The Saints offense stinks.
If you didn’t know this before the 26-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, you certainly do now.
The offense failed to score a touchdown in four quarters and now ranks near the bottom of the league in nearly every major statistical metric.
In the aftermath of the shockingly inept performance, Pete Carmichael has become the popular scapegoat, and the Saints’ second-year offensive coordinator certainly deserves his share of the blame. As the architect of an offense that has now failed to score more than 21 points in 10 consecutive games, he’s one of the few common denominators in this historic run of offensive futility.
But he’s far from the only reason.
A play caller, after all, is only as good as his playmakers. And in a quarterback-driven league, the Saints right now are not getting good enough play at the quarterback position.
Four games into the 2023 season, the inconvenient truth about the Saints offense is this: Derek Carr needs to play better. A lot better.
On Sunday, Carr admirably toughed through a painful shoulder injury that would have sidelined most quarterbacks. The sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder undoubtedly affected his accuracy and arm strength on certain throws, leading to his worst outing as a Saint. But this goes beyond his subpar performance against the Bucs.
Through four games, Carr is simply not getting it done. By any measure, he ranks among the least efficient and productive quarterbacks in the league.
He’s completed 80 of 124 passes for 763 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His 80.2 passer rating ranks 26th out of 34 qualifying starting quarterbacks in the league and his 39.86 success rate, an advanced metric that measures a passer’s down-by-down efficiency, ranks 25th.
His work in the red zone, an area that has hounded him throughout his career, has been particularly poor. The Saints have scored just four touchdowns in 12 red zone opportunities, a figure that ranks dead last in the league.
This is not what the Saints expected when they signed Carr to a four-year, $150 million contract in March.
Most troubling, the offense appears to be getting worse as the season progresses.
The Saints gained 351 yards in their Week 1 win against Tennessee. Since then, their yardage totals have steadily decreased, from 341 to 252 to 197.
Likewise, their passing yardage has declined each week, from 282 to 207 to 175 to a woeful 127 against the Bucs.
That’s not how this was supposed to work.
We were led to believe that with more time on task in the new system, improved protection by the offensive line and the long-awaited return of Alvin Kamara, things would eventually improve.
Instead, they’re somehow getting worse.
No wonder Saints fans are so apoplectic.
“We’re growing,” Carr said Sunday. “We’re learning. Too many growing pains right now, though…. We’ve got to get better, but we’ve got to get better faster than we are.”
Understandably, frustration is starting to mount among the offensive ranks.
“It’s been however long it’s been since we had that offense that was rolling, now we’re kind of in this rut where it is what is right now, what you see,” Alvin Kamara said.
“Whatever it might be that’s not allowing us to get over that hump, there has to be a sense of urgency,” Michael Thomas said. “There has to be a higher level of detail … a higher level of accountability.”
Things were supposed to be different. Carr was supposed to be the solution to the Saints’ offensive problems. He was the QB handpicked by Allen, Carmichael and general manager Mickey Loomis to lead the offense out of the doldrums. Team officials were so convinced he would be the catalyst to their success, they rewarded him with the largest contract in franchise history.
It’s time for Carr to start delivering on that commitment.
Carr has flashed some of the tantalizing talent that spurred the Raiders to draft him high in the second round of the 204 NFL Draft. He’s dropped a few dimes to Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed that make you remember he’s a four-time Pro Bowler. That laser he threw to Jimmy Graham for the touchdown in Green Bay was a beauty to behold.
But so far, the flashes have been few and far between. Too often, he’s looked indecisive in the pocket and/or failed to find open receivers downfield. And we’ve yet to see the benefits of Carr’s purported pre-snap audibling wizardry.
The return hasn’t matched the investment. The Saints are paying Carr Aaron Rodgers money and getting Andy Dalton results.
“I’m just trying to execute to my best ability and I just didn’t think I did that good enough (against the Bucs),” Carr said. “Whatever it is that I have to do, I’ll do it. I just don’t want the shoulder to be an excuse for the way that we executed today.”
If we’ve learned anything about Carr in his short time in New Orleans it’s that he will always say the right things. He’s quick to accept blame and never shirks accountability. His leadership skills are exemplary, exactly what you need from your franchise quarterback.
Now he needs to start playing like one.
The Saints offense won’t improve until he does.