Davenport), forcing a turnover (Marshon Lattimore's interception) and allowing 2.9 yards on 30 rushing attempts. We would love to have seen defensive tackle Braxton Hoyett fall on Tua Tagovailoa's first-quarter fumble (forced by Davenport) instead of looking to scoop and score; Miami recovered, and kicked a field goal. And the defense can't commit four costly penalties in a game with a small margin for error. But overall, New Orleans allowed its 22nd point in its last 12 quarters – 7.3 points per game over the stretch – and when you play that kind of defense, a 2-1 record isn't bad, but 3-0 was very much attainable.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Not much influence wielded by the units. That's not a bad thing, but when a team is as shorthanded as the Saints were Monday night, it would have been significant if the special teams had been able to chip in a big return or forced fumble.

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