After taking a 24-6 lead with just over five minutes left in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, it looked like the New Orleans Saints would cruise to victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. However, the Chiefs had other ideas, turning the game around on a 91-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles and eventually winning in overtime. Kansas City’s defense took its play to another level as well, completely shutting down the New Orleans offense. The results of the Saints’ final five drives following Charles’ run totaled an interception with four 3-and-outs.
This stunning late-game turnaround leaves New Orleans as one of just two 0-3 teams in the league (Cleveland being the other) and looking for answers. They better find them fast, because 0-3 can quickly become 0-4 with a trip to Green Bay next on the schedule. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are back in the thick of things in a wide open AFC West, as they now turn to their division opener against San Diego.
What happened in New Orleans? Let’s take a few key performances from each team.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
Jamaal Charles Carries the Offense
What a day for Charles. He had a career-high 33 rushes for 233 yards including a game changing 91-yard run for Kansas City’s only touchdown of the day, along with six receptions for 55 yards. He didn’t have to make many guys miss, and forced only a single missed tackle on the afternoon, but Charles hit the holes hard when he found room to run. Credit the line for opening many of those running lanes for Charles. Jon Asamoah (+5.5) and Ryan Lilja (+4.0), filling in at center for much of the game, dominated the Saints’ front seven. The downfield blocking wasn’t too bad either: late in the third quarter, wide receiver Terrance Copper put a big-time block on Roman Harper that sealed him inside, and allowed Charles to turn the corner for a 40-yard gain.
For as well as he played, it seems that Charles may not be fully healthy. He was dangerously close to being caught from behind on the TD run and failed to finish his other long run, opting to cut back instead of trying to outrun Malcolm Jenkins–two things I don’t think we see from a completely healthy Charles.
Houston is Huge
While Charles was the man on offense, Justin Houston (+5.1) stole the show on the Kansas City defense, producing one of the most complete performances you will see from an outside linebacker in a base 3-4 defense. Lining up on the left side of the defense on 52 of his 61 snaps, Houston abused Saints’ right tackle Zach Strief, finishing the game with three sacks, three hurries, and a QB hit. When he wasn’t in the face of Drew Brees, Houston was also a force in the run game (adding a stop to his sacks) and in coverage. Dropping back 11 times, Houston didn’t allow a reception either time he was targeted, breaking up one of the passes. The Chiefs defender produced many of these big plays at critical points in the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Houston ended two straight Saints drives with sacks, the second of which went for a safety that setup the Chiefs’ game-tying drive.
The Curious Case of Matt Cassel
Though he made some key throws late in the game, Matt Cassel (-2.0) put on what was otherwise a very poor display for the second week in a row. With a clean pocket for most of the afternoon, pressured on just 9 of his 47 pass attempts, you’d think Cassel would have shredded a New Orleans defense that has been one of the league’s worst. Instead the Kansas City QB missed on far too many passes that a player of Cassel’s experience should make. His third-quarter interception, which led to a Saints touchdown, came on a badly forced throw that had no chance before it even left his hand. Many of his misses were on throws downfield, as he was just 4-of-16 on passes beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, including 0-6 on balls thrown 20+ yards. A performance like that isn’t going to help Cassel shed the “Captain Checkdown” moniker that some have given him, and may have fans calling for Brady Quinn before long.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Trouble Up Front
Coming into the game, we told you that a key for the Saints would be how left tackle Jermon Bushrod handled Tamba Hali. While Bushrod allowed five pressures, perhaps we should’ve focused on the matchup on the other side of the line, where Zach Strief (-2.7) was on the opposite end of Justin Houston’s monster game. Strief was responsible for five pressures, including two sacks. None of these pressures was worse than the sack allowed for a safety late in the game. On the play, Strief didn’t even slow Houston as he went around the edge far too easily, giving Brees little chance to get rid of the ball.
Three games, three largely uninspired performances from Drew Brees. Although he played better this week, Brees (+3.8) still wasn’t quite as sharp as he needed to be. Early in the game, he underthrew a wide open Devery Henderson. Henderson still caught the ball for a 36-yard gain, but it was underthrown just enough that Brandon Flowers could recover and make the tackle. Another miss came on a throw to Pierre Thomas in the red zone when Brees, under pressure on the play, just tossed the ball short, though Thomas almost made a spectacular catch. Like the other two examples, his lone interception was also slightly underthrown, allowing the defender to make a play on the ball. On this particular play, Henderson was well covered by Stanford Routt, but a perfect pass to the outside shoulder could have gone for a TD–a pass we’ve seen this QB make many times. Even though these misses were slight, they were misses that Brees can’t afford to make given the team’s other problems.
Speaking of other problems, the receivers dropped four passes, with Jimmy Graham (-1.5) adding two for the second straight week, while the offensive line allowed pressure on 15 of Brees’ 40 drop backs. The run game never got going either; outside of a 47-yard run by Darren Sproles, the Saints were held to two yards per carry on 18 attempts.
Worn Down Defense
A lot of the blame for the loss can be put on the offense, which repeatedly put the defense on the field with little rest and in poor field position toward the end of the game. However, there were plenty of errors on a defense that allowed over 270 yards on the ground. While LB Curtis Lofton (-3.1) contributed seven stops included in his 11 overall tackles, he took himself completely out of plays with terrible angles, looking nothing like the player we saw in Atlanta and in the first two weeks. By no means were the issues unique to Lofton, as Saints defenders repeatedly overran plays and took poor angles, creating big holes for Jamaal Charles.
One of the bright spots was the play of rookie DT Akiem Hicks, who put in his second strong performance in a row, logging 42 snaps. The third-round pick out of Canada, predicted to be a project, has contributed quicker than expected and looks to be developing into one of the better players on the New Orleans defensive line.
– After not receiving a carry in the first two games, Darren Sproles led the Saints with 62 yards on seven rushes.
– Subbed in after the Rodney Hudson injury for the Chiefs, LG Jeff Allen gave up two QB hurries, four stops in the run game and received a grade of -3.6.
– Talk about ball control; the Chiefs’ offense ran 98 plays, while the Saints ran just 61.
It’s a toss-up between Houston and Charles, but we’re giving it to the guy who was responsible for over 288 yards of offense and the team’s lone touchdown. Not bad for a guy many thought would be a ‘change of pace back’ as he worked his way back from last year’s knee injury.