What’s wrong with the Saints? Can it be fixed? Can they turn it around? Surely the Saints aren’t as bad as their 1 and 3 record indicates? I’ve been hammered with those questions on Twitter, Facebook, email and on the air. The reality is, the Saints may be as bad as their record indicates. What’s wrong?
Let’s start with a lack of leadership in the locker room. Not only did the Saints lose two safeties in Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins this offseason, they lost two captains, two veterans on that side of the ball who would stand up in front of the media and take the blame, own up to their mistakes and take the pressure off their teammates. That characteristic can’t be underestimated!
This team lacks focus, with simple missed assignments, dropped passes and miscues that have cost them two games (Dallas just beat their tail). That’s a direct reflection on the head coach (as he readily admitted). Sean Payton isn’t driving the point home well enough. The players aren’t hearing the message.
Now let’s get to the…can they fix it question? Sure, in theory they can, but what I believe about the NFL is once you’ve established a trend, good or bad, it tends to stay with you throughout the season. There is no magic wand Payton can wave over the team and fix all that ails them. It goes back to leadership in the locker room. Who’s going to be the guy that says, “I need to play better; I haven’t played well and I’m letting my team down.”
The Saints lack passion that has carried this team to unprecedented heights. The feeling on the sideline is one I could only describe as lifeless at times. They can fix it, but my guess—it won’t be until next season.
Can they turn it around? At 1 and 3? That question and answer kind of goes hand and hand with what I just wrote. Sure they can, but will they? My bet…probably not. It’s too big a hole to climb out of, with way to many deficiencies to correct. When teams fall into ruts like this, it typically takes so much effort to get back to .500 that once they’re there they have another let down, because it’s so taxing.
I agree with Sean Payton when he said, “There were a lot of muddy hands.” Adversity reveals character. We’re about to find out the true character of this team, not the Saints that won the Super Bowl. This team.
1 and 3 is not where anyone expected to be in through the first quarter of the season, and after the Saints woodshed beating at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Drew Brees says the leaders in the locker room have to stand up: “Everyone has to be accountable with no finger pointing, everybody’s gotta look at themselves and understand that for us to get better as a team we all have to get better individually.” The leadership will certainly be tested with the heart of the schedule still in front of the 1-3 team.
The good news for the Saints; no team in the division is better than 2 and 2 and there is still time, but the deficiencies on this team are glaring. “We have not played the way I know we’re capable of. You live and learn and hope that you are able to take the lessons you’ve learned through some of these losses and apply them to future success,” Brees said. It’s puzzling for a number of reasons, and simply put, the Saints just seem like a team that lacks focus, intensity, and urgency despite their acknowledgement that it’s getting pretty urgent.
The Saints are back home this Sunday in against the likewise 1 and 3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers before they head into their bye week. At best, the Saints are trying to get to 2 and 3 before the break: “That’s all we can control at this point is beating Tampa, a division opponent at home and start feeling better about ourselves going into the bye week” Brees explained. I asked Drew what the mood of the locker room is at this point and “disappointed” is how he summed it up. The football team isn’t the only one’s feeling that emotion right now. The Saints are who we thought they weren’t, a team with a bad defense and no rhythm to speak of on offense, and virtually no special teams to speak of. Coach Sean Payton is widely thought of as one of the best coaches in the NFL, we’ll find out just how good he is in the final 12 games.
To listen to Drew's full interview with Kristian, click the link below.
Forcing turnovers: Turnovers are emphasized in nearly every NFL meeting room each week, and the Saints have just one forced turnover in their first three games. Safety Jairus Byrd forced a fumble of Julio Jones in week one…since then--zero, zilch, nothing. And, for the most part not even an almost or close sniff at another. Saints head coach Sean Payton says the team will continue to focus on forcing more, “You have (practice) periods where it’s the emphasis of the period…in individuals, you name it and you can think of 10 or 11 different ways to secure the football and make sure it’s secured offensively. And, then defensively you set up tip drills, balls on the ground, strip drills and then reinforce it throughout every snap in practice.” Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo is a gunslinger and the Saints will have a chance to get their hands on the football.
