JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2023 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
John DeShazier of NewOrleansSaints.com on the Saints’ matchup with the Jaguars at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans Thursday at 8:15 p.m.
Question: The Saints are 3-3 with losses in three of their last four games. How do they feel about themselves entering Week 7?
Answer: A little disappointed, actually. Three and three is not what this team thought it would be. I don't think it's what anyone thought it would be who watched this team through training camp and saw the strides it was making. We can look at two games specifically that the Saints kind of giftwrapped. They lost 18-17 at Green Bay in Week 3. They were leading 17-0 in the fourth quarter and gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter. Then on Sunday they held the Texans to 20 points overall [in a 20-13 Saints loss], three in the second half. [Texans quarterback] C.J. Stroud hadn't been sacked since the second week of the season; they got to him twice. He hadn't been intercepted this season; they intercepted him once. They really played some pretty good defense, but they were oh for three in the red zone. They missed a couple of field goals. Those kinds of things just add up. The red-zone issues have persisted this season. They kind of straightened them out last week. They were good three of four times in the red zone in a 34-0 victory over New England [in Week 5] – really three of three because the last one was a kneel down that finished the game. But the issues popped back up against the Texans and when they needed most to be able to cash in in the red zone, they did not. That really has been an issue this entire season. If they hadn't gift-wrapped a couple, they would be 5-1. Instead, they're 3-3 and that's life in the NFL.
Q: Quarterback Derek Carr has thrown five touchdown passes with three interceptions this season after signing with the team in the offseason. Assess his season to date.
A: Derek Carr had his best game as a Saint Sunday: 32 of 50 for 353 yards and a touchdown. He had a late interception at the end of the game when they were trying to tie the game and go to overtime, but I think the Saints feel – and I think anyone who has watched him feels – they made an upgrade at that position. He struggled in the Tampa Bay game (a 26-9 Week 4 loss) because he had an AC joint sprain. He played a week after he had that sprain and probably wasn't quite himself. Statistically that was his worst game, and it was the worst game for the offense overall. But for the most part, the Saints feel pretty satisfied with Derek Carr – with the arm strength, the placement and those kinds of things. Again, it comes down to him and the offense converting in the red zone. If you can't convert in the red zone in the NFL, it's going to be a really long road to getting victories because so many of these games are so tight and they're decided by one possession. That's going to be the thing for him and this offense going forward.
Q: What are they offensively through six games?
A: I don't necessarily know that the Saints know what they are right now. They ran the ball really well against New England: 42 times for 136 yards. It wasn't the per-carry average, it was more just the grinding out of the Patriots. But they haven't been able to run consistently this season and they hadn't been able to lean heavily on the pass offense because early in the season there were protection issues. Carr was sacked 11 times in the first 11 quarters, so that does not bode well for any quarterback or any team on offense when you can't protect your quarterback. The protection has been better the last couple of weeks even though they gave up a couple of sacks to the Texans. Going forward this team might be a little bit more pass-heavy. That seems to be where the weapons are: Wide receiver Chris Olave, wide receiver Rashid Shaheed, wide receiver Michael Thomas and Carr. You hope you can move the ball that way offensively. But when you get to the red zone and the windows get tighter, it gets much tougher. You have to be able to run. The Saints were able to do that against New England, but not against the Texans.
Q: The perception is this is a good defensive team. Is that accurate?
A: Very much so. They've given up about 16 points a game, which is top five in the league. This defense has really been the bell cow for this team this season. They want that responsibility. They want to be the unit you can depend on. Unfortunately, it's going to be a lot heavier because they can't afford to get off to slow starts like they did Sunday when they gave up 17 first-half points because the offense just has not matched that production yet. It might sound unfair, but hey, those guys get paid to stop people. And they're going to have to do a little bit more stopping of people until this offense kind of catches up and gets more productive because they are the unit that leads this team. You're giving up 20 points. Unfortunately for this team right now, 20 points might be enough to beat this team because they just have had issues scoring the football.
Q: This team believes it should be in the postseason. What's it going to take to get there?
A: They're going to have to be more consistent on offense. The defense is clearly good enough to get you there. By consistency, I don't think 21, 24, 27 points a game is too much to ask – especially when you have the guys they have at the skill positions. They have a lot of high draft picks on the offensive line and the last couple of games the line has risen to the occasion a little bit in terms of protection. So the offense is going to have to be more consistent. You can't be kicking field goals when you get to the red zone. The movement between the twenties hadn't been the Saints' issue. The issue when is when it gets tight, you have to be able to punch it in. They have to be able to punch it in.