In the preseason, the New Orleans Saints were the sexy pick to dethrone the Seattle Seahawks and win the Super Bowl Championship.
But with more than 25 percent of the NFL season gone, New Orleans is struggling to even be a .500 football team.
The first half of the season has been a nightmare for the Saints – a slate of games filled with missed tackles, close losses, special teams mishaps and dumb coaching decisions (see also: fake punt zone read versus the Cowboys).
The pulse of the Saints’ fanbase varies from person to person. Some fans think that the team has the gusto to use this bye week productively to make a surge. But others are ready to put the bags back over their faces and throw in the towel until next fall.
I’m somewhere in the middle. But with that said, I come with a message of bad news for all of the Who Dats within our readership audience: The 2014-15 Saints aren’t very good. They may sneak into the playoffs, but they are absolutely no threat to win the Super Bowl.
My reasons for that assessment are two-fold. Simply put – New Orleans is no longer elite on either side of the football.
Offensively, the Saints are still good, but they are no longer great. Drew Brees is still a top-flight quarterback, but his deep ball is no longer there. Having to throw check-down passes and rely on an inconsistent running game has made New Orleans easier to defend. It’s also made the Saints have to use 10-12 plays per drive to score. Of course, that means any one negative play or penalty is now far more likely to derail New Orleans’ efforts and force them to punt or kick a field goal.
The numbers speak for themselves. Through the first four games of the season, New Orleans scored 95 points, despite facing the Falcons, Browns, Vikings and Cowboys – all teams in the bottom-half of the NFL in total defense.
Last year, New Orleans scored 108 points in their first four games – a drop of more than three and a half points per game.
But the truth is that 95 points in four games is still very good, and it should be good enough to succeed in today’s NFL.
But it isn’t working for the Saints right now because, defensively, that team is a train wreck. I’m not fully sure that it’s going to get better any time soon.
The team can’t stop the run, ranking in the bottom-half of the league standings in nearly all run defensive statistics. This allows teams to control the clock and keep Brees off the field for prolonged stretches of the game.
You can’t score 30-40 points a game if you never have the football. That’s pretty simple football math. Just look at the Cowboys game. Dallas rushed for 190 yards on 35 carries, gashing New Orleans and controlling time of possession by a 60/40 ratio on the night. The final score spoke for itself – a beatdown that was over midway through the third quarter. The Saints had 400-plus yards offensively in that game, but it didn’t matter. They didn’t have enough offensive possessions to keep up and score a win.
But the team’s defensive problems only start with the inability to limit opposing rushers. Their problems run far, far deeper than that.
On the back-end, New Orleans has just one cornerback worthy of being in the NFL. That would be Louisiana native Keenan Lewis, who deserves a lot of credit for being a sure-fire lockdown player. But the rest of the crop playing alongside Lewis is hopeless. They are all poisoned and tainted forever.
Corey White is awful. Any worthwhile NFL receiver lined up against him will be open throughout the duration of a game. The following is a true story. I was watching the Saints/Browns game while in the presence of a few young children. After about three drives, one of the boys made the following assessment. He said, “No. 24 is horrible. If I were the Browns’ quarterback, I would find where he is and throw it to his guy every play.”
If it’s that easy for a nine-year-old to see, I think NFL offensive coordinators just might be able to whip up something to exploit White on the edges.
In the slot, it’s just as bad as ‘Fred Thomas’ and ‘Jason David’ both are adjectives that we could use to describe Patrick Robinson.
Robinson’s play has been so bad that rumor has it that he has just one hobby listed in the Saints’ 2014-15 gameday program – getting burned.
At safety, New Orleans is very good, but just took a huge blow with safety Jarius Byrd’s season-ending injury. Even with him on the field, the results were lukewarm because the last line of defense can only do so much when the other lines of defense are doing absolutely nothing to keep the other team out of the end zone.
Of course, the best remedy to protect an atrocious secondary is to generate a pass rush and to make an opposing quarterback rush his throws.
But in the first four games of the season, the Saints recorded just five sacks. Just for sake of comparison, there were two individual players (Justin Houston and Ryan Kerrigan) who had five sacks alone in their first four games of the season.
Of course, the season is still young and there is actually a lot of time for New Orleans to right its wrongs.
But the problem is that the Saints’ schedule was designed for the team to go 5-0 or 4-1 out of the gate, and things are about to get extremely tough for a team that already has little-to-no margin for error.
Out of this week’s bye, New Orleans faces the following quarterbacks over 11-straight games to close the season: Matt Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton again, Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and Mike Glennon.
Good luck. Go get ‘em, Who Dats.
With that secondary, luck and a miracle may be the only things that can save New Orleans from having to score 40 points per game to win.
Maybe I’m being pessimistic, and I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m wrong if this team turns things around and has a successful 2014-15 season.
But I just don’t see it.
The schedule is too tough, the personnel is too mismatched and the NFC is too good.
This team simply isn’t the Super Bowl contender we thought it was in the preseason.
Sometimes the truth hurts. It is what it is, and this year is done, folks.