Saints' offense struggles amid QB Derek Carr's TD drought

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' offense has an identity problem.

The unit has put up big overall numbers at times, generating more than 400 yards in four of the last six games. They are 11th in passing yards (242.7), 12th in total yards (347.1) and 10th in pass interception rate (1.9%).

But that's where most of the good statistics stop.

As the Saints head into the homestretch of the season, they're still trying to figure out what their offense does best.

"We don't have an identity as a team," running back Alvin Kamara said after their second straight loss Sunday. "We're a team that says we want to do, and we don't do and it shows. We're consistently inconsistent."

One of those inconsistencies has been the play of quarterback Derek Carr, who has not thrown a touchdown pass in his past 20 possessions. That dates to the second quarter of the Saints' 24-17 win against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 5.

The Saints last three passing touchdowns have come from backup quarterbacks Jameis Winston (two in Week 12) and Taysom Hill (one in Week 10). Carr didn't play most of the second half against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10 because of a concussion, and the Saints had a bye in Week 11.

By the time the Saints play the Detroit Lions on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), it will have been almost a month since Carr's last passing touchdown, as the Saints' 13 passing scores rank 19th -- with Carr accounting for only 10 of those.

Carr has gone through stretches like this before. When he was with the Raiders in 2018, he had two stints that season where he was active but didn't throw a touchdown pass for two games, including a 27-possession stretch over the final three games of the year.

"I'm just going to keep working hard," Carr said, when asked how got out of the slump that season. "I mean that's really it. I've had games where you throw four touchdowns, I've had games where you throw none. One of those games I was hurt in the second half. I understand that though. But that stuff happens.

"I've had years where I throw a lot of touchdowns, I've had years where you don't throw as many as you want. And when you lose, you talk about that stuff, and when you win, nobody talks about it. It's just part of the business. It goes like that sometimes. I can promise you, it's not from a lack of effort."

When asked about Carr's play, coach Dennis Allen said repeatedly that it was a team game and factors like protection and execution also affected the outcome.

"We're not really in the business of blame game. We're in the business of production, so I think we all have to be better," Allen said. "I think there are things we all could be doing better, so to try to single him out I think is not the right way to go.

Carr pointed to the Saints' 5-6 record when asked how he'd evaluate his play this season.

"For me, that's the only thing that matters," Carr said. "To give myself a grade, like, really, doesn't matter. If anyone else wants to give me a grade, it really doesn't matter. We know what we've seen on tape, we know what my grade is when I get my sheet from my coaches and if I'm doing my job or if I'm not doing my job, and that's the stuff that matters."

There have been other offensive issues as well. The Saints' haven't run the ball effectively, and only four of their 22 touchdowns have come from the ground game. Hill has added to that from the quarterback position, as he has rushed for three.

The Saints have yet to score a touchdown on an opening possession this year, and those drives haven't generated even a field goal since Week 4. Their last seven offensive drives have resulted in a punt or missed field goal, as well.

The stats show that the offense has moved the ball, but it ranks 29th in red zone efficiency which has resulted in them ranking 20th in offensive points scored per game (19.5).

That was most evident in their 24-15 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, when penalties, turnovers and errors limited them to strictly field goals (five).

"I think in between the 20s we moved the ball pretty well," Allen said. "It was really once we got to the 20, 25-yard line where we made some mental mistakes that put us behind the chains, or we turned the ball over down there. So that was frustrating."

Carr and Allen have both professed their belief in the offense this week, using the words "explosive" to describe the identity of the unit.

"There's some areas in all three phases I think we have to improve on," Allen said, "but I think we have a fast, explosive offense and I think we have an opportunistic defense."

The offense has been able to conjure up explosive plays at times, with their four completions of 50 yards or more tied for first in the NFL, but how can an offense rely on something that's happened only four times in 11 games?

And despite a 51-yard pass to Chris Olave last week, the drive still yielded a field goal.

But being explosive could be tricky with all three starting receivers potentially being out. Michael Thomas still has to sit out at least three more games on injured reserve, Olave remains in concussion protocol after leaving the Falcons game early, and Rashid Shaheed, who has three of those 50-yard receptions, hasn't practiced because of a thigh injury.

Kicker Blake Grupe is also nursing an injury that could leave him questionable.

That means the Saints might have to match the Lions second-ranked total offense with a combination of backups that includes Lynn Bowden Jr., Keith Kirkwood, rookie A.T. Perry and practice squad receiver Marquez Callaway.

"We've got a young player in A.T. Perry, and then we've got some other guys that have played in our league," Allen said. "I think the fact that you've played in NFL games gives you a little bit of experience and those guys are going to have to step up and play. We've got all the confidence in the world that they'll step up and play well."