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Film study: Reviewing Saints offense

There wasn't much to like about the New Orleans Saints' offensive performance in Sunday's 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The best thing I can say after reviewing the tape is that the pass protection wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Quarterback Drew Brees wasn't really harassed much until later in the game when the Saints were in desperation-pass mode.

But everything else was off the mark, from turnovers to dropped passes to a sluggish run game. I already broke down Brees' performance and tight end Jimmy Graham's disappointing performance with a career-high three drops.

Here are some more thoughts after reviewing the tape:

Ingram's fumble: What a horrible way to start. On the second play of the game, Ingram caught a short pass in the flat and had it stripped away by cornerback Josh Norman as he tried to turn and run with it. It was either a great play by Norman -- or some great luck. Norman first hit the ball with his right arm as he reached to wrap up Ingram. Then when Ingram pulled the ball back, Norman's left hand punched the ball loose from behind.

Brees' interception: This was one of those classic cases of Brees trying to force momentum into the game when the Saints were trailing 10-0 early. He fired deep for receiver Joe Morgan on the first play of the drive. Brees wasn't under any real pressure, but the ball was slightly underthrown after sailing 44 yards in the air, and cornerback Bene Benwikere undercut it.

Brees wasn't overwhelmingly off-target throughout the game -- though he did complete just 11 of 24 passes through three quarters. He had two or three other notable misses. But it didn't help that Saints coach Sean Payton said the team tallied eight dropped passes. And Brees' biggest problem in general seemed to be finding open receivers down the field even when he had time to throw. He was 1-of-8 passing on throws of 15 yards or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information, with most of those coming late in the game.

The drops: Yes, eight dropped passes. At least three of them came from Graham, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It's possible the Saints even credited Graham with four drops, depending on that fine line between a drop and a pass break-up.

There were five blatant drops -- two by Graham, one by tight end Josh Hill, one by tight end Benjamin Watson and one by receiver Marques Colston. Hill's was the one that Payton referenced when he said a player jumped for a pass when he didn't need to be jumping. Running back Pierre Thomas also appeared to drop a pass, though a defender was nearby. Several other passes were broken up by hits from defenders.

Pass protection: Brees wasn't under much pressure early. He actually completed 8 of his first 11 passes -- most of which were checkdowns. The blitz pressure picked up, however, as the game wore on and the Saints became more one-dimensional.

Brees wound up being sacked twice. One came after his first two options were both covered and a twist eventually got past Zach Strief and Jahri Evans. The other came when replacement left tackle Bryce Harris got torched one-on-one.

Harris had a few rough moments late in the game, though Payton later commended him for playing on an injured ankle since the Saints were out of options with starter Terron Armstead also hurt. Watson also had one or two moments where he didn't hold his block long enough in pass protection.

Run game: Whether it was the cause or effect, the Saints' run game quickly became nonexistent as the score became lopsided. Running backs had just six carries in the first half and 10 in the first three quarters.

Ingram did have two great runs of 16 and 11 yards, including good blocks by Evans, Strief and Hill. Evans also had a great block on a meaningless 16-yard run by Thomas late in the game.

There were too many duds, though, with Harris and guard Ben Grubbs each getting blown up once and a variety of linemen, tight ends and receivers taking turns with inefficient blocks.