Ryan’s take: Rob Ryan’s defense has come under a lot of scrutiny after getting shredded in week 1 against Atlanta…then some busted coverages in the week 2 loss to the Browns. Ryan decided to simplify things and it seems the players are responding. “I think we do a better job when we have less checks,” said Ryan. “Sometimes we did fine, but it was all about the system. Here it is all about the players. It’s not a check balance…this is the way it is. I think I was hired and came into something special here. I am not going to screw it up. I am going to work hard and make sure we get it right,” continued a determined Ryan. As for the lack of turnovers Ryan had pretty sharp words, “We keep emphasizing it and all of that, but that’s lip service; we need to start getting turnovers and it needs to start happening this week.”
Injury report: Three players have been ruled out for Sunday night’s game against the Dallas Cowboys RB Mark Ingram (hand); FB Erik Lorig (ankle) and S Marcus Ball (hamstring). TE Benjamin Watson (groin); C Jonathan Goodwin (ankle) LB David Hawthorne (knee/ankle) were all limited in practice today and are listed as questionable for this week. DB Patrick Robinson (hamstring) did not practice and is also listed as questionable.
Race to improve: Saints head coach Sean Payton used that phrase countless times during his nearly nine seasons in New Orleans. Payton is talking about week to week improvement as the team tries to stack up enough wins to qualify for the post season. The Saints put together two solid back to back weeks of work getting ready for the Cowboys Sunday. “Our players understand the importance of this game. The preparation is ongoing. I think the balance they (Dallas) have offensively…and I think collectively defensively they’ve done things that are different than years past. You see some scheme changes and a lot of new faces playing some positions,” Payton explained.
Fullback love: The Saints have enjoyed really good early success in the running game averaging 140.3 yards per game on the ground, good for sixth best in the NFL. Fullback Austin Johnson has been a big part of their success. “One of the things he provides is the versatility in the kicking game, and so when the game is over, you’re not just looking at snaps of fullback offense when he’s in. You’re also looking at the special teams snaps he’s playing. When you have offensive players, who can contribute in the special teams core, that’s a plus,” said Payton. Sixth best in the NFL has been the magic number in terms for rushing the football under Payton. In 2009, the Saints were sixth in the league, and finished with a Super Bowl win. And, in 2011 the Saints finished sixth in the NFL in rushing average and also went deep into the play offs.
8 years ago: I remember watching the reopening of the Superdome from section 136 on September 25th 2006, a full year after Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city and the dome. It was electric, an atmosphere that was far bigger than just football. That night Steve Gleason won the hearts of thousands and seemingly restored hope to a city and the Saints in one fell swoop. Gleason slipped through the Atlanta Falcons punt coverage team and blocked Michael Koenan’s punt, which was recovered for a Saints touchdown by Curtis Deloatch. I’ve seen some really special games in that building, “Hakim drops the ball” against the Rams, and the first ever NFC championship game held in the Superdome against the Vikings. NOTHING beats that moment! Coach Payton recalls the play that will forever be linked to the re-birth of the city and the Saints, “Half the team hadn’t played a home game there, and just working through the logistics of traffic, and all the unusual events that were going on there. That came up I think on their first punt. The timing was perfect for him (Steve Gleason) and he executed it just right.”
Injury report: Tight End Benjamin Watson (groin) returned to practice on limited basis today. The following players did not practice: Center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle); running back Mark Ingram (hand), linebacker David Hawthore (knee/ankle), safety Marcus Ball (hamstring), full back Erik Lorig (ankle). Linebacker Curtis Lofton was limited for the second consecutive day.
Big D: The Saints feasted on the Dallas Cowboys 49-17 last year in the Superdome, setting an NFL record with 40 first downs. “This team, this year hasn’t beaten Dallas,” declared Saints head coach Sean Payton. The similarities between the teams statistically are interesting. New Orleans is seventh in the NFL in scoring average (26.0 P.P.G). Dallas is just a shade under (25.7 P.P.G), good for eighth best in the league. Conversely, in total defense, the Cowboys rank 21st and the Saints 24th. This game has shootout written all over it. “Both teams are entirely different. The makeup of their defense is different. You see them doing things differently (scheme),” explained Payton.
Murray’s law: Cowboys running back Demarco Murray is off to an impressive start, leading the NFL in rushing with 75 carries and 358 yards (5.1 avg), with three touchdowns. Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton was his college teammate at Oklahoma. “He’s very special. I took him on his recruiting trip at Oklahoma. He’s really matured into one of the top backs in this league. He has great speed, and can take it the distance,” Lofton explained. The Cowboys offense has seemingly shifted identity a bit this year, with Murray off to such a hot start, but QB Tony Romo is still a big time threat. “He’s definitely a top tier QB in the league. He has a cannon for an arm, and is well respected among defensive players,” said Lofton.
