LANDOVER, Md. — It seemed impossible, but the New Orleans Saints‘ defense actually reached a new low on Sunday.
Now it’s realistic to wonder whether defensive coordinator Rob Ryan won’t even make it through the bye week.
Coach Sean Payton has never fired an assistant during the season, and he declined to discuss any coaching or personnel questions after the game. But something has to give after the Saints were torn apart by a very mediocre Washington Redskins offense in Sunday’s 47-14 blowout loss.
It was the worst loss in terms of point differential in the Payton-Drew Brees era.
Redskins QB Kirk Cousins had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 as Washington racked up more than 500 yards — 394 in the first half alone.
The Saints (4-6) have given up 130 points over the past three games while botching a chance to get back into playoff contention.
Ryan in jeopardy? Payton kept Ryan after the Saints’ ugly defensive performance last season, when they finished second-worst in the NFL in yards allowed. He likes Ryan’s passion and work ethic. But during the offseason, Payton demanded that Ryan simplify his complex playbook, overhauled much of the roster and brought in senior defensive assistant Dennis Allen to help run things.
The changes haven’t helped.
But their arrow is not just pointing down. It’s broken.
The Saints’ defense played all of its greatest hits Sunday — allowing big plays, missing tackles and committing costly penalties in key moments. And it made NFL history in the process.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Saints became the first team to allow four TD passes without an interception in three straight games.
The Saints already were on pace to allow the highest opponent’s passer rating in NFL history before Cousins raised the bar. It was 112.0 heading into Sunday’s game.
What were they thinking? The Saints continued to sabotage themselves with defensive penalties in big moments. They had a potential interception by linebacker Stephone Anthony and a third-down pass breakup both nullified by defensive holding calls in the first half.
One reason to get excited: Brees and wide receiver Brandin Cooks stayed in the groove for a while with two touchdown passes in the first half, one of them for 60 yards. Cooks has five touchdowns in the past three games after having only four TDs in the first 17 games of his career. But even Cooks had a key third-down drop when the wheels started falling off later in the first half.
One reason to panic: Need another one? Even the offense collapsed in what looked like it might become a shootout in the mold of New Orleans’ recent 52-49 victory over the New York Giants. Brees threw two interceptions — one that bounced off the hands of receiver Marques Colston and another that was snatched away from tight end Benjamin Watson late in the game.
Fantasy watch: Saints running back Mark Ingram started great with a career-long 70-yard run early in the game but appeared to be dealing with a nagging injury, as he didn’t play much in the second half. He remained in uniform, though, so the issue might not linger beyond the bye week.
Ouch: Lewis left the game in the first half with an ugly-looking leg injury when his knee appeared to be bent in a collision with receiver DeSean Jackson‘s helmet. He did return to the sideline in uniform in the second half but did not play again. … Ingram appeared limited (see above). Kikaha left early with an ankle injury, presumably the same one that held him out last week. Offensive lineman Terron Armstead was pulled from the lineup in the fourth quarter mostly as a precaution with his lingering knee injury and Tim Lelito was in and out of the lineup.