Finding areas to criticize after yet another disappointing loss isn't exactly difficult, but it's the areas you're having to criticize that stand out.
Did anyone expect the return game to be a major net loss? Did anyone expect your biggest strength to get exposed at the worst possible time?
I know I didn't. So that's what stood out to me on the latest episode of Inside Black & Gold as we broke down the studs and duds from a 28-25 loss to the Vikings in Week 4.
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KR/WR DEONTE HARTY
It’s tough to nail down just how much the expectations for Harty are different this year than in year’s past, but it’s sure been easy to forget about him. He’s got two catches for 13 yards and has only been targeted those two times in his three games played. He’s returned one punt in each of the first three games. The first went for a 12-yard return. The second went for minus-6. The third was for 2 yards and a fumble. He’s also had four kick returns, none of which have been broken for plus starting field position. To this point in the season Harty’s biggest aspect Harty has been a non-factor … who now has a turnover. That’s frustrating, to say the least, from an All-Pro special teams player.
CB MARSHON LATTIMORE
Let me say in advance: This is me being harsh because the player has earned a higher form of criticism. Marshon Lattimore lands here not because he played a horrible game, but because in a moment where you needed your star defensive back to clamp down, he wasn’t able to do it. Justin Jefferson went for 10 catches and 147 yards. He also took an end-around in for a pivotal score, set up that TD by forcing a (questionable) DPI call, and probably should’ve had another score on a drive that ended in a FG. In fairness: Marshon wasn’t in primary coverage for all of those catches and the Vikings made a concerted effort to feed Jefferson the ball. But there was a fair bit of shadowing and the JJ-Marshon matchup was targeted 10 times, according to PFF. Jefferson made 7 catches for 93 yards on those targets, five of which went for 10-plus yards. JJ won when he needed to. You needed your star defensive back to win more often. He didn’t. That’s a reputation dud, to me.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Mark Ingram and Jarvis Landry
We know Jarvis Landry was dealing with an ankle issue. Mark Ingram looked to have tweaked something during the game, but he did return. Still, you have those vets so that when you end up in a game without names like Mike Thomas and Alvin Kamara, they can step in and produce at a higher level. Ingram averaged 3 yards per carry on his 10 rushes. Landry logged 7 yards on two catches (but did snag an important 2-point conversion). Not unlike Lattimore, you needed them to step up in a big moment. It didn’t happen.
RB LATAVIUS MURRAY
11 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown might not sound like a huge performance, but when’s the last time you saw a practice squad elevation lead the team in rushing? Only Chris Olave (4 catches for 67 yards) had a more productive day among the skill positions. Murray looks like he’s still got the juice after the Saints sent him to pasture prior to the start of the 2021 season. His performance is one that should earn him a spot on the 53-man roster. Ironically, if he is signed to the roster, it might be at the expense of Tony Jones Jr., the player who appeared to have made Murray expendable a year ago. TJJ has been a healthy scratch each of the last two weeks. However it goes from here: It was a big day for Latavius.
THE PASS RUSH
It’s always hard to single out a pass-rusher, and it’s particularly had in this game. But between Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport and Kentavius Street, the Saints harassed Kirk Cousins to the level that it almost changed the outcome of this game. That was a very welcome sight after only logging 1 through the first two weeks. They’ve averaged three sacks in each of the past two weeks, and allowed for a slow-starting offense to fight its way back. That’ll have to continue for this team to have any chance of turning the season around. Carl Granderson suffered an injury in this game. At some point Payton Turner has to be more productive, too.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: WR Chris Olave. PK Wil Lutz, TE Adam Trautman
Chris Olave continues his torrid start to the season, this week hauling in the first touchdown pass of his career. It wasn’t the supernova, 149-yard performance of Week 2, but he showed up in huge moments and displayed chemistry with a brand new QB in Andy Dalton. That’s impressive for a young WR. … Now, I understand Wil Lutz missed that second kick. But he’d have been the first kicker in NFL history to nail two 60-plus yard field goals in a single game. He missed that feat by millimeters. The issue wasn’t Lutz, it was that you needed him to do it in the first place. That second kick is good from 55. Heck it might’ve been good from 60. I know he won’t celebrate it because there’s nothing to celebrate, but I don’t think there’s anyone else you’d rather have out there in that scenario. … Adam Trautman’s day wasn’t massive, but he logged 3 catches for 37 yards after seeing just one target through three games. This offense works better when it involves the TEs. Hopefully whoever starts at QB the rest of the season can do that more effectively.
LAGNIAPPE: You’ll notice Andy Dalton didn’t land on either list above, and I think that’s the right call. He was exactly fine in this game. He was even-keeled throughout, and that’s what you want out a backup — the highest floor possible. But that comes with a low ceiling. If not for the fumble, I might feel differently, but there’s an argument to be made that it was a play that lost you a game. He performed well, not good enough, so it keeps him off both lines. It was a cagey veteran putting up a reasonable performance against a very suspect defense. The good news for the Saints is next week should offer a similar recipe against a porous Seahawks defensive group. The QB position will be a key to watch.