Maybe we weren’t phased by an 0-4 preseason start. It was preseason after all and there were certainly enough positives to take from those games, mainly in week two versus the Patriots and Tom Brady. However, an 0-2 regular season start is very alarming – and its worse when you consider they are actually 0-6 since August. Since 2009, 45 teams have started 0-2 and only two of those teams were able to make it to the playoffs. But an 0-2 start is nothing new for the New Orleans Saints – this is the 3rd time in four years that fans have endured it. When compared to their 2014 and 2012 seasons, both of which began with a two-game losing streak, it’s difficult not to believe that the record is indicative of things to come.
Last week, the Saints suffered a devastating loss to Tamp Bay, extending their home game losing streak to six games. The Saints didn’t merely lose to a divisional rival that they were favoured to win against by over 10 points. They were annihilated by a team led by quarterback Marcus Mariota making his career start this year in a home game against one of the NFL’s worst teams. Tampa Bay entered into week two ranked 29th in the league and appeared no better than their 2-14 record last year. Yet Brees was only able to complete 5 of 16 passes thrown over 10 yards. His record on passes thrown over 20 yards was even worse (1/7, 22 yard, 0 TD, 1 INT).
So what exactly is wrong with the New Orleans Saints this season? The short answer is everything. Defensively, the Saints are limited because of injuries but the interference and holding penalties along with the missed tackles are problematic. On the offense, the receivers need to get more separation and the running game needs improvement. This would involve the offensive line supporting the backbone of the ground attack and it will unfortunately need to be done without Jahri Evans. The Brees-Payton dynamic has been solid for many years, but the books are closing on their era of winning. Brees has never looked this bad on any Saints team. His passer rating after two games is 83.2. The only time this was worse was in 2002 with San Diego during his first full season as a starter, when it was 76.9. Questions arise as to whether the coaching could be the issue here since the team itself looks relatively decent on paper. They have the talent to be a playoff team but in fairness they have suffered countless injuries and are comprised mainly of new players, many of whom are rookies who have yet to learn to play together in a harmonized team effort. Sean Payton’s play calling has been far too predictable and his indifference following appalling games has demonstrated a routine acceptance of losses. Merely stating that the “Saints were sloppy” or that they “need to clean up a few things” hasn’t changed the fact that week after week, the same mistakes are being made, the same assignments are being blown, the same penalties are being called and the same tackles are being missed. It is a systematic problem and perhaps it is time for Coach Payton to drive the whip or the few remaining pieces of the Saints winning 2009 team – Drew Brees and Sean Payton themselves – might be blown to the Jimmy Graham wayside in favour of a complete revamp.
The dismal outlook for the Saints does not improve with the loss of Drew Brees this week, who bruised his right rotator cuff in last Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay. Brees hasn’t missed a game because of injury in 20 years (since his junior year of high school) and has only missed one start which came in 2009 when the Saints were already guaranteed the number one seed in the NFC playoffs. Instead, the Saints will play backup quarterback Luke McCown, recently made famous as the Verizon poster boy with his line “I wonder why they save those backups and not just put them in the regular rotation. I bet if they just had a chance, some of those backups would really shine”. McCown, 34 years old is in playing his 3rd season as backup to Drew Brees and his only pass attempt in New Orleans came as the holder on a fake field goal. He has started in only 9 games over 12 seasons, most recently in 2011 for the Jacksonville Jaguars. During this time, he has completed only 58% of his passes throwing 9 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. This ratio gives him a 68.3 quarterback rating which is very underwhelming. However, it’s difficult to assess his stats since his play time has been so sporadic and spread out over such a long period of time. What we do know is that the game will look much different this week. Saints starters Drew Brees and Jahri Evans have a combined 15 pro bowl appearances. Luke McCown and Senio Kelemente have a combined nine starts. It remains to be seen if this back up will have his chance to shine.
New Orleans will battle the Carolina Panthers in Week 3. The Saints will need to establish the run to take pressure off McCown. Although Ingram rushed for roughly 1000 yards last season, he has only made 77 yards in two games this year (a 3.1 yard average). They will need to involve Spiller more this week. Last week against Tampa, he was confined to seven snaps in his Saints debut following his knee surgery. Greg Olsen could be a factor this Sunday. He was targeted by Cam Newton 14 times last week and caught six passes. Last December he caught a career high of ten passes and a touchdown against New Orleans (which began his two-game stretch catching 20 receptions).
New Orleans needs to improve every element of play, but how many things can be resolved within a week? The Saints are playing a divisional game on the road this Sunday in Carolina and a loss will put them three games behind the Panthers. There has been no indication yet this season that the Saints are strong enough to recover from that significant of a deficit. As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell said in the 2007 film No Country for Old Men; “[If this ain’t a mess], it will do until the mess gets here”.