Dez-tructive: In 2012, WR Dez Bryant abused the Saints pass defense with 9 receptions, 224 yards, and 2 TD’s in an OT thriller in Dallas won by the Saints 34-31. It was Bryant matched up against Patrick Robinson for most of that game. In 2013 the Saints held Bryant to one catch for 44 yards in the lopsided 49-17 win in the Superdome. In that game corner back Keenan Lewis shadowed Bryant on nearly every snap. “He’s physical; he’s exceptional with the ball in his hands. You can see he plays the ball well over his head. He’s tough to press,” said Payton.
Six players miss practice: Center Jonathan Goodwin (ankle), tight end Benjamin Watson (groin), running back Mark Ingram (hand), linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle/knee), safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) and full back Erik Lorig (ankle) missed practice. Goodwin injured his ankle in the first half of the Saints 20-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings last week. Tim Lelito stepped in and played well in Goodwin’s absence.
by Kristian Garic, Kristian@wwl.com,posted Sep 22 2014 12:43PM
The Saints notched their first win of the season 20 - 9 over the Minnesota Vikings yesterday in the Superdome. It wasn't pretty, but the Saints will take it.
After jumping out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, the offense sputtered until the 4th quarter when Vikings defensive back Captain Munerlynn slammed Drew Brees to the turf. He was flagged for a personal foul penalty. Brees said while he could have been seriously injured, it actually helped the Saints.
"It was a straight up suplex, that could really hurt somebody. I'm glad he did it because it gave us a free set of downs, and we went down and scored a touchdown," Brees explained. After the penalty the crowd was re-energized and so was the team.
The QB says after starting fast, the Saints sputtered.
"I felt like the first drive we had it going with great balance. After that penalties shot us in the foot, and we missed some opportunities here and there," said Brees.
The "suplex" pumped up Brees and the offense.
It was a win, but sitting at 1 and 2 is not where the Saints want to be. You can call it an ugly win, but the first one is the hardest to get sometimes .
Brees also added that it was good to see Marques Colston back to his usual clutch self with a touchdown reception that sealed the game.
"He's always on my radar, that made it a two possession game."
Colston dropped a pair of passes earlier in the Vikings game, and until the TD strike had not caught a pass since fumbling the ball in overtime in the loss to Atlanta.
Overall, Brees and the Saints were extremely balanced on offense Sunday with 35 passing attempts and 32 rushing attempts. The game wasn't perfect, but New Orleans won't be able to play that way against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday on the road and expect the same result.
The little things: The little things get you beat. A play here and a play there in the NFL really is the difference between being 0-2 and 2-0. The Saints say the harsh reality of their 0-2 start is about paying attention to the little things: “We just haven’t finished in the last two games. There is a sense of urgency around here to get it fixed. We have to pay attention to the small things,” said safety Rafael Bush.
Coach Payton said the team is calling attention to the situational aspect of the games this week in practice: “The biggest thing is the preparation, and when you have a good week of practice and the players know what to do, obviously they’re able to play faster and with more confidence.” For the Saints, the team is trying to eliminate the mental questions in the game plan and in the scouting report.
Complex defense: After Sunday’s loss the Browns, I wondered if the Saints D was too complex, and maybe the players are confused by the scheme, and perhaps the play book got a little thicker. “It’s the same as last year, the mistakes we’ve made you learn in day one of training camp,” explained safety Kenny Vaccaro. So what has caused the mistakes and breakdowns on defense? “Lack of concentration,” Vaccaro offered. In two games I’ve seen several Saints defenders in pass coverage look at each other with their arms raised gesturing “What happened?” A clear indicator the players weren't on the same page.
SJ-B: With Patrick Robinson falling down the depth chart, reduced to nickel snaps in the defense last week after getting beat on a couple of passes and committing two penalties, is it time to start the countdown clock on Stanley Jean-Baptiste at cornerback? Remember last year? Coach Payton didn’t hesitate throwing rookie Terron Armstead in the fire at left tackle. Do you think he would do the same at cornerback if Robinson continues to struggle? What’s the tipping point to make Payton say “I have seen enough” like he did last year with left tackle Charles Brown? It might be sooner than the team hoped. I think it’s time to start thinking about it. Back in training camp, I thought that if SJ-B had to see the field, it would have been a bad situation, or injuries to have really taken a toll.
