METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints‘ offense has a problem, and that problem is bigger than simple inconsistency.
The Saints (1-1) are eight quarters into the season with only one good quarter to show for it. They’re ranked 17th in total offense, 18th in passing offense and ninth in rushing offense.
That could be partially attributed to playing a good Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense last week without running back Alvin Kamara, who sat out with a rib injury. It could be a matter of chemistry between the new faces on offense.
“I think everything is going to be something we can work on, but I feel like we’re starting to kind of gather our identity of what some of our guys can do, what they do best,” quarterback Jameis Winston said. “I think we can start putting that in more moving forward.”
The more pressing concern is Winston’s back.
Winston said Wednesday that he’s preparing to start as if he would any other week, but he has been playing injured since he went into the medical tent to get checked out in the fourth quarter of a 27-26 win against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. Ironically, that was the best quarter the Saints have played so far, as Winston threw two touchdown passes and had a 40-yard pass to set up the game-winning field goal that erased a 16-point deficit.
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While it’s hard to know how much the injury affected Winston against the Buccaneers, there were times it certainly looked like it could have been a factor in the 20-10 loss. Winston looked almost timid on some of his scrambles and overthrew several deep passes.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Winston was 2 of 11 on passes that went at least 15 yards through the air, compared to 8-of-11 the week before. He did not complete his first such pass until the 5:17 mark of the fourth quarter.
Winston threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter. One was a deep pass to receiver Chris Olave with good coverage, one was significantly off-target to tight end Juwan Johnson and the final was taken back for a touchdown after he attempted to fit a pass to receiver Jarvis Landry in between two defenders.
“Impatience. That was the big thing,” Winston said of his throws to Landry and Johnson and noted he should have checked down.
He said he could live with the shot to Olave because the cornerback made a good play and it didn’t give the Bucs good field position.
The Saints also came up empty on one of their best drives of the game after running back Mark Ingram II lost a fumble at Tampa’s 20-yard line in the third quarter.
“We knew that was going to be a field-position game,” Allen said. “We knew that we were playing a really good defense, and I thought for the first three-and-a-half quarters we played the game the way it needed to be played. I thought we missed some opportunities at some big plays down the field, and I thought we maybe tried to go to the well a little bit too often in terms of taking those shots down the field.”
Allen conceded Winston missed some throws he might normally make but has repeatedly said he didn’t believe Winston’s injury played a role. He also said he never considered sitting Winston before or during the game because of the injury, and he noted Monday that Winston wasn’t in any more pain than usual.
“The pain and discomfort is the pain and discomfort of losing a game,” Allen said. “That was the pain and discomfort for all of us.”
Winston, who was limited in practice all last week, did not appear to participate in individual drills during the open portion of practice Wednesday. He was officially listed as limited, and Allen said that he would be on a similar schedule as the previous week.
As the Saints head into a 10-day stretch away from home, first against the Carolina Panthers and then immediately to London to face the Minnesota Vikings, Winston will have to shake off that discomfort if the Saints are going to realize their full offensive potential.
They’ll also have to figure out a way to give up fewer sacks, especially given Winston’s injury situation. The Saints have given up 10 sacks through two games, which is second in the NFL, but it’s not entirely on the offensive line. Of the six sacks given up against the Bucs, Allen said he could only really blame two on protection issues.
Allen was “shocked” by the six sacks, but maybe that has more to do with the retooled offense. Thomas’ three receiving touchdowns are tied for second in the NFL, Landry led the Saints in receiving yards in his debut against the Falcons with nine catches for 114 yards.
A concerted effort was made to involve Olave against the Bucs, targeting him 13 times but connecting with him only five times for 80 yards.
“The more we get to know [each other], the more we get a feel of having all our pieces,” Winston said. “We had a big piece last week that wasn’t with us with Alvin [out]. So much of our offense revolves around him. I think the more games we get together, the more practices we get together, will be beneficial for all of us.”