Saints 25, 49ers 22

Last week, I wrote that the [game was a blowout that just didn’t materialize][1]. The Saints clearly outplayed the Vikings, but dropped enough passes at enough critical times to have been lucky to win the game.

The feeling’s a lot different this week. The Saints offense struggled again, averaging a mediocre 5.93 adjusted yards per passing attempt,* and came within a goofy early safety (and a blocked overtime field goal that was somehow still good) of losing this game.

*See [last week’s review][1] for an explanation of the YPA adjustments.

The run defense was poor, and pass defense wasn’t much better. The biggest bright spot on defense was their takeaways. The Saints intercepted Alex Smith twice and recovered two 49ers fumbles, which was the difference in the game. To wit: if you don’t adjust for the interceptions, the 49ers’ adjusted YPA was a very good 8.59.

The interceptions still count, though, and so the 49ers offense actual adjusted YPA was 4.84, which is pretty bad. While I think the Saints were lucky to recover the fumbles they did, and I still hold that the turnover luck won’t continue all year long, they were able to come away with the ball when they needed it. The Saints are very good at forcing the issue, getting tipped balls, etc.

These were tough game conditions: a windy game on the road against a fired-up opponent playing for their lives. So, I’m happy that the team is flying home with the win, no matter how ugly.¬†Going forward, however, this was a discouraging game. The offense had a second sub-par week and the defense remains vulnerable to the run and dependent on turnovers. The D didn’t get a lot of pressure on Alex Smith (0 sacks), perhaps because they were worried about Frank Gore. While the Saints may continue to get timely turnovers, I wouldn’t count on it. As such, the offense needs to improve dramatically for this team to make a serious playoff run.

The main lesson I take from this game is the importance of home-field advantage for the Saints. Today’s Saints couldn’t go in to Green Bay in January and win a playoff game. We need to keep the pressure on the rest of the NFC.

Perhaps the biggest story, though, is poor Reginald. Looks like a blown out knee on a punt return, but we’ll see. ¬†UPDATE: Now they’re saying a broken leg, with a 6-8 week recovery. He’s had a tough pro career; certainly not like what anyone imagined.

[1]: http://www.whodatreport.com/2010/09/saints-14-vikings-9/