NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints’ brass expected their $150 million investment in Derek Carr to pay off in the form of enhanced production from a proven set of skill players around him.
So far, no good.
After being kept out of the end zone in a 26-9 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, New Orleans has just four offensive touchdowns through four games.
The good news for the Saints (2-2) is that two victories to start the season provided a buffer for them to figure things out.
“We definitely do have a of weapons, but it’s still early in the season for me to be like, ‘Oh, the weapons haven’t been used,’ or whatever it might be,” said receiver Michael Thomas, who has 22 catches for 219 yards without a touchdown this season. “As a whole, we just have to get better.”
The return of star running back Alvin Kamara on Sunday from his three-game suspension did little to improve their trajectory. Even though Kamara had several first-down gains, his 24 combined touches amounted to just 84 net yards because two of his catches went for losses.
Meanwhile, the Saints’ point total against the Bucs was their lowest this season. That dropped New Orleans’ scoring average to 15.5 points per game, tied for fourth lowest in the NFL before Monday night’s game.
Of their 43 possessions, 21 have ended with punts, five with turnovers and 10 with field-goal attempts.
“We’ve got to get it right — now,” Carr said. “Yes, there’s a lot of football ahead and, yes, there’s a lot of games, but our focus is right now. We’ve got to fix it now.”
Carr played through a sprained throwing shoulder against the Buccaneers after leaving a Week 3 loss at Green Bay, but he stressed that his injury should not be an excuse for how New Orleans’ offense sputtered.
Also under heavy scrutiny is offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. He thrived as a game-planner and play-caller in 2012, when coach Sean Payton was suspended and franchise all-time passing leader Drew Brees was the quarterback.
Carmichael’s two seasons as a coordinator under defensive-minded coach Dennis Allen haven’t gone as well. But Allen does not sound inclined to make staff alterations for now.
“No, we won’t make any coaching changes,” Allen said Monday. “I’ve never seen that to be the right answer, particularly when we’re four games into the season. And yet, we have to be better. I understand everyone’s frustration because everyone in the building feels it.”
Kamara has been part of elite offenses since New Orleans drafted him in 2017. Even when Brees missed nine games because of injuries during his final two seasons in 2019 and 2020, the Saints had enough firepower to win eight of those, scoring 21 or more in seven and 30-plus four times.
“It’s been however long it’s been since we had that offense that was rolling,” Kamara said. “Now, we’re kind of in this rut where it is what it is right now.
“We’ve got to have some conversations about something,” Kamara added, “because I don’t like losing.”
The Saints’ punt and kick coverage units have been solid. They haven’t given up any touchdowns. The longest kickoff return they’ve allowed went for 24 yards and the longest punt return was 14 yards.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The pass rush has tapered off during the two-game skid. New Orleans has one sack in each of the past two games after recording seven through the first two games.
“It wasn’t very good,” Allen said. “It wasn’t very good last week. So, it needs to be better.”
Rookie kicker Blake Grupe hit all three of his field-goal attempts on Sunday, one week after a potentially confidence-shaking, late-game miss. He’s 9 of 10 on field goals and has scored 32 of his team’s 62 points.
Even before his shoulder injury, Carr was struggling to get the Saints into the end zone. He has two TD passes in four games. That’s an adjustment for a fan base that just a few years ago saw a then 41-year-old Drew Brees average two TDs passing per game.
While Carr continues to rehabilitate his shoulder, the Saints are also hoping to see improvement in the conditions of tight ends Juwan Johnson (calf) and Foster Moreau (ankle), cornerback Paulson Adebo (hamstring), and guards Cesar Ruiz (concussion) and Andrus Peat (concussion).
11 — The number of consecutive games in which the Saints have scored 21 or fewer points, the longest such streak in the NFL.
The Saints make a Week 5 trip to New England, where they have a chance to right the ship against a team that’s struggling even more than they are.
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