Injury report: Saints center Jonathan Goodwin (elbow) returned to practice today in a limited role, taking less than 100% of his usual reps. LB Curtis Lofton (Shoulder) was also limited today. LB Kyle Knox is the newest addition to the injury report (ankle) and was also limited. RB Mark Ingram (hand), LB David Hawthorne (ankle), FB Erik Lorig (ankle), and S Marcus Ball (hamstring) missed practice.
Ingram Update: Saints coach Sean Payton announced running back Mark Ingram had surgery to repair a fracture in his hand. “There was a fracture, it was displaced, so it wasn’t something he could put a cast on. Everything went well. He’ll be a week to week player,” explained Payton, adding that Ingram had two screws inserted “above his thumb.” Ingram sustained the injury in the first half of the Cleveland Browns game last Sunday. “It’s obviously impressive that he played that long with it. You could see on film his exchanges were a little different. He’s a tough player,” said Payton. Ingram has been the Saints' most consistent running back this season, averaging 6.0 yards per carry on 24 attempts in the first two games.
No AP for Sunday: Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is out for Sunday’s game against the Saints following felony child abuse charges that surfaced last week. That’s one less weapon the Saints will have to defend against Minnesota. “I think as a defense, we have to stop this run and make them one dimensional and then get after the quarterback,” explained Linebacker Curtis Lofton. Without Peterson in the line up, it certainly makes it a little easier to slow down the Vikings rushing attack. “Anytime you don’t have an elite running back in the backfield, not saying that the other guys aren’t any good, but Adrian is one of the top running backs in this league so it allows us to do different things,” Lofton added.
Injury report: The injury list grew just a tad today. Linebacker Curtis Lofton was limited in today’s workout (shoulder). Lofton injured his shoulder in week 1, and played last week. I don’ t think there is anything to be concerned with here. Center Jonathan Goodwin (Elbow) missed practice. Goodwin is a veteran, if he’s not practicing by Thursday it might be a little worrisome. RB Mark Ingram (hand) LB David Hawthorne (ankle) S Marcus Ball (hamstring) FB Erik Lorig (ankle) also did not practice.
The Saints are off to an 0-2 start to the season, and color analyst Hokie Gajan puts the blame at the feet of the players.
“You can’t continue to have the breakdowns that you have seen,” Gajan said. “I am putting it on the players. When you make boneheaded mistakes like I’ve seen that are coming from the players, it’s something that has to be corrected, or else you gotta put some new names out there.”
One player specifically Gajan said needs to be “changed out” or benched is Patrick Robinson. The 5th-year corner has been largely inconsistent with the Saints and committed two costly penalties in the loss to Cleveland and was the frequent target in the Browns passing game.
Now the question becomes, can the Saints turn this around? “I think they can, if the talent is what I give them credit for, then I think they can,” explained Gajan. "It’s not panic button time, but let’s get them in the Superdome next Sunday. Regardless, it needs to be corrected immediately.”
The Saints have the talent to turn things around, but Hokie wonders if the energy the team will spend trying to climb out of this hole will eventually be their undoing.
Click the link below to listen to my full interview with Hokie:
Sure, it’s not the start the Saints envisioned, but as many have said in the past, you are what your record says you are in the NFL - and the Saints are 0 and 2 for a reason. "Typically a play here, a play there, you can’t describe. A lot of these games are close at the end. We have to find a way to be on the other end of these kind of games," Saints quarterback Drew Brees explained. There is plenty enough blame to go around. The offense got off to a slow start and picked it up late in the second quarter against the Browns, the defense couldn’t get off the field in critical situations, and couldn’t generate a pass rush, yielding just one sack.
Where do the Saints go from here? Brees says they’ll rely heavily on the leaders and high character players on the team to pull out of an 0 and 2 hole. “You can’t overreact, but you have to have urgency. You have to focus on the process. We gotta get a win. All I know is to continue to focus on the process. We have high character guys, we have the right type of people to weather these things.” The Saints are at home this Sunday against the Vikings, and while that should benefit them, it won’t be enough by itself to get a win. The Saints have to pay attention to the little things to win. It’s been something the team has been very good at under Sean Payton, but right now the details are getting them beat.
Listen to my full interview with Drew by clicking the link below: