Payton blames self for pass-run imbalance

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints’ inefficiency was contagious across the board in Sunday’s 26-20 loss to the New York Jets. So coach Sean Payton stressed a few times that it would be hard for him to point to any one position group that doomed the Saints.

But Payton did place the blame on himself for one area that had a snowball effect on the offense -- the pass/run imbalance. Payton said the Saints went into the game intending to pass the ball a lot.

But that plan failed them because of a series of tipped-ball interceptions, dropped passes and offensive line breakdowns.

“We felt going in we were gonna throw the ball more just because of the type of defense we were seeing,” Payton said of a Jets defense that ranks first in the NFL against the run but had struggled against the pass this year. “And actually, when we ran it, we ran it pretty efficiently. And I didn’t call enough runs, just looking at the tape.

“Now, that might have been because they were playing us in more of a pass mode. … But that’s something that is on me.”

Saints running backs Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram and fullback Jed Collins combined for a total of 50 yards on just 11 carries.

The Saints’ passing attack was actually working well in the first half, when quarterback Drew Brees threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. But both interceptions also came in the first half (one on a pass thrown behind tight end Benjamin Watson, and one that was dropped by receiver Nick Toon on a timing route that didn’t sync up).

The passing game really derailed in the second half, when the Saints were trailing by nine points for much of the final two quarters.

That’s when the Jets’ pass rush started getting the better of the Saints’ offensive line -- especially up the middle. They forced two sacks, two holding penalties and one illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty. The Saints also committed a false start in the second half, so they constantly seemed to be facing situations like first-and-20 or second-and-15.

The Saints’ pass protection has been more inconsistent than usual this year -- sometimes very good, but too often susceptible to the kind of breakdowns we saw in the second half against the Jets.

Again, Payton said part of that is his fault.

“I think we’ve been a little bit lopsided,” Payton said of the pass-run balance. “I think last year certainly we were, and it’s something we’re wanting to emphasize. I think the pass protection becomes more manageable when you’re running the football.

“So this gets back to me, like in a game like yesterday, giving those guys a little bit more balance, so that you’re not sitting on the road in a one-dimensional game.”

Payton didn’t specifically second-guess his play calls on the Saints’ third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 failures in the fourth quarter (one a dropped pass by Collins and one a failed end-around to tight end Josh Hill that the Saints thought would catch New York off guard based on film study). As Payton pointed out, the Saints’ first attempt on third-and-1 in that series was a power run play with Collins up the middle -- but it was nullified by the Jets’ last-second timeout.

Still, even offensive tackle Zach Strief admitted after Sunday’s game that the offensive line needs to be better at run blocking to give Payton the confidence to run the ball right at the defense more often in situations like those.

Personally, I’ll never fault the Saints for going into a game with a pass-heavy plan -- especially against a defense built like the Jets. The Saints’ passing game is their bread and butter, and they’ve proven it works more times than not.

But Sunday’s game was a harsh reminder of how many little things can go wrong to derail a passing attack -- whether it’s the protection up front or the dropped balls by receivers or the bad breaks that turn tipped balls into interceptions.

Toon also dropped a deep ball that could have been a huge gain in the first half Sunday, and receiver Lance Moore said Monday that his dropped ball on a shovel pass from Brees was “embarrassing.”

“We put our defense in a tough situation a couple times,” Moore said. “That’s not like us.”

Neither Payton nor Moore blamed the weather conditions on a chilly and windy day in New York for derailing the passing game too much. Moore said there were some swirling winds, but he said it wasn’t an excuse for the fundamental errors. And Payton said from his standpoint on the sideline, he didn’t think any of the weather conditions were too significant or a